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12 best vegan and non-toxic nail polish brands for a chemical-free manicure

Cut out the nasties and animal tested varnishes with our tried and tested selection

Studies show the body can absorb traces of some chemicals through nail polish, so non-toxic polishes tend to be kinder to nails ( The Independent/iStock )

We all love a glossy manicure. But often these shiny, new nails come with a price – a chemical price to be exact. Today the number of toxic ingredients within varnishes is becoming more widely known.

There’s the “toxic trio” – formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), and toluene, while other chemicals in the mix include triphenyl phosphate (TPHP), formaldehyde resin and camphor.

But why should we be worried about chemicals? Well studies have shown the body can absorb traces of some chemicals through nail polish, but there is no need to panic.

“No one is saying that the occasional manicure will cause long-term health consequences,” says Janet Nudelman, co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. “But certain groups may be at higher risk.”

Those groups include nail salon staff, anyone working with the products on a daily basis and children who are more susceptible to phthalates.

Non-toxic polishes will carry a “free” label, with the most common being “3-free” while vegan nail polish is also a growing trend, with lacquers developed without animal-testing or animal-derived products.

Sherrille Riley, founder of luxury London boutique Nails & Brows, has been an advocate of non-toxic nail products since she set up shop four years ago. She says: “The skin around our fingers and cuticles is sensitive and absorbent, so non-toxic polishes tend to be kinder to nails, meaning less chance of drying out our nails and skin, which can cause irritation and inflammation.”

Innovation in the nail industry has greatly improved in recent years, with many non-toxic formulations showing no real difference in finish or wear-time to regular polishes. After testing these varnishes on application, colour, durability and shine, our results corroborated this recognition.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent. 

Orly breathable, 18ml: £12, Look Fantastic

Non-toxic count: 13-free
Vegan: Yes
Our favourite shade: Happy & Healthy

Founded in 1975, when LA-based Jeff Pink created the original French manicure for screen actresses, the family-owned brand has gone from strength to strength. The brand's masterpiece, in our opinion, is the breathable range. These 53 shades are not only free of 13 chemicals (the most of any of the featured brands) but they don’t need any base or top coat and are infused with argan oil, Vitamin B5 and Vitamin C.

Our favourite is Happy & Healthy, simply because this is a soothing, nostalgic pink that even pinkophobes would be able to get on board with. The truly amazing thing is this lasted almost six days without budging and stayed as shiny as on first application. The 600-bristle brush can cover the nail in one stroke and the formula is so pigmented that you could get away with just one coat, and it will dry with a glossy finish in a matter of 10 minutes.

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Kure Bazaar, 10ml: £15, Love Lula

Non-toxic count: 10-free
Vegan: Yes
Our favourite shade: Love

There isn’t enough time to explain why French brand Kure Bazaar is simply masterful at nails. With over 70 shades in the range, Kure Bazaar boasts 10-free formulas that are up to 90 per cent natural, made from wood pulp, wheat, cotton, potatoes and corn. Kure also claims to be the first range to remove benzophenone -1 and -3, the toxic chemical used to prevent colour fading. Once you try the shade Love, you’ll never need another classic red polish again, as it suits every skin tone. The thin brush allows for precise application, and after a base, two coats and a top coat, this vibrant shade dries in no longer than 15 minutes and remained chipless for a full five days.

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Smith & Cult, 14ml: £12.60, Bath & Unwind

Non-toxic count: 8-free
Vegan: Yes
Our favourite shade: Glass Souls

Created by American beauty veteran Dineh Mohajer – the brains behind cult Nineties brand Hard Candy – Smith & Cult, with around 35 shades in the 8-free range, create some of the most luxurious non-toxic polishes on the market. It is often difficult to find a good glitter polish, which is why Glass Souls is so impressive.

The silver glitter flakes vary in size adding dimension to the finish, and applied with a wide brush means you cut down on painting time. Drying time is no longer than 10 minutes and unlike most glitters, it dissolves quickly when taking off. The polish also lasted a week without chipping, without a base or top coat. Not just a great product, the ornate bottles are definitely one to display on the dressing table.

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Nailberry, 15ml: £14.50, Look Fantastic

Non-toxic count: 12-free
Vegan: Yes
Our favourite shade: Candy Floss

Starting out as a Chelsea nail bar, Nailberry now has over 57 shades in the collection, all of which are 12-free (eliminating alcohol and animal derivatives alongside the main list of chemicals). It is also vegan, gluten-free and certified halal. The L’Oxygene range is multi-award winning and includes a firm favourite nude pink called Candy Floss.

The wide, flat brush stops excess polish collecting on the bristles, which means you can paint the whole nail in one fell swoop. Along with a base coat, three coats, and a top coat, it dried in 15 to 20 minutes and lasted four days without chipping. Lighter pinks and nudes are notoriously for being too watery, but Candy Floss manages to lift the nail and gift it that rosy glow while being toxin-free.

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Zoya, 15ml: £11, Holland & Barrett

Non-toxic count: 5-free
Vegan: Yes
Our favourite shade: Freja

Created in 1992, Zoya was ahead of the non-toxic and vegan trend, and prides themselves on being the first “Big 5 Free and Vegan Friendly Brand”. There are more than 300 colours to choose from in the collection, but one that always catches our eye is a gunpowder smoky grey called Freja – one for all the mystics out there. Easy to apply in three strokes, despite the deceptively thin brush, we would suggest three coats (along with a top and base coat). The polish dried in around 15 minutes, and lasted four days without chipping. One of the least expensive non-toxic polishes on the market, we would strongly recommend a try.

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Pacifica, 13ml: £11.99, Holland & Barrett

Non-toxic count: 7-free
Vegan: Yes
Our favourite shade: 1972 Pool Party

This 100 per cent vegan beauty brand, started by American aromatherapist Brook Harvey-Taylor, has a range of around 66 nail polishes in a varying spectrum of colours, from matte to iridescent and glossy. The brushes are also 100 per cent vegan and easy to use at a medium width, which easily applied our favourite blue shade, 1972 Pool Party, reminiscent of the ocean and dusk. With a base, two coats and finished with a top coat, it dried in 15 minutes and this calming shade lasted four days without chipping.

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Benecos, 5ml: £3.70, Ecco Verde

Non-toxic count: 8-free
Vegan: Yes
Our favourite shade: Galaxy

Benecos is a German cosmetics brand started in 2008 by Silke and Stephan Becker, with the aim of providing high quality products at low prices, and their nail varnishes, which are up to 90 per cent natural, are no exception. The range of 22 shades might come in small bottles, just 5ml, but are ideal for anyone who likes to experiment with different colours and struggles to get through a whole bottle of polish. Galaxy is a rich, pearlescent purple, which after two coats and a top coat dried after 10 minutes and lasted for four days with no chipping. The formula also includes biotin and avocado oil to strengthen and nourish, which did make a difference to the condition of the nail when removing.

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Cienna Rose, 13ml: £9, Cienna Rose

Non-toxic count: 12-free
Vegan: Yes
Our favourite shade: Beach Please

Inspired by the founders’ daughter, Cienna, this UK-manufactured nail polish brand makes an impressive 12-free formula, enriched with pro vitamin B5, vitamin E and lemongrass oil to nourish nails and nail beds. There are 29 fun colours – we’d say this brand is pitched at a younger market - which makes sense as it was inspired by a little girl.

This is not to say it can’t bring out grown-ups youthful side as Beach Please, a grey/blue with pink shimmer, is both sophisticated yet playful all in one. Two coats with the short, thick brush, along with a base and top coat, is enough for this polish to glisten and it dries in 20 minutes. It lasted a week with no chipping, but the shimmery appearance started to fade away by day five.

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Butter London, 11ml: £15, Look Fantastic

Non-toxic count: 8-free
Vegan: Yes
Our favourite shade: Candy Floss

Founded in London in 2005, Butter London’s aim from the onset was to provide toxin-free nail lacquer that didn’t compromise quality. Anyone who has tried any of their 110 nail colours, will know that every new launch is as good as good as the last. The patent shine 10X nail lacquer collection is made with patented shock resisting polymer technology, which essentially offers a gel-like cushion and long-lasting shine for up to 10 days. Candy Floss is a delicate pastel blue, which looks even better on a tanned hand or foot. No base or top coat needed and the medium thickness brush is easy to use. Two or three coats dries in no longer than 15 minutes and lasted a full six days – impressive as there was no top or base coat.  

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Soigne, 10ml: £11, Soigne Nails

Non-toxic count: 5-free
Vegan: Yes
Our favourite shade: Eau

Made of 85 per cent plant-sourced and natural ingredients, this French brand, inspired by Parisian fashion, ticks so many boxes. There are over 28 shades in the range, but our favourite, Eau, resembles the sky on a hot summer day, and doesn’t fail to receive a multitude of compliments as soon as the paint touches the nail. The long, medium sized brush applies the polish relatively easily and it dries within 10 to 15 minutes. It looks great with one coat, but even better with two and alongside a base and top coat can last just under a week without budging.

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JINsoon, 11ml: £13.50, Liberty

Non-toxic count: 5-free
Vegan: Yes
Our favourite shade: Kookie White

Hailing from the USA, and crowned the “nail guru” by New York Times Magazine, celebrity manicurist Jin Soon Choi has gathered quite an elite following since opening her first salon in 1999 and launching the polishes in 2012. Her 5-free formulas that remain shiny and long-lasting, not to mention the fact she has somewhere near 80 colours, including Kookie White – a white, with a hint of blue-grey for an edgy retro chic. The thin to medium brush is easy to work with. We would suggest two coats, along with a base and top coat, which will keep the polish in place for a week.

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Kester Black, 15ml: £15, Liberty

Non-toxic count: 10-free
Vegan: Yes
Our favourite shade: Barbie

Proud to call themselves Australia’s most ethical beauty brand, and started in 2014 by designer Anna Ross, all of Kester Black's products are cruelty-free, carbon neutral and vegan. All the polishes are made with a 10-free formula and have a water permeable formula, meaning water is able to permeate on a molecular level. Of all the 80 colours, Barbie is hands-down our favourite, a hot pink, reminiscent of our childhood days playing with dolls. The brush is without doubt the thickest and roundest of the roundup, which took a few attempts to master, but the end result was worth it as two coats, with a base and top coat, stayed in tact for six whole days.

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The verdict: Vegan and non-toxic nail polish brands

For a brand that delivers on both quality and price, it has to be Orly’s breathable range. They deliver incredible colour and shine, without the need for base or top coats, are long-lasting, and happen to be the most toxin-free polish of the bunch. However we’d strongly recommend everyone to check out Cienna Rose for their bold, addictive colours that are just £9 and 12-free. We also removed all the varnishes with Kure Bazaar’s 100 per cent natural polish remover, £27,  which is well worth the investment.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

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