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Proper Green: Green Nail Polish Choices

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Eco-friendlier nail polish is often healthier nail polish, too. Here’s what to look for to green your mani.

Dear Proper Green,

My question is this: What about nail polish itself? Those come with a stack of chemicals that one needs a degree to know what they are.

-LaDoris K.

Dear LaDoris,

The stacks of chemicals in nail polish are usually what contribute to a polish being quick-drying, chip-resistant, opaque, and shiny — but are also what raise concerns about nail polish’s place in our environment. You know that potent nail polish smell? That smell is from those same chemicals, all of which pollute the air we breathe and could cause headaches, dizziness, and the like.

One bottle of nail polish, or one manicure, may pose a fairly small risk, but the combined $710 million worth of nail polish sold in 2012 has a more significant environmental impact — during use and once it’s disposed of, at which point the toxic chemicals in the polish can damage the nearby ground and water.

It’s hard to know the differences between all of the tongue-twisting chemicals, some of which are neutral and some of which are truly damaging. Environmental Working Group [EWG] is a great place to check the environmental impact of many brands of nail polishes; EWG provides environmental “scores” for different brands and products, and also show much data they have to calculate that score with. Meanwhile, here are a few things that are easy to look for when you’re buying your next bottle of nail polish:

  • Water-based (as opposed to solvent-based) nail polishes, like the ones from Honeybee Gardens
  • “4-Free” polishes, which avoid the use of the most common and toxic chemicals, like those from Poofy Organics
  • Non-toxic nail polishes, like the ones from Keeki Pure & Simple

When you’re done with a bottle of polish, check with your local waste hauler or municipality to see how they prefer you dispose of it — some may take it with their toxic waste collection — and when you want to remove polish from your nails, choose a greener nail polish remover.

How do you green your manicure routine? Share your ideas in the comments below!

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Proper Green
Proper Green

Proper Green is Recyclebank's green advice column. From promoting good manners in a green world (because ideas about what constitutes proper behavior and... more