The beauty aisle at your local beauty supply store, drugstore or nail salon is a wonderland of choice. Whether you prefer rich cremes, sparkly glitter or sleek mattes, there’s bound to be a hue and finish that fits your personal style. But deciding how to adorn your nails can be overwhelming. It’s not just the color that needs to be perfect—you have to factor in texture, durability and longevity as well.
It’s no secret that nail polish is a chemical-laden product. But what most people don’t know is that the ingredients used in the formula have been evolving over time. In fact, the latest technology allows nail polish to dry in just 45 seconds.
Unlike other cosmetic products that may have a history of hundreds or even thousands of years, the modern nail polish is almost entirely a twentieth century invention. Before the 20th century, women had to dye their nails with henna or other natural methods like a mixture of (definitely not vegan) beeswax and gelatin that were left on the nails for hours and then rinsed off, leaving behind a stain. Cleopatra is known to have used plant extracts to die her nails a dark red, and mummified Pharaohs were found with henna-stained fingertips.
In the 1920s, Charles Revson’s company launched a liquid nail polish that was an offshoot of his car paint. Nitrocellulose was a key ingredient and it allowed for the quick drying of the product. This was a revolutionary advancement in the world of nail polish, which had previously been a messy process that left fingers feeling sticky and goopy.
As the popularity of nail polish grew, so did the need for faster-drying formulas. This led to the development of urethane-acrylic resin and methyl acrylate, which can be used to create a more durable, smooth, glossy and shiny polish that’s able to be dried in less time.
To achieve a long-lasting and chip-resistant manicure, manufacturers also use plasticizers, which make the resin more flexible once it’s dried and keep it from cracking or peeling. To keep the product from changing colors or fading in sunlight, UV stabilizers are also added to nail polish.
Lastly, thickeners are used to make the nail polish thinner and more opaque. Some of the most popular thickeners are acrylates, butyl acetate, ethyl acetate and polyethylene glycol. Despite being more durable, these types of nail polishes often have a shorter lifespan than those with plasticizers and thickeners that are free of toluene, formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate and methyl benzoate.
Today, there are a growing number of clean and green nail polishes that are formulated to be as safe as possible. A good way to judge how clean a polish is is to look at the label, as many are marked 3-free, 10-free or 21-free (which omits toluene, formaldehyde, methyl benzoate, dibutyl phthalate and other toxic chemicals). If you’re looking for a safe nail polish that still delivers on the performance of an established brand, we suggest trying one of these clean options. Vernis à ongles