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What Is Vegan Nail Polish?

By Jillian O Keeffe
Updated May 21, 2024
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A vegan person does not eat any animal or any product of an animal. Vegans do not wish to use animals for human consumption, and so, they can extend the vegan lifestyle to other nonfood products such as cosmetics. Cosmetics such as nail polish can actually contain parts of an animal or animal products. Vegan nail polish fulfills the vegan lifestyle as it does not contain animal products and may also go further and not be tested on animals or contain less synthetic chemicals than regular polish.

Common ingredients in nonvegan nail varnishes include fish scales, animal fats, and crushed insects. Pearl essence, which is fish scales, gives a shimmer to pearlescent nail polishes. Carmine, which is a dye formed from crushing up the cochineal beetle, imparts a red color to the product. Oleic acid, which derives from animal fat, may be present as another ingredient. A vegan nail polish manufacturer must use other substances, which have similar properties, to give the red color or shimmer to the varnish.

Examples of vegan alternatives to pearl essence are the naturally occurring mineral mica or the artificial substance synthetic pearl. Particles of metals such as bronze or aluminum can also have the appropriate glittery quality. Oleic acid can be obtained from plant sources instead of animal sources. Dyes from animal sources can be replaced with vegetable dyes such as beet juice or the color from the root of the alkanet plant.

As well as not containing animal products, a vegan nail polish often contains less artificial chemicals than a regular nail polish because this may be a concern for some vegans. Common chemicals such as toluene, formaldehyde, and phthalates may not be part of the ingredient list, and instead of these chemicals and others such as alcohol, the polish may contain water as a base. A water-based vegan nail polish dries through evaporation in the same way as a regular nail polish will and may not release chemical vapors like a regular product during the drying process. Many vegan nail polishes contain both synthetic chemicals and natural, nonanimal-derived products together, however.

Animal testing is another factor in some vegan nail polishes. Often, the polishes are not tested on animals and labeled as cruelty free. Vegan nail polish removers are also available commercially as an option to regular nail polish removers. These removers contain ingredients such as ethyl acetate from fermented corn and vegetable glycerin.

BeautyAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By Spotiche5 — On Sep 01, 2014

@heavanet- There are some other common terms that you can look for if you want to buy nail polish that hasn't been tested on animals and is made without a lot of harmful chemicals like formaldehyde.

Organic is a term that is commonly used, and might indicate a safer product. You should always check the ingredient list though, because there are few regulations that cosmetic companies must following when using the word organic on cosmetic labels.

Non-toxic is another term that you may find on nail polishes that are made without harmful ingredients. Those that are labeled as water-based are also good options because they are not made with a lot of petroleum-based chemicals.

People who don't want to use products that have been tested on animals should look for the words cruelty free on labels. These products are usually made by companies that support respect and kind treatment of all animals. The companies that make cruelty-free products also usually do not use animal-based ingredients in the products.

By Heavanet — On Aug 31, 2014

In shopping for safe nail polish that does not involve animal testing, I have found that vegan is not a common term used for nail polish. What are some ways I can be sure that I am buying nail polish that has few harmful chemicals and has not been tested on animals?

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