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Proper Green: Is nail polish remover safe for the environment?

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Nail polish remover doesn’t have to be a necessary evil to have nice nails. Look for these things next time you’re shopping for nail polish remover.

Dear Proper Green,

I love having my nails done but am wondering about how all that nail polish remover affects the environment. Is there anything I should look out for?

-Jane, SD

Dear Jane,

Everyone loves a pretty manicure, but there are definitely environmental concerns tied to nail polish and nail polish remover. Both generally contain strong chemicals, sometimes petroleum-derived, that allow them to do their jobs — but that can also pollute the air during use, and the ground and water once they’re disposed of. Plus, frequent use can also damage nail beds and dry up cuticles.

Luckily, there are easy ways around all this! Many mainstream companies have worked to cut down (or completely cut out) their use of the strongest and most damaging chemicals. To rest assured you’re choosing a greener nail polish remover option, look for these two options:

  1. Find acetone-free nail polish remover. Acetone is very common in nail polish removers, and the fumes from acetone can pollute your household air and cause health issues even in small amounts — everything from dizziness to vomiting if you’re particularly sensitive to it. And when acetone is disposed of, it can contaminate waterways.
  2. Choose water- or mineral-based remover. Most nail polish removers contain a slew of other strong chemicals that, like acetone, can pollute indoor air quality, in turn affecting your health. A remover that is water- or mineral-based has replaced many of the chemicals with water or minerals.

Look for “Acetone Free”, “Water-Based”, or “Mineral-Based” on a nail polish remover’s label; if a remover is one of those three, it should be easy to spot!

How do you green your manicure? Share your tips 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

  • Meg P. 1 year ago
    Since chemicals, etc. go directly through the nails and skin, into our blood stream to do whatever havoc they do, it makes absolutely NO SENSE to me to ever put polish or remover on my nails or skin. My health is more important to me than colored nails ever could be. When I did use polish, it felt like my nails were smothering. Probably they were!
  • LaDoris K. 3 years ago
    The above question left me with this one. You gave us something that I have wanted for years. The smell of nail and beauty salons in general send my system into a panic with the first symptom being a raging headache and sinus issues. No, I am not one of those shrinking violets who love to get attention by having attacks of some sort. I have a lot of medical issues worse than that and go on with life. My question is this, what about the nail polish itself? Those come with a stack of chemicals that one needs a degree to know what they are as well. The more exciting shades and options they have the more stuff that is needed I have a feeling. I have not done my homework on the last statement. It is only a guess so please do not hold me to that one. It would be so great to have a bottle of nail polish that one could if they wanted to paint their dog's or baby's nails and not worry about the polish getting in the dog or baby's mouth. I did not say that I wanted to do it, I am only using that as the ultimate safe test for a product. I would have to trust something 100% prior to doing either of those. I do not even trust the so called dog nail polish because I know that dogs eat it. I look forward to hearing from you and sorry for being so long winded.
  • Yvonne P. 3 years ago
    Are the water of oil based removers easier on the nails? I cannot use the acetone based because the remover causes my nails to layer and peel off.
  • Cathy M. 3 years ago
    Will do.
  • Kelly F. 3 years ago
    good to know!
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