What’s in Your Nail Polish?

With hundreds of hues and finish options on display at your local nail salon or beauty-supply store, it can feel daunting to choose just one. But picking a polish shouldn’t be a decision based on the product’s packaging or price tag alone. It should be a choice based on how it looks, feels and wears.

A good nail polish has a smooth, even application; is easy to apply and remove; dries quickly and is resistant to chipping, peeling and discoloration. It should also be dermatologically innocuous and smell pleasant, which is why the ingredients in nail polish are of such importance.

Nail polish contains a complex mix of chemicals that are essential to its function, including film formers, resins and plasticizers, pigments and solvents. The exact formulation of a nail polish is often a closely guarded secret and may change as scientists and manufacturers research new ingredients or as government regulators reexamine existing ones for safety issues. The basic components of any nail polish include a film forming agent (ethyl acetate, butyl acetate or methyl cellulose) and solvents (methyl, butyl, toluene and xylene). Pigments are colorants that can be anything from iron oxides to mica. Additive chemicals called dispersants help pigments mix with the resin and solvent. Plasticizers make the resin less brittle and are typically made of diethyl phthalate, dibutyl phthalate or camphor. The FDA regulates the use of certain pigments in nail polish and may require a manufacturer to reformulate a formula if it is found to contain unacceptably high levels of these chemicals.

Many traditional nail polishes contain toxic chemicals that can have long-term health effects, but some manufacturers have eliminated these potentially harmful ingredients or reduced them to minimal amounts. These new nail polishes are sometimes referred to as “green” or “five-free,” because they do not contain the chemicals methyl, butyl, toluene, xylene or formaldehyde.

Whether you prefer rich cremes, shimmery glitters or statement mattes, the right shade and brand can make all the difference. Top-rated nail polishes from Essie and Sally Hansen were the best in Consumer Reports’ tests. Both have a wide array of colors and finish options, while the Essie line includes gel-like formulas that look like the real thing and last longer than conventional enamels.

The newest addition to the market, côte’s eco-friendly nail polishes are formulated with 73 percent plant-based ingredients and have a 100 percent FSC ash wooden cap, which is much easier to hold while painting. It takes a bit longer for côte to dry than other brands we tested, but the color and wear were impressive. Vernis à Ongles

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