Pregnancy safe nail polish – what you need to know

The bad news…all nail polish contains some chemicals! But there are times we all want to cheer ourselves up with a bit of colour or need something fun for a special occasion it’s pretty hard to go completely nail polish free! Honestly, especially here in Asia going to a beauty salon to be pampered from time to time is as good as a girls’ night out! So I was keen to investigate: is it possible to find pregnancy safe nail polish? You may have seen nail polishes marketed as “3 free, 5 free” etc but what does that actually mean and how much of it is just clever marketing…?

I have done quite a bit of research into this because when I decided to switch my cosmetics to cleaner alternatives, nail polish was one of the most difficult one’s. I spent ages thinking that I would never be able to go for a mani/pedi again…but actually there are some pretty good options out there whether you are pregnant, trying to get pregnant or just want to minimise your toxic chemicals exposure. So keep reading and let me explain what the different categories are, what they mean and give you some suggestions of the ‘best’, least toxic nail polish around.

What does 3, 5… free mean?

3, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12 free has become a way manufacturers used to describe what they are not putting in their nail polishes, of course it doesn’t help with what they are putting in! 3 free might sound good but actually it is very far from it!

Toxic trio – 3 free nail polish

The toxic trio are toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and formaldehyde

  • Toluene is known to cause reproductive harm and dizziness.
  • Dibutyl phthalate (DBP) is banned in Europe as it has been proved to cause reproductive issues, particularly in boys. This scores a 10 on EWG due to endocrine disruption (hormones) and problems with organs – this is seriously bad stuff!
  • Formaldehyde is probably better known for its use of preserving dead things! But it is also found it a lot of nail polishes. It is a known cancer causing chemical and should not be ingested or inhaled.

These 3 should be avoided at all costs. Quite a few mainstream nail polishes are 3 free – OPI, Sally Hansen and Essie but these 3 chemicals are definitely not the only baddies found in nail polishes so I would certainly not stop at 3 free!

One step better – 5 free nail polish

These are free from the toxic 3 above – Toluene, DBP and Formaldehyde but they are also free from camphor and formaldehyde resin.

  • Camphor gives traditional nail polishes their glossy, shiny texture. It is less toxic than the first three ingredients listed above, and is sometimes used in cold remedies such as vapor rubs and nasal sprays….but arguably these are not great for you either! Camphor has been shown to trigger severe skin allergies when applied directly, and inhaling its fumes can cause nausea and dizziness great for nasal sprays!! Camphor in personal care products is being phased out in markets within the European Union and restricted in the US.
  • Formaldehyde resin is a by-product of formaldehyde. It hasn’t undergone as many human tests as the other four chemicals. However, preliminary studies show that can cause severe skin irritation and allergic reactions, skin de-pigmentation and loss of nerve sensation.

Some big brands are 5 free both Chanel Le Vernis and Dior Vernis as well as some lesser known one’s like Jinsoon nail polish who have some 9 free shades too but having to pick and choose within a brand is way too hard I think!

7 free nail polish

So as you may have guessed 7 free is 5 free plus two more exclusions – ethyl tosylamide, and xylene

  • Ethyl tosylamide is a plasticiser that helps transform polish from drippy to dry quickly. It has antibiotic properties and has already been banned from personal care products in Europe because of concern over antibiotic resistance.
  • Xylene is a solvent that keeps your nail polish from getting gloppy; it’s also a known allergen and possible carcinogen…better avoided.

I still wouldn’t recommend 7 free as I think there are better options on the market but these are two popular brands Côte and Ella & Mila. Ella & Mila was one of the pioneers in less toxic nail varnish when they started but has now been overtaken by some brands that are pushing out the boat further!

8 & above free nail polish

  • Triphenyl phosphate (TPHP) is a chemical that makes polish more flexible and durable. It has been shown to be an endocrine disruptor..they crop up everywhere! And some studies have linked it to reproductive and developmental issues.

Smith & cult are all 8 free – their packaging is super cool! And you might remember Hard candy from a while back – it is by the same founders.

Butter London has done a lot of publicity positioning itself as a low toxic brand and it was one of the first 3 free nail varnish ranges, it is now 8 free.

When it gets above 8 free, it gets a bit more complicated because individual brands say they are formulating without certain ingredients but these ingredients are not necessarily in other nail varnishes….so 12 free sounds amazing…but is it your best option?
Here are some other ingredients that brands say they don’t use:

  • Acetone is essentially a paint stripper, it is terrible for your nails – it drys them right out. Mainly used in nail polish remover but also found in some nail varnishes
  • Tert-butyl hydro peroxide of which there is very little information, does not come up on EWG but Sundays brand advertises that they do not include this in their products.
  • Parabens these are bad in general…as they have links to breast cancer, so should be avoided in all personal care products. In nail polish they act as a preservative and can leave your nails cracked and brittle.
  • Alcohol, Animal derived ingredients & Gluten

There are brands marketing themselves as 10-12 free but then are not being completely transparent about what ingredients are actually in the polishes!

Sundays – this brand has some great shades but is on the pricey end but gets great reviews for last ability. They are 10 free which includes being free from gluten and animal derived ingredients. They do not display their ingredients on their site.

Nailberry l’Oxygene – is a UK brand marketing themselves as 12 free. They use a patented formula which is breathable but not water based. They do not have their ingredients easily visible on their website and when I went digging I found a long list of chemicals – better than some above but the one’s below are definitely less risky.

Are water based nail polishes better?

Yes, they are better than solvent based polishes, they contain significantly fewer ingredients for a start. In fact all the water based brands below have a pretty similar ingredient list. The overall products rate below 3 on EWG but some individual ingredients rate higher.

  1. Keeki – is a water based range, water, acrylate copolymer emulsion, glycol ethers. Glycol ethers are used in all sorts of things like paint…not proven to be an issue for health directly though. Keeki openly market themselves as safe for pregnancy, kids and cancer patients and pride themselves on an odorless formula. They have 36 shades.
  2. Sophi – the mums’ version of the kids brand piggy paint. Sophi is an odorless, hypoallergenic nail polish. It is a water-based formula which apparently stops nails from going yellow and brittle. It’s ingredients are water, neem Oil and acrylates copolymer, same as piggy paint. Acrylates copolymer is not a concern in cosmetics from the existing studies but in higher concentrations it may be an issue.
  3. Honeybee – ingredients are again Water, Acrylates copolymer plus some colours contain Iron Oxides (CI 77490), Mica (CI 77019), Titanium Dioxide (CI 77891), Ultramarine Blue (CI 77007)
  4. Acquarella – as with all the water based polishes above they contain minimal ingredients – water, Styrene Acrylates Copolymer, Acrylates Copolymer. They are pretty transparent on their site about the ingredients and openly encourage questions. They have an extensive shade range with over 70 colours.

So what is the best pregnancy safe nail polish?

I think that water based polishes are your best option if you want a bit of colour on those nails but I would still recommend using them only occasionally. For truly pregnancy safe nails get them cleaned, tidied, massaged and buffed…maybe your husband is up to it?
Please let me know what your favourite nail polishes and of course any questions below.





  • Natalie

    March 13, 2018

    Thank you for this article. I constantly struggle between wanting my nails to look nice and knowing that there’s so many toxins in nail polish. While I was pregnant, I just didn’t paint my nails, but I’m glad to know there are ones out there that I can use and also use on my little girls. I’ll be bookmarking this page for future use, thank you!

    • Allie

      March 13, 2018

      Thanks Natalie, it’s nice to know there are safer options isn’t it!


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