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You Ask, I Answer: All About Vegan Nail Polish

Posted Apr 16 2013 10:37pm


Before I start: This is going to be an incredibly “light” post (I had actually scribbled it yesterday morning), but before I say anything else, I want to send my love and good wishes out to everyone affected by the events in Boston yesterday.

Lately, at the urging of Sayward , I’ve been using Instagram more often (you should totally follow me). This means more photos of me clutching things like coffee, smoothies, midday snacks, and lunchboxes. A few of you have commented on my often brightly colored nails, and asked what polish varieties I use, so I figured it would be a good time to talk about vegan nail polish!

My obsession with nail color is a little funny, because it’s pretty much my only major cosmetic embellishment. I rarely wear makeup, and my skin care routine (which I talk about in this post ) is pretty basic. Since I wrote that post, I’ve started using a vegan moisturizer with SPF 15 during the day, but at night, I usually just rinse my face in hot water and slather either coconut or Argan oil on it before calling it a day. Easy.

Where my face is au natural, though, my nails are usually all sorts of bold and unusual shades. I’m not sure where my penchant for nail color comes from, but I think it’s a lot of fun.

photo (1)

What’s not fun is supporting nail polish makers who participate in animal cruelty or use animal products in their nail polish, so here’s a quick primer on some brands that are animal-friendly.

If you get your nails done at a conventional salon, you should know that OPI nail lacquers, which can be found in nearly all nail salons, are vegan. I read this via PETA and some other vegan beauty blogs, but Veganize This got word directly from the source, and posted Opi’s information on animal products and testing. The company states,

“Thank you for your email. We apologize for the delayed response. Yes, our lacquers are vegan. Our lacquer does not contain any animal ingredient and we do not test on animals, and we are registered with PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). You can visit their web site; .

OPI does not perform animal testing, nor do we contract to have it performed elsewhere. When sensitization testing is necessary, we use informed, consenting, paid human volunteers – not animals.”

You can read the full statement here . It goes on to detail the few animal products used in other OPI products (not nail lacquers) and notes that many are going out of use. It’s an impressively detailed response, and shows willingness to evolve on the part of a major beauty brand—which I like.

Animal testing and cruelty is my major concern when it comes to nail colors, but it’s not the only concern. Many consumers are getting more savvy about toxins in various beauty products, and nail colors are no exception. Three ingredients to be wary of are toluene, DBP (dibutyl phthalate), and formaldehyde (a string of names that brings memories of orgo lab flooding back). DBP has been associated with birth defects (in animal tests, anyway—and sadly), and may disrupt male hormones. Toluene is a mild skin irritant and can exacerbate asthma (it’s also in some glues and in gasoline). Formaldehyde, once a common preservative, has been described by The National Toxicology Program as a known carcinogen; at the least, it is a potent and volatile toxin.

Until recently, I’d believed it was very hard to find “3 free” (no DBP, no toluene, no formaldehyde) nail colors, and I’d thrown up my proverbial hands and reasoned that, so long as I could find vegan shades, I was doing my best. It’s actually much, much easier to find 3 free nail polishes than I thought, as I learned when Rebecca asked me about non-toxic brands on Instagram. Most of the brands that are vegan-friendly are also free of the major toxins, which makes shopping easy. Here’s a roundup of brands that I’ve either seen or purchased myself, and loved.



Opi nail colors are easy to find, and they’re both vegan and free of DBP, toluene, and formaldehyde (this is a recent development, and details of the switch away from DBP and toluene can be found in a statement on the company website). Tons of fun, constantly updated shades.


Possibly my favorite nail color brand, Priti has a huge variety of shades. My personal favorite is an electric blue called “blue sage,” but the lighter shades are beautiful as well. At $13.50, these are not cheap, but they do tend to last a while.

Zoya is the best—and I say that without having tried any of their colors yet. Vegan, non-toxic, priced at $8.00, and easy to order with easily accessible customer service. Readers recently made me aware of this brand, and I promptly checked out the website—and was mighty impressed!


Lots of original colors and cool packaging. These retail for about $12.00, and can be a little tough to find, but the company has a good philosophy.


I’ve used ELF products before and really liked them—plus, it’s hard to beat the incredibly low price!


These polishes are totally non-toxic and water based, which means no powerful odors. I love the idea, but they’re priced at $16.00, which means they’re a tough purchase if you’re on a budget,

Ginger and Liz

This company has been making vegan nail polish for a long time, and it boasts cheeky names for its shades! You can find it at Ricky’s, at Urban Outfitters, and through the company website.

Left to Right: Pool Boy, Ghostly, Shellac'd, Femme, Pansy, Rx, Echo, Chlorophyll, Wasabi

OCC (Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics)

Both a makeup and a nail brand, I love the company’s offering of colors, all available online. But I also love the no-nonsense vegan mission statement:

What’s with the ‘Vegan’ thing?

In a time when many cosmetic companies make the claim that their products are "Cruelty Free" simply because Animal Testing has become unfashionable and less cost-effective, OCC felt it was necessary to raise the bar on this issue. We pledge never to use animal-derived ingredients (including Lanolin, Beeswax, Carmine and more) in our products and accessories. Beyond any personal convictions, we simply believe that it’s unnecessary, especially when there are alternatives that are just as readily available, and equally effective in the formulation of our products. Further, you need not necessarily be aligned with animal rights issues to reap the benefits of a vegan cosmetic line: animal ingredients can be amongst the most allergenic and skin reactive, and prevent makeup from being considered Kosher, Halal or otherwise compliant with various dietary (and sanitary!) regulations.

What about you guys—any recommendations? Favorite brands or colors? My guess is that many of my readers are far more savvy about cruelty-free beauty than I am! Speaking of, I cannot recommend the following resources enough for information about makeup, skin, nail and hair care that is animal-friendly:

Cruelty Free Face (Melisser is the best!)



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