The first nail-focused beauty blog

Go Green – "Healthier" Polish

By on April 22, 2008
in Big 3 Free, Eco-conscious

Big 3 Free. Non-toxic. Chemical-free. Water-based. Pregnancy Safe. Healthy. Eco-conscious. These are all buzz words that the polish industry throws at us to make their product look healthier, more eco-friendly, safer, etc. but, what does it all mean and who makes what?

UPDATE: View my 2009 Update – Check Your Ingredients.

If you haven’t read my post about Big 3 Free nail polish, I suggest you start there to familiarize yourself with the ingredients the term refers to. I use “healthier” in quotes to describe these lacquers since the jury is still out as to whether traditional formulas are really a health risk.

OK so you want a polish with less chemicals for health or environmental reasons. Which one is right for you? It all depends on the ingredients you want to avoid. Here I’ve broken down the brands according to what is excluded. I tried to cover the majority of the big and cult brands but if I missed one and you have ingredient info to share, please post it in the comments.

Of course, if you have allergies I suggest you still read the labels before buying. And remember, older formulas are still out there for brands that have made the switch to Big 3 Free.

Formaldehyde and DBP Free – Carolyn New York, CND (Creative Nail Design), Misa and NYX

Big 3 Free – butter London, Calvin Klein, China Glaze (black label), Color Club, Hard Candy, Maybelline, Nicole, OPI (green label) and Sally Hansen

Big 3 Free, No Formaldehyde Resin – MAC, N.Y.C. Colors, Nailtini (except Vodka), NARS, Nocti, Orly, PeaceKeeper, Rescue Beauty Lounge, SpaRitual, Wet n’ Wild and Zoya

Big 3 Free, No Formaldehyde Resin, No Camphor – Chanel, Dashing Diva, Estee Lauder, Lippmann, L’oreal, No-Miss, Nubar, Revlon, Sante and Sinful Colors

Water based, Big 3 Free, No Formaldehyde Resin, No Camphor, No Ethyl Acetate – Acquarella, Honeybee Gardens and Suncoat

So, how do these brands compare to their more chemical laden competition? Have you made the switch to less toxic polish? What has been the big difference in doing so?

While you’re at it, head on over to Total Beauty and give them a review. You could win a Saturn Vue Hybrid filled with eco-beauty products OR one of the many Daily Instant Win prizes.

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  1. Painting the Roses Red (Or your son’s toenails) « AtomicLuLu | April 14, 2011
  1. Jennifer says:

    When I heard that formaldehyde was in certain nail polishes, I freaked. I’m so glad you broke down which brands don’t contain ingredients that are harmful to humans and the environment. Thanks for this!

  2. Anonymous says:

    It may be more expensive than other brands, but Chanel is among the best in quality (in my experience), in terms of application and duration. Plus its big 3 free, which just goes to show that those chemicals don’t necessarily make better NP.

    I just wonder though, whether the replacement chemicals they use are much safer. How do we know?

    Its an interesting topic though, and fascinating to see just how many brands have ditched the big 3…

  3. sarasotagirl says:

    Isn’t it amazing how polishes that are equally “big-3-free” or whatever can apply and wear so differently? Some of my faves and some of my least-faves are in the same categories.

    Goes to show it might not be the big bad chemicals that are doing good … or bad. I do wish OPI would improve its new formula, though.

  4. vbie3714 says:

    Thank you so much for posting this! Very interesting, but also good to know!

  5. Anonymous says:

    How does Boundless Color match up? They carry my favorite shade of red.

  6. firepail says:

    wait, so ButterLondon is saying that it is better [chemically] than OPI but both of them are currently in the same category? Where does Essie fit in? Does Essie have all the bad stuff?

  7. Andie says:

    i believe essie’s formula still contains some of the bad stuff…

  8. firepail says:

    Crud! I was just admiring Essie’s summer 2008 collection!

  9. Laura says:

    Thank you SO much for this – as someone trying to avoid DBP this makes the task SO much easier! (and thanks for your earlier big 3 free post, too!)

  10. Sigrun says:

    What do you mean by the labels in “China glaze (black label) and OPI (green label)”? Are there any OPIs with a green label?

    • ism says:

      it’s really late reply lol
      anyway, they mean the labels on the bottom of the polish bottle.
      opi bottom label with green latter,
      cg bottom label with black background.

  11. msnotty says:

    Thanks for this very, very useful entry! I loved it!

  12. Anonymous says:


    If you look on the bottom of OPI bottles the name and bar code will be either in green or black. If you buy your OPI in a store that sells alot of it, most of the bottles will be green.

  13. Emelie says:

    Thank you so much for this entry! I’ve bookmarked it because it was so good.

  14. CincyFan says:

    Sarasota Girl – I suppose it’s no different than having formula preferences with any product. Just because they are 3 Free doesn’t mean their bases are all alike.

    Firepail – I’m waiting for confirmation but I believe Essie has made the transition as well. I received their summer collection yesterday and the labels are now missing the Big 3. I’ll update you when I know if the change is permanent.

    Sigrun – Sorry for not being more specific. The China Glaze polishes with the new formula have bottom labels that are black with white writing. And like Anon said, OPI started using green lettering instead of black when they made the switch.

  15. firepail says:

    oh good, because I *need* Essie’s Guilty Pleasures =)

  16. Sigrun says:

    Thanks for getting back to me about the labels :) And thanks for a great blog!!

  17. Anonymous says:

    where can i buy china glaze? there is no retailer locator on the website. is there any possible way i can buy it in a store because i like looking at the bottle b4 i buy which i can’t do online.


  18. kyutie says:

    Wow, I love the colors! It made me so happy looking at them… I’m glad that its safe even for pregnant women..

    take care…
    love lots,

  19. Anonymous says:

    Just wanted to let you know that Go Natural is another brand of water-based nailpolish that should be in that last group.

    Thanks for the great article!

  20. Ms Moore says:

    After I read this, I e-mailed CHI (which I’ve been wearing rather obsessively lately). They say: “Yes, our product is 3 FREE; No Formaldehyde, No Toluene, No DBP. We have great products that are healthy for the environment, professional technician, and end user.” Thought someone else might find that useful!

    I hadn’t really thought about the implications of being a nail tech and having long-term, extended exposure to polish/fumes…

  21. Anonymous says:

    I was just wondering, do they new OPI and China Glaze formulas only apply to new colors, or are all colors now being made with the new formula? Also, which is first big 3 free OPI collection? Thanks.

  22. CincyFan says:

    anon #6 – OPI and China Glaze are reformulating all their colors but it takes time for it to reach the shelves. Some stores may have old stock so be sure to check the labels.

  23. Kathy says:

    Hi All, thanks so much for your very useful info. I’m re-entering the nail biz after taking a break from it for several years. I have a few questions that I’m hoping someone can help me with.
    When doing a pedi on an older person their nails tend to be thick and rough. How do I apply polish smoothly to a nail that has a very rough or uneven texture even after I have buffed it?
    Also, have you found that some of the “Big 3 Free” polishes are a thinner consistency which makes it even more difficult to cover a nail of this type?

    Thanks for your help!

  24. Anonymous says:

    formaldehyde and other “dangerous” chemicals are nearly everywhere: in your car, carpet, paint, plastic, laminates, glue, air pollution, bottled water, car exhaust, synthetic clothing, computers, we all breathe and ingest them everyday…

  25. Ρένα says:

    thanks for the post.
    I am allergic to formaldehyde and toluene so I only use toluene and formaldehyde free nail polishes. I would like to add that bourjois nail polish contains none and it has worked fine for me as well as the polishes from the body shop

  26. ???a says:

    thanks for the post.
    I am allergic to formaldehyde and toluene so I only use toluene and formaldehyde free nail polishes. I would like to add that bourjois nail polish contains none and it has worked fine for me as well as the polishes from the body shop

  27. Maegan says:

    This is a fabulously thorough post! Thanks!!!!

  28. yushimiluw says:

    Thank you for this.
    Very very useful for a polish addict like me haha.
    I even bookmarked this page.


  29. Anonymous says:

    my favorite polish is not on your list– and it IS formaldehyde free toluene and DBP free- it is Color nail lacquers by Olan Labs. They have a fabulous range of shades- very high quality polish- lasts long without chipping or peeling!

  30. Anonymous says:

    I just went to the NYX website and this is what is on their ingredients list for nail polish. I don’t see any Toluene on the list.

    NYX Nail Polish
    Ethyl Acetate, Butyl Acetate, Nitrocellulose, Phthalic Alkyd Resin, Dibutyl Phthalate, Isopropyl Alcohol, Stearalkonium Hectorite, Camphor, Benzophenone-1, Titanium Dioxide.

  31. Anonymous says:


    I found a range of nail polishes online that are wonderfully gentle and free from harsh chemicals at toxicfreeboutique.
    I bought a couple of colours to try out and i loved them. I always use nail polish on my toes and it lasted suprisingly well!

    I thought i would share this little gem with you girls!

  32. Anonymous says:

    I have two bottles of the Sinful Colors polish: California and Coco Diamonds. The labels on the bottom look different and the ingredients are also different. On the back of the bottle the California color says"Toluene, Formaldehyde, DBP & Camphor Free." Then if you read the ingredients the 4th ingredient is DIBUTYL PHTHALATE!!! The Coco Diamonds color does not list this as an ingredient so I don't know if the formula changed or if certain colors still have DBP even though it says no DBP on the bottle! Just wanted to let you know.

  33. Anonymous says:

    i notice that chanel is listed as big 3 free, f. resin free and camphor free, my question is are the colors made in france also free of these chemicals? i have noticed that in the past year or two that the bottles made in france are making it over here and was just curious.

  34. Tania says:

    Does anyone know if Essie has made the transition to 3-Free yet? I just purchased one of their nail polishes yesterday, and while I don't see toulene or DBP listed, I still see 'formaldehyde resin'

  35. Banana says:

    Also big 3 free: Goldie, Icing, oh and only the Essies with the BLUE labels are big 3 free.

    I’m still keeping my formaldehyde resin polishes. Mostly because a lot of them are China Glaze and too beautiful to give up.

    Is it true that Misa is now big 3 free?

  36. Susie says:

    Someone asked where to find China Glaze in stores – Sally’s Beauty Supply has large stocks of it!

  37. Anne says:

    If we buy essie and opi over in England the lacquers are 3 free, but not Form. Resin free. Opi’s nail envy original and Essie’s Millionails both have formaldehyde in them though. I was wondering whether that was the same for both makes over in the US, as I have taken to getting my stuff from you guys as it’s much much much cheaper that way, even including the shipping! There is mention of different coloured labels on this page, but we don’t have that here and yet OPI’s and Essie’s lacquers are technically 3 free. All info greatly appreciated :-)

    • All Lacquered Up says:

      Hi Anne! As you’ll notice in the post and the updated list I link to, OPI & Essie are 3 Free but include Formaldehyde Resin. 3-Free does not mean Formaldehyde Resin free so I assume the bottles you’re buying from the US are the same formula as the ones in England. The labeling may be different due to whatever regulations your country has regarding packaging. I know that OPI makes a formaldehyde free version of Nail Envy, I’m not sure about the Essie line.

  38. Anne says:

    Hello again – thanks for that :-) It seems that it is the same in Engalnd as the US – blue labels for Essie and green for Opi = 3-free. Even though DBP is banned in Europe, black label Essie’s pop up all over the place, which have it in – it is a problem seeing as you can only buy them online, and therefore can’t check your bottles. Re Form resin I don’t personally think that it is a problem, there are plently of other things in nail varnishes that I wouldn’t choose to be there – of course that is a totally personal opinion. Thanks for all the tips on happy polishes guys – V grateful :-)

  39. kellie says:

    I worry about the spread of nail diseases when using the green polishes in the salon setting. can you fill me in?

    • All Lacquered Up says:

      Can you be more specific by what you mean? Just because a polish is 3-Free doesn’t mean it’s chemical free.

  40. LuvNails says:


  41. J'aime les couleurs says:

    Apparently, “formaldehyde resin” is not formaldehyde?

    Formaldehyde is used to make the formaldehyde resin… but it’s used in very little quantities and it’s also chemically changed… I read this somewhere, I’m not sure what the real facts are.

    I take it formaldehyde resin is a lot safer than formaldehyde alone.

    My bottles of Essie, OPI, Nicole by OPI, China Glaze ALL have this resin… and they ALL claim to be formaldehyde free on their respective official websites… so I don’t know. I don’t really get it. lol

    • All Lacquered Up says:

      What you wrote is correct. Formaldehyde resin is not the same as formaldehyde. The chemical process to create resin changes it. Now some people are allergic to formaldehyde resin so they need to carefully read labels but the resin is not considered harmful as far as I know.

  42. Rachel says:

    Revlon DOES contain Camphor according to a US government website so it should be put back into “the big 3″ list. I’m doing my research before I trust the recommendations on this list…

    On a happy note, Suncoat does FREE international shipping for every product order over Canadian $100!! They sell Organic water-based long-wearing nail polish, but they also sell mascaras, foundations, liquid eyeliners and other makeup too. I like their lipsticks in the cute little bamboo holders. I just made an order from their website and I can’t wait to try odour free nail enamel especially the hot spring “Apple Green 21″ shade!!

    • All Lacquered Up says:

      This post is from 2008 based on the ingredient list on a bottle purchased at that time. The ingredient list can always change with reformulations.

  43. Jenn says:

    Thanks for this! Even at the age of 14, I think that it’s still important for me to be aware of what I’m inhaling every time I do my nails. I’m so pleased that OPI, the only brand I use, is 3 Free. I went and checked all of my bottles, and tossed the 2 with black labels. THANK YOU MICHELLE <3

  44. Natalie says:

    I love china glaze and i just ordered about 14 nail polishes from them online this past week. (still waiting for them to arrive because of slow shipping). I really liked the brand because they were big three free..

    Is Formaldehyde resin just as bad as regular formaldehyde?

    Have they changed this since you updated it last?

    • All Lacquered Up says:

      Formaldehyde Resin is not as bad as regular Formaldehyde. As a resin it is a completely different chemical. I only talk about Formaldehyde Resin because there are people allergic to it.

  45. Anna says:

    I use Opi, Revlon, China Glaze, Misa, Color Club and will be buying some Zoya soon. Most of my polishes are Big 3 free then but i’ve been quite worried about buying the right polish thinner as seche has toulene in it… Which do you recommend then?

  46. Angela says:

    Thanks so much for posting these. I had no idea what to look for in terms of safe nail polish, now I know. Can you recommend safe nail polish removers and base & top coats as well? Do you know if Seche Vite top & base coats are toxic?

  47. Jessica says:

    That’s very informative, thanks! Some more nail polishes that I’ve found that don’t contain the big 3 are the Del Sol color-changing polishes and the Icing by Claire’s brand. I’ve checked multiple labels on each and they don’t contain those. Icing also doesn’t contain camphor or formaldehyde resin. On the Del Sol label it does say it MAY contain camphor; but it doesn’t have any formaldehyde resin either.

  48. Jessica says:

    L.A. Colors Art Deco polishes are also big 3, formaldehyde resin, and camphor free. I don’t know about their regular nail polishes, but I’m assuming that they are most likely also free of all those as their Art Deco ones are.

  49. ines says:

    what about the rimmel london_
    i reallz need the answer. thank you!

  50. mumtaza says:

    What about Urban Decay? Anyone know how they come out?

  51. mumtaza says:

    Oh, and wondering about Sula, also.