From shampoo to skin moisturizer, natural and organic beauty products are part of an industry which has experienced explosive growth in recent years. 2012 was a turning point for the manufacturers of natural and organic personal care products, with global sales topping $9.6 billion. According to Organic Monitor, a UK-based consulting firm focused on sustainable industries, worldwide sales of organic beauty products are projected to eclipse the $14 billion mark by the end of 2015. Naturally, it didn’t take long for manufacturers of nail polishes to attempt to jump on the organic bandwagon, and today there are dozens of brands of nail polishes being sold by leading manufacturers in the natural and organic beauty product industry.
But if you think that these nail polishes actually qualify as being organic, think again.
While these polishes are technically labeled as “non-toxic” rather than organic, the fact that they are sold by well-known names in the organic beauty industry can easily deceive customers into believing that they are purchasing an organic product. The truth is that these “faux-ganic” polishes and lacquers are about as far from being organic or all-natural as Kentucky is from Kenya.
The sad reality is that, as of right now, there is no such thing as a truly organic or natural nail polish. Virtually every polish manufacturer has tried but failed, leaving consumers with polishes that are now being labeled as “non-toxic” or “5-free”, because they’ve been able to remove the five unhealthiest ingredients: formaldehyde, formaldehyde resins, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), toluene, and camphor. While this may seem like a big leap forward, it should be pointed out that many leading polish manufacturers, such as OPI, Orly and Sally Hansen, haven’t used many of these ingredients in years. In other words, your $20 bottle of faux-ganic nail polish isn’t any better for your health than the $9 bottle of OPI you can purchase from your local salon.
Shamefully, many of these companies practice deceptive advertising gimmicks in order to convince shoppers that their pricey polishes are as healthy as a tall glass of wheatgrass juice. Take Vapour Organic Beauty’s Vernissage Nail Lacquer, for instance. Vapour took the beauty world by storm a few years ago, with their teensy $16-per-0.3 ounce bottles of polish that caused countless clueless beauty bloggers to swoon. “Well, it’s kinda organic, right? I mean, the company has “organic” in its name, so it has to be good for you!” Further confusing matters is the company’s website, which claims that all of their products contain at least 70% organic ingredients. As for the remaining 30%? The Vapour Organic Beauty site states:
The other 30% is reserved primarily for the beautiful mineral pigments that color our products. It also includes Vitamin E, and other beneficial botanicals not yet available with a organic designation. So the other 30% is natural, just not organic.
Yet, if you study the ingredient list of Vapour Organic Beauty’s nail polish, you’ll see a whole bunch of ingredients that are about as natural as Nicki Minaj’s hair color: Butyl Acetate, Ethyl Acetate, Nitrocellulose, Acetyl Tributyl Citrate, Adipic Acid, Isopropyl Alcohol, Stearalkonium Bentonite, Acrylates Copolymer, Styrene/Acrylates Copolymer. From a scientific point of view, adipic acid (which is mildly toxic) is indeed an organic compound, but it is one that does not occur in nature. Like many “organic” ingredients used in nail polishes, it is created synthetically in a lab.
Equally as deceiving is the nail polish made by Organic Glam. At a ridiculous $18.90 per bottle, one might be tempted to think that this 3-free (formaldehyde, toluene, DBP) polish is somehow a safe alternative to traditional nail lacquers, but if you scan the ingredient list, you’ll see: Butyl Acetate, Ethyl Acetate, Nitrocellulose, Trimellitic Anhydride/Glycols Copolymer, Acetyl Tributyl Citrate, Isopropyl Alcohol, Stearalkonium Bentonite, Triphenyl Phosphate, N-Butyl Alcohol , Styrene/Acrylates Copolymer, Silica, Trimethylpentanediyl Dibenzoate, and Polyvinyl Butyral.
Even the one ingredient that seems perfectly harmless- silica- cannot be deemed 100% safe. Most commercial-grade silica is prepared in one of two ways; either by fuming or precipitating. Fumed silica is prepared by burning silicon tetrachloride, or by treating silicon with highly-poisonous chlorine. Precipitated silica, which is commonly used in the manufacturing of tires and shoe soles, is produced by agitating a mixture of sodium silicate and sulfuric acid in water. (1)
Ironically, many of the popular brands of nail polish that you’ve probably been avoiding have virtually the same ingredients as the ultra-pricey “faux-ganic” polishes that bloggers have been raving about. Some of the polishes which have been free of toluene, formaldehyde and DBP for years include Spa Ritual, CND, OPI, Essie, Zoya, Lancome, Estee Lauder, L’Oreal, and M.A.C.
While there is no such thing as a 100% natural, safe, or organic nail polish, most of the polishes you can purchase today are every bit as safe as the high-priced varieties made by some company with “Organic” in its name, whether you buy them at a department store or a beauty salon.
If you still don’t think it’s ridiculous to pay twice as much for a bottle of nail lacquer just because it’s free of toluene or formaldehyde, then perhaps I can sell you a bucket of interior latex paint for your bedroom walls. At $80 a gallon it may be on the expensive side, but I can guarantee that it’s 100% lead-free!
(1). P.R. Garrett. “Defoaming: Theory and Industrial Applications” CRC Press, 1992.