The Ultimate Guide to Cruelty-Free Nail Polishes You Need Right Now
"The only time a woman is helpless is while her nail polish is drying.”
The other day, after a fresh manicure for my sister’s upcoming wedding, I thought about how a simple coat of polish on my nails made me feel more put together and feminine. How is it that that one brush of paint over my overused fingers could instantly boost my confidence the same way a perfectly fitting dress or bold lip could?
The evolution of nail art has really taken off in the past few years as nail artists invented an ever-changing list of ways they could up our style and self-expression through the design at the tip of our fingers.
Where our previous options were limited to solids of pale pinks and bright purples, we could now get ombres, intricate florals, or bold geometric shapes. The world is quite hooked on their manicures.
With this obsession, the world of at-home manicuring has also come a long way. With the right tools and the perfect shade of cruelty-free nail polish, you can now get salon-level perfection without moving from your couch.
Is all nail polish cruelty-free and vegan?
Unfortunately, even today, some of the most popular nail polish brands still test on animals and are therefore not considered cruelty-free, even if their formulas are vegan. These brands include Essie, OPI, and Sally Hansen, to name a few.
Additionally, many traditional nail polishes are not vegan. A common ingredient used in many formulas is guanine, which is derived from fish scales and is primarily used in shimmery colors. Other animal-derived ingredients are keratin which is used as a nail strengthened, and shellac which is used as a high-shine hardener.
Carmine is another ingredient often found in nail polish and is typically used to achieve a red pigment for the product. Oleic acid is derived from animal fat and is used as a thickening agent for chip-resistant manicures.
On top of all of that, many traditional polishes use perfumes in the formulas to achieve a better, less toxic smelling scent. However, in the US and many other countries, these are not required to be disclosed meaning that most non-vegan ingredients could be lurking in the polish.
But don't fret, because vegan beauty is easier to achieve than you might think (on your nails and beyond). Keep reading to find out more about our favorite vegan nail polishes.
What toxic chemicals are in nail polish?
It probably comes as no surprise that traditional nail polish is loaded with toxic chemicals. The main three are formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate, and toluene. Additional toxic ingredients include xylene, camphor, and resin.
Formaldehyde is often added to polish as a hardening ingredient, but it has been considered a carcinogen, linked to both nasal and lung cancers. Yikes!
Dibutyl phthalate is added so the polish is more flexible and prone to cracks, but has been linked to reproductive issues and is even banned in Europe. No thanks!
And toluene is used to help keep the polish smooth when applied, but the chemical has been linked to issues affecting the nervous system. It has also been tied to birth defects and developmental problems in children whose mothers were exposed to the chemical while pregnant. It is also banned by the European Union, but not in the United States.
Many non-toxic brands can be found nowadays donning labels such as 7-free or even 21-free, which is a label dictating how many of the traditional toxic chemicals the brand has removed from its formula, which also includes omitting the three main ones mentioned above.
The best cruelty-free nail polish brands
Drugstore vegan nail polish
Pacifica is an absolute cult favorite when it comes to the best in cruelty-free beauty. They have been dedicated to keeping animals out of their labs and products since their inception.
Their popular 7-free collection is made without parabens, phthalates, toluene, xylene, camphor, formaldehyde, or resin. Or opt for their Plant Magic line, which is crafted from a bio-sourced ingredients formula that is designed to be long-lasting.
They replaced 80 percent of their traditional ingredients with bio-sourced options, which originate from renewable vegetable biomass and are infused with bio-ceramics. Pacifica even has a Bio Glitter manicure top that adds a beautiful eco shimmer to any polish.
ella + mila
Ella + mila has become an extremely popular polish brand by beauty geeks across the globe. Their line of lacquers was born from a simple idea of creating polish that was eco-friendly yet lush and high-end. They now release collections every couple of months, promising on-trend and high-fashion shades.
All of their beautiful colors are 17-free which means each polish is made without the use of toxic chemicals such as acetone, formaldehyde, sulfate, toluene, and glycol ether.
Zoya was founded by Zoya and Michael Reyzis, which took their business from a small nail salon to a high-end spa that focused on natural nails, skincare, and alternative European herbal treatments. Today, the parent company supplies innovative beauty products to spas and salons around the world. This is one fabulous nail polish line.
Through Zoya’s work as a cosmetologist, the pair saw the demand for quality and healthy ingredients in beauty products. Michael, an advanced chemist, then went on to develop patented products such as anti-wrinkle treatments and the first working fast drying topcoat for nails.
One of the first brands to omit toxic chemicals from their formulas they quickly grew in popularity and carry an abundant polish collection of all shades and colors.
In 1975, Jeff Pink accidentally came up with a soon-to-be phenomenon. To help actresses speed up the time between wardrobe changes he developed a simple and classic, time-saving manicure that accentuated the nails without upstaging the outfit.
Today, we know this as the French Manicure. It is no surprise then that the father of this adorned look went on to create ORLY, a family-owned nail care brand.
With a unique formula that is always vegan, cruelty-free, and made without the most common toxins, this brand is a clear favorite. They pride themselves not only on their ethics but also on their priority of keeping up with the hottest trends. They constantly bring fresh ideas, hot colors, and bold textures to their fans.
I am sure it comes as no surprise that this fun brand is absolutely adored by kids. What’s not to love: bold colors, a fun name, and no harsh chemicals! All their formulas are also water-based which is made with a water base instead of oils or chemical solvents. This polish is demeaned safer than most conventional nail polish and is usually better for the environment, too!
Like all the other polishes on this list, Piggy Paint is of course toxic-free, and their formula is free of common polish chemicals such as parabens and alcohol. It is also safe to use during pregnancy, making it safe for the whole family.
Cruelty-free gel nail polish brands
What is gel nail polish?
Gel nail polish is taking the manicure world by storm, and for good reason. This modern beauty mainstay is incredibly durable, glossy, and reduces the risk of instant chipping down to zero.
That’s right! No chipping when you have your gel on. It also lasts weeks before needing to reapply.
The polish itself is composed of stronger ingredients than the traditional lacquer that grips the nail tighter and is strong enough to stand up to the daily wear and tear our poor nails receive. While you used to have to frequent your nearest salon to get that perfect gel manicure you can now DIY from the comforts of your home.
Father of the French Manicure, Jeff Pink, has also expanded his brand to include the new obsession in the nail world: gel polish. Just like their traditional lacquer ORLY GELFX is also 100-percent cruelty-free, vegan, and toxin-free. To get yourself started with at-home glam, load up on their complete DIY kit.
Boosting over 1,800 gels in 800+ shades, Madam Glam offers any color your heart could possibly desire. Founded in 2014, this beauty brand was founded to craft salon-quality, carefully sourced nail and gel polishes. All their products are cruelty-free, vegan, and palm oil-free. They also refrain from using 21 common toxic ingredients.
They are focused on bringing beautiful, quality products to their customers at an affordable price.
NCLA Beauty is dedicated to creating clean and feel-good beauty products. Their newly released Gelous? line of gel nail polishes offers an incredible soak-off, UV/LED polish for the perfect do-it-yourself manicure.
With an easy, polish-like application, this polish is easy to use and easy to remove leaving no damage to your precious nails. Their no alcohol topcoat helps for last lasting perfection for up to 21 days.
Dimension Nails has ethics at their core: ‘Slaying nails, not animals.”
They aim to add a new dimension to the nail industry by incorporating health-conscious formulas that are free of 10 common toxic ingredients.
A love for animals running through their company mission and products and they actively provide education on veganism to inform their community about causes close to their hearts.
How to get the perfect at-home manicure
Now that you have your perfect color and cruelty-free brand picked out, here are the steps we use to get the perfect at-home manicure, every time.
Prep your nails
Now reach for your cuticle oil and cuticle pusher to clean up the edges of your nail bed. Once done, be sure to wash your hands with soap and water to remove any excess polish remover or oil.
Exfoliate and moisturize
Anyone else’s favorite part of their mani/pedi the massage and exfoliation? There is no reason you cannot do this step at home. Not only is it relaxing, but it also helps sluff off dead skin cells and rehydrates your skin.
For gentle yet effective exfoliating, try this Coconut Milk Body Polish from Herbivore.
Apply base coat
While it may seem like an easy step to skip, applying a base coat is actually a really crucial step in your mani. Base coats prevent the polish from actually touching your nails, which in turn helps your nails stay healthy, even when you leave a dark polish on for a long time.
Additionally, a base coat helps your lacquer last longer and smooths out any roughness on the nail. We love this one from ella + mila.
Apply your color
Once your base coat is safely dried, apply your first layer of color lacquer. Be sure to apply evenly across the nail and immediately wipe any smudges on the skin. Wait at least two full minutes before attempting an additional coat.
Most darker formulas should only require two coats, but if using sheer or pastel feel free to add another coat to achieve full color.
Apply top coat
Once your layers of lacquer have completely dried, bust open your fast-drying topcoat for finishing. In a Rush from ella + mila dries up to 4 coats of enamel to a high, glossy shine in less than three minutes.
The formula also helps hide imperfections in the lacquer and contains a UV inhibitor which helps prevent yellowing.
NOTE: A product appearing in our blog is not an official Kinder Beauty endorsement. While every product we feature in an article is cruelty-free and vegan, these products do not necessarily meet all of our strict brand standards for curation in one of our boxes.
Jackie Lutze has been writing about cruelty-free beauty for years and loves finding the best vegan products to help readers build their ultimate beauty routine.