Sunday, June 21, 2015

Water-based non-toxic nail polish - Does it work?

sun coat pink dahlia
We all know that nail polish isn't exactly the healthiest beauty product on the planet. I am sure you have heard of the dirty "big 3", which are the three most toxic substances frequently found in nail polish: toluene (solvent), formaldehyde (prevents cracking of the dry polish and hardens the nails, hence it is frequently found in nail hardeners) and dibutyl phthalate (DBP, keeps nail polish elastic). These ingredients are known to harm unborn children, cause cancer or are toxic to our central nervous system. 
Many brands nowadays omit these substances and the polishes are usually marketed as "3 free". Most of my favorite nail polish brands are 3free these days - OPI, China Glaze, Rimmel, Sally Hansen and many more.
Nowadays there are even brands that are "5 free", where the formula lacks the plasticizer camphor and formaldehyde resin. These brands include Zoya, Priti NYC, Deborah Lippmann, NCLA and more. 

Even those 5 free polishes aren't overly healthy, because you breath in the chemical fumes from the volatile organic solvents, which usually are butyl acetate or ethyl acetate. These can cause dizziness or headache and are also the reason for the characteristic smell of nail polish. Hence, I like to paint my nails by on open window. I must admit, though, that I do not worry too much about the ingredients of nail polish and I would not give up on painting my nails. Since nail polishes are consumer products, the amounts of these substances are regulated by government authorities for safety and are therefore small enough not to pose too much of a threat.
I do however skip products that contain toluene (I am looking at you, Seche Vite) or formaldehyde (OPI Nail Envy is just one example of a hardening nail treatment containing formaldehyde) for several reasons.

While browsing through the organic cosmetics section of my local health food store, I came across the Canadian brand Suncoat, that offered a completely organic solvent free, water-based nail polish. It even promises to be peelable, so you do not need nail polish remover. There were lots of different colors to choose from and I went with a shimmery pink called Pink Dahlia.


The first thing that struck me when I started applying the Suncoat polish: it does not have any detectable scent. That is because the polish is water-based and does not contain any solvents. The ingredients simply are water, acrylic copolymer and pigments. The manufacturer describes the product as follows:

Suncoat Polish & Peel Water-Based Nail Polish Pink Dahlia - 0.27 oz. (8ml)
Suncoat Polish & Peel Water-Based Nail Polish Pink Dahlia is the first water-based, odorless, eco-friendly, peelaway polish featuring natural colors and mineral pigments instead of synthetics. No nail polish remover is needed to remove Suncoat Polish & Peel Water-Based Nail Polish Pink Dahlia. Simply soak your nails in warm water, then peel from one corner. Suncoat Polish & Peel Water-Based Nail Polish Pink Dahlia is completely VOC free, and is truly the cleanest nail polish on today's market! Suncoat Polish & Peel Water-Based Nail Polish Pink Dahlia is free of toluene, formaldehyde (no formaldehyde donors), acetates, acetone or any other chemical solvents. Suncoat Nail Polish releases only water vapor when applied.


The formula is on the thicker side and comparable to peel-off base coats/PVA glue. Since I wasn't sure how exactly I could clean this water-based nail polish up, I tried to apply it as neat as possible so I did not have to do any cleanup. While Pink Dahlia looked pretty pigmented in the bottle, I was disappointed on the first thin coat. It looked like a sheer wash of color, as if my nails were stained pink. So I did a thicker second coat, which gave better coverage, but also took a long time to dry. I applied a final third coat, which gave almost complete coverage (if you look closely, there is still some VNL). The biggest downside for me was drying time. It took more than half an hour for those three coats to dry and I ended up getting some dents into my newly polished nails (index and pinkie nail). Lastly, this Suncoat nail polish dries to a semi-matte finish. I left it like it is, because applying a shiny "chemical" top coat would defeat the purpose of a non-toxic nail polish.
Because the formula is peelable and can be removed with water, the polish did not wear well. In the shower it started peeling off at the sides, so I removed it the next morning. While peeling it off from the nail bed was no problem, I had serious issues removing Pink Dahlia from my free edges. Even after soaking my nails in warm water for a few minutes I had to scrape it off with an orange wood stick.

So overall, I am not happy with the performance of this nail polish and I cannot see myself converting to "natural" nail polishes in the future. I will stick with my 3free or 5free organic solvent based nail polishes instead. With around $6-7 for 8ml it isn't exactly cheap, either. I do however think that this kind of product is a good alternative for people that need to be cautious: 

  • Pregnant or nursing women
  • People with small children (keep nail polish out of their reach!)
  • People with allergies or sensitive skin

Have you tried any "natural" nail polishes? Do you care about ingredients of your nail polishes? Let me know, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic! 

Suncoat products @ Ecco Verde (German webshop for organic cosmetics)


  1. This 3free and 5free and 7free (yes, I saw that one already somewhere) is mostly marketing anyways. Come on, I wouldn't describe a nail polish as "toxic" because I sometimes suffer from a tiny headache because I was stupid and didn't paint my nails in a well ventilated area. "Toxic" implies the nail polish is slowly killing us and that definitely isn't the case.
    On a sidenote to formaldehyde, I read (again, sadly somewhere, didn't remember where) that is hardens the nails, but doesn't go "deep" enough to actually hurt us, so I don't care for that one either. And I like my occasional MicroCell 2000, though I don't use it daily.
    I do encourage the innovation to improve on somewhat "organic" nail polish though... when painting my nails, I'm not thinking about my health, but rather about the environment. I've no idea how bad my nail polish habits really are for our natural environment.
    So, yeah, sad to see the polish isn't performing well. (And to be honest... I don't like the color either; way to frosty for my taste.) I think these are great for children though. I wouldn't paint my children's nails with the usual nail polish.

  2. Thank you for the interesting review! I see water-based nail polish popping up more and more (bornpretty has it etc) but i seriously doubt it would work well. I tried a set by Claire's and it was unusable. The idea is good, though.

  3. You're welcome Valentina. I have not seen water-based nail polish on Born Pretty, but now that you have mentioned it, I need to check it out. I like the idea, too, but I do not think we can expect the results we get with regular nail polish.

  4. Really, vegan and crueltry-free? Ugh, I would've never guessed that from 7free, I was much rather assuming some ingredients, like camphor... o_O but oh well, we never cease learning, right! I only wish companies would stop using it for marketing. It's sooo misleading! But then again, I'm annoyed by most ads anyways, so I guess I'd *still* be annoyed from *something* if they stop using the whateverfree stuff.

    Concerning the chemical fumes: ah, thanks for the information, I wasn't able to describe it that neatly, though I know I inhale some of that stuff. Question is: does it make a difference? Do I - with my polishing habits - inhale enough to potentially make me sick in some distant (or not so distant) future? Assuming this isn't possible I'd say: nah, polish doesn't kill me. The chances for other stuff to kill me are way higher (like the asabest they used for building our university, lol).
    I'm really interested: there surely are critical values for these fumes, and could I possibly be inhaling too much of them? Hm, I guess if someone get's too much, then it's me, as I use loads of polish, and opening the window won't stop some of it getting in my lungs.

    Hmhh, a short google search concluded, what I already, but faintedly remembered: MicroCell 2000 contains about 1% formaldehyde. So, if 4% can travel though a few millimeters, we could possibly be on the safe side... I lack the papers to prove that one, though ;) Thankfully, formaldehyde doesn't irritate me (considering I don't take a big sniff on my nail polish bottle, lol, but really, who does that?), but I don't use it much. My nails are fine and they are way shorter than a few years ago, which makes them less prone to cracks and stuff. :D

    I'd love to read what you find out about ecological effects - it's a topic which has been on my mind for a few years, but I really lack the knowledge and time to delve into research. :)


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