5 Affordable Nail Polishes That Are Actually GOOD For Your Nails

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Close shot of romantic cute pink gel polished manicure nails. Woman in pink summer dress holding wil...

Nail polish isn’t strictly bad for your nails — actually, there are some benefits to wearing polish, other than the aesthetic. “Nail polish prevents water from being absorbed and therefore can be protective,” Dr. Dana Stern, a board-certified dermatologist who specializes in nail care, tells Bustle. “It also binds the nail cells together, so nails are less likely to fray and split.” So when we talk about nail polish that’s good for your nails, we really mean nail polish that’s free of toxic ingredients.

What To Look For (& Avoid) In Nail Polish That’s Good For Your Nails

Dr. Stern warns against 10 major toxins that are commonly found in nail polish: acetone, formaldehyde, phthalates (including dibutyl phthalate, DEHP, and DEP), toluene, formaldehyde resin, camphor, triphenyl phosphate (TPHP), xylene, ethyl tosylamide, and parabens. Along with potentially compromising the health of your nails over time, these ingredients may be allergens, immune or endocrine system disruptors, carcinogens, or environmental pollutants. Altogether, nail polishes that don’t contain these additives are marketed as “10-free,” though you’ll also find formulas that are anywhere from three- to even 16-free.

Labeling certain ingredients “toxic” in nail polishes isn’t regulated by the FDA, however, so individual brands have some freedom in creating their own definitions around what that means. For example, some brands include substances like animal products, sulfates, and gluten in their “free-from” lists. For your convenience, I’ve listed the potentially harmful (or otherwise undesirable) ingredients you won’t find in each nail polish below, according to brand literature.

More Healthy Nail Tips

There are a few ways to keep your nails healthy beyond wearing a better polish. Even if you’re opting for a non-toxic nail polish, Dr. Stern advises taking a break from manicures if your nails are showing signs of weakness, which include dehydrated cuticles, discoloration, ridges, splits, peeling, or rough, white patches.

Use the opportunity between manicures to condition your nails, too. Consistently moisturizing nails and cuticles helps them maintain their vitality over the long-term; and in the short-term, that smooth canvas will make your nail polish look better and last longer. Another word of warning: Most nail-strengthening treatments contain formaldehyde — definitely not good. Instead, Dr. Stern trusts botanical oils rich in phospholipids, like sunflower oil, apricot oil, and mastic oil, for improving nail strength and preventing damage.

Shop The Best Nail Polishes That Are Good For Your Nails:

In a hurry? Shop these five nail polishes that are good for your nails:

1. The Best 16-Free Nail Polish: Sally Hansen Good. Kind. Pure. Vegan Nail Color

3. The Best 15-Free Nail Polish: LONDONTOWN Lakur Enhanced Colour

2. The Best 10-Free Nail Polish: ZOYA Nail Polish Quad

4. Editor’s Pick: Another Great 10-Free Nail Polish: butter LONDON Patent Shine 10X Nail Lacquer

5. The Best 7-Free Top Coat: ella+mila Fast-Drying Top Coat

With that in mind, scroll on to shop five of the best non-toxic nail polishes on the market right now, plus a cuticle oil and an acetone-free nail polish remover that help keep your nails healthy and strong.


The Best 16-Free Nail Polish

Clear of 16 potentially toxic ingredients, this Sally Hansen Good. Kind. Pure. Vegan Nail Color is possibly the “cleanest” nail polish you can find on Amazon. The vegan formula contains some unique plant-based ingredients, including mastic oil for keeping your nails hydrated (one of Dr. Stern’s ingredients of choice). Even the bristles on the brush are made of 100% plant-based materials. In addition to Be-gone-ia, the muted, dusty rose shade pictured, all 30 shades cost about $6 — a welcome bonus to all that goodness.

Rave review: “Making the transition from regular polish to this was worried it wouldn’t go on well or last as long. I have bought three different colors and love all of them and plan on this being my new nail polish. I can get three weeks on a pedicure with this polish.”

Free From: Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Resin, Toluene, Xylene, Acetone, Phthalates (including DBP), Camphor, Parabens, Ethyl Tosylamide, Triphenyl Phosphate (TPP), Animal-derived ingredients, Styrene, Bisphenol A, Glycol Ether of Series E (Glycol ethers derived from ethylene oxide), Nonylphenol ethoxylate, Sulfates | Available Shades: 30


The Best 15-Free Nail Polish

These 15-free LONDONTOWN Lakur Enhanced Colour polishes are infused with Florium Complex, a proprietary blend of botanicals inspired by the founder’s family recipe for a hand-and-nail moisturizer. There’s rapeseed oil to revitalize brittle nails, vitamin E for strength and shine, and garlic extract to promote nail growth, among other ingredients you can find in an English country garden. This page features the brand’s blue shade range — including everything from punky cobalt (pictured) to soft baby blue — but you can find tons more shades (like pinks, neutrals, brights, darks, and metallics) on Londontown’s homepage.

Rave review: “Love this nail polish. I will only wear products that are free of the harsh chemicals. The color was perfect. I wore it to my baby shower.”

Free From: Formaldehyde, Toluene, DBT, Formaldehyde Resin, Camphor, TPHP, Xylene, Ethyl Tosylamide/Epoxy Resin, Nonylphenol Ethoxylate, Glycol Ether of Series E, MEHQ/HQ, Methylisothiazolinone, Bisphenol A, Phthalates, Parabens, Gluten | Available Shades: 7

  • Also available at Ulta, $16


The Best 10-Free Nail Polish

Zoya spearheaded the Big Three-free formula (that’s formaldehyde, toluene, and DBP), and they’ve since upped their game by excluding seven more toxins from their polishes: formaldehyde resin, camphor, TPHP, parabens, xylene, ethyl tosylamide, and lead. You can get single bottles of Zoya polish on Amazon, but these Nail Polish Quads get you four polishes for about the same price as one from a more expensive (but no more high-quality) brand. Other than the reasonable price point, customers swear by Zoya’s rich shades that stay vivid, glossy, and chip-free for at least a week. The bright reds, oranges, and hot pinks in this quad are perfect for warmer weather, but you can find four equally gorgeous sets on Amazon.

Rave review: “This nail polish is amazing! It goes on smooth, and the colors are beautiful. I got the 4-color Under the Mistletoe collection. I am notorious for not being able to keep my hands still long enough for polish to dry, but this stuff is dry in a few minutes and doesn’t smudge! Just one coat is beautiful. It’s not extremely wear resistant; I ended up with a few nicks in my nails after a couple days of cleaning and doing dishes and the tips were starting to wear away, but it’s so easy to apply a quick new coat that it almost doesn’t matter to me. I will definitely be buying more!”

Free From: Formaldehyde, Toluene, DBP, Formaldehyde Resin, Camphor, TPHP, Parabens, Xylene, Ethyl Tosylamide, Lead | Available Shade Sets: 4

  • Also available at Ulta, $12 (single bottle)


Editor’s Pick: Another Great 10-Free Nail Polish

Another Anglophile-friendly choice: butter LONDON’s Patent Shine 10X Nail Lacquers. The glossy, cushioned finish on this gel-inspired formula promises to stay shiny for up to 10 days, thanks to a patented, chip-resistant polymer blend. Just as important, the formula is free of 10 toxins and other potentially unwanted ingredients, like gluten. butter LONDON made the only pink nail polish I have ever happily worn — the discontinued Teddy Girl, may it rest in peace — so I’m eyeing this cheeky, candy-pink Fruit Machine as a replacement. Don’t love pink? Take your pick from 38 more vivid colors.

Rave review: “I've been wearing this nail polish almost exclusively since I bought it. I love the Butter London line of products. [...] It goes on so smoothly and I've found that it lasts for a number of days before I notice any chipping. I don't usually baby my hands for the sake of the polish, but go ahead with what I have to do. This line of nail polish really does shine even without a shiny top coat. I really love this color.”

Free From: Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Resin, DBP, Toluene, Camphor, Ethyl Tosylamide, Xylene, Parabens, Gluten, TPHP | Available Shades: 39


The Best 7-Free Top Coat

This fast-drying, seven-free top coat from ella+mila is heavy-duty enough to protect up to four coats of nail polish from smudging, chipping, and denting. It leaves behind a smooth, glossy finish and has a UV inhibitor in the formula to prevent color from fading and yellowing, as well. The brand makes seven-free nail polishes, too, which are equally beloved by e+m fans.

Rave review: “This clear, quick dry top coat is amazing! After you polish your nails, apply one coat and let dry for about 1-2 minutes. I usually wait 5 but that’s just me. This goes on without any color transfer from your nail polish to the brush which to me speaks volumes about its effectiveness. This doesn’t have a strong, offensive odor like other top coats I’ve used. You get a completely dry and shiny result without worrying about smudges or streaks.”

Free From: Formaldehyde, Toluene, DiButyl Phthalate (DBP), Formaldehyde Resin, Camphor, TPHP, Xylene | Available Shades: 1

  • Also available at Ulta, $11


Also Consider: A Moisturizing Nail & Cuticle Oil Pen

As Dr. Stern pointed out, some nail products that are billed as “treatments” actually contain the toxic ingredients we’re all trying to avoid. So when it comes to treating your nails, keep it simple and stick to ingredients you recognize. This Body Shop nail and cuticle oil contains a blend of oils and humectants rich in lipids — like beeswax, sweet almond oil, olive oil, and grapeseed oil — to attract and seal moisture into your nail plate and cuticles, which helps protect them from splitting and cracking. You can use the pen dispenser to massage the elixir into your cuticles and the skin around your nails (without exposing your clothes to oil stains). Alternatively, you can go really lo-fi and opt for a single, unrefined oil, like this cult-favorite cold-pressed jojoba oil from Leven Rose.

Rave review: “This cuticle oil pen works wonderfully. It's perfect for conditioning your cuticles/nails before or after a home manicure or just for moisturizing your natural nails. On the cap is a rubber cuticle pusher which I prefer to other much harder ones. You can easily control how much product you dispense and it faintly smells of sweet almond oil which is really nice too. I highly recommend buying this product.”


Don't Forget: An Acetone-Free Nail Polish Remover

Dr. Stern says that the trouble lies less with nail polish than it does with nail polish removers, which “tend to be drying to the nail and cuticle, and can make brittle nails worse.” She recommends using an acetone-free formula, like this three-ingredient Mineral Fusion Nail Polish Remover. The two solvents in this formula are less damaging and drying than acetone, but reviewers confirm that it’s powerful enough to strip even dark shades and glitter without leaving behind a residue.

Rave review: “very happy with this. I had three coats of polish on with glitter on top....always so hard to remove! I saturated a square pad, and at first I thought it wasn't going to work. But then I held the pad on the nail for just 10 or so seconds and then rubbed...worked like magic! so much better than the hard smelling stuff Im used to”


Dr. Dana Stern, New York City-based board-certified dermatologist and Castle Connolly top doctor

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