The Surprising Truth About Vegan Nail Polish

Samantha Tran

Millions of people (mostly women, but men too) use nail polish regularly. The statistics show that about 100 million women in the United States used nail polish or some kind of nail care products in 2020. Therefore, it is important that the nail polish you use is sustainable, vegan, and free of animal cruelty practices.

Nails have many roles that are important for our optimal health. They give us protection from viruses and bacteria. Nails protect germs from entering our bodies and enhance our grip by giving us fine motor skills. Therefore, why would we not give our nails the proper protection they need? Below we will talk about the differences between regular and vegan nail polish, and what to avoid when it comes to certain chemicals in our nail polish.

  • What is vegan nail polish?
  • Differences between regular nail polish and vegan nail polish
  • Important ingredients to avoid
  • Benefits of vegan nail polish
  • Is vegan nail polish toxic to the environment?
  • Is it only for vegans?
  • Key takeaways 

What is vegan nail polish?

Vegan nail polish means that it does not contain any animal-derived ingredients in the formula or production process. Moreover, it is not made from animals or any kind of animal ingredients. Vegan polishes are made from natural ingredients and plant extracts, making them less harmful for your health and non-toxic.

 It is important to note that a product may be labeled “cruelty free,” but that does not mean it is vegan. “Cruelty free” means that the product was not tested on animals but could still contain animal ingredients in them. If a product is labeled as vegan, that means it is both vegan and cruelty free. Therefore, it is important to choose vegan AND cruelty-free products, including your nail polish.

Differences between regular and vegan nail polish

There are many differences between regular and vegan nail polish. The first thing is that regular nail polish contains animal products or is made from animals! Ingredients may include fish scales, beeswax, crushed bugs, and animal protein. Regular nail polish also contains ingredients that could cause harm or chemicals that could lead to serious health concerns.

Vegan nail polishes are made from natural or man-made ingredients and substances that replace animal products. These ingredients can include horsetail and garlic extract that strengthens the natural nail. It can also be made from bio-sourced ingredients like potato, sugar cane and cassava.

Vegan nail polish that has certifications from organizations like PETA or the Vegan Awareness Foundation is the most credible because they are directly endorsed by certified organizations. Moreover, they implement true sustainable and vegan practices to produce their products.

Important ingredients to avoid

  • Carmine – are crushed bugs. Typically, crushed shells of the female cochineal insect are used in nail polish and even makeup to achieve red pigments.

Not only nail polish and makeup use animal-derived products. Synthetic and non-vegan skincare uses it as well. It is important to research and make sure the products you are using on your body are natural and good for your body and the environment. Clean skincare is typically better for your health and contains healthy ingredients. However, even with clean and vegan skincare, always read labels carefully.

Plant Mother’s natural ingredients and vegan products are best in the category of clean beauty products and align perfectly with a healthy lifestyle.

  • Guanine – also known as fish scales. It not only comes from fish scales, it also can be produced from dead bodies of birds, bats, and seals.

Guanine can also be listed as “pearl essence” that gives nail polish and beauty products their shimmery look.

  • Squalene – is mainly from shark livers. Sometimes squalene is derived from plants like olives, wheat germ and sugar cane.

Although it is not always possible to be sure where the squalene in products is from exactly, it is safer to avoid products with squalene in them than to guess where it is from. Unless it explicitly says it is a plant-derived squalene.

nail polish

Additional ingredients to avoid

  • Lanoline – is derived from sheep wool. It is used to mainly moisturize and lock in moisture.

Although shearing wool from sheep does not hurt them, workers who shear wool may be paid based on how much wool they collect. This could be harmful to the sheep because they may be sheared, even when it is not necessary.

  • Shellac – are made from Indian female bugs named “Lac.” The bugs suck sap from trees, spending their entire lives creating a glossy, protective coating on the wood. The bugs are scraped off the trees to be made into shellac.

When added to nail polish, shellac creates a no dry time, long-lasting results, and shine that most companies strive for. But at the cost of killing billions of bugs for a small amount of shellac to be produced.

Benefits of vegan nail polish

Vegan nail polish is beneficial because it protects your health, your nails. It also avoids harsh chemicals that are harmful to the environment. Additionally, it is an overall ethical choice for you and the environment.

The first benefit is that vegan nail polish protects your nails more than a regular polish. It is because it contains vitamins and minerals that make your nails stronger and healthier. Ingredients like horsetail and garlic extract encourage healthy and strong nail growth. Vegan nail polish also helps make your nails brittle-free, shiny, break and chip-resistant, and free of ridges.

The second benefit for using vegan nail polish is avoiding potentially harmful chemicals to your health. The common chemicals found in regular nail polish include formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl phthalate (DBP). These chemicals can cause harmful and serious reactions like birth defects, nausea, dizziness, and headaches.

Not only are natural and vegan products favorable for your nails because of non-toxicity, but they are also important in skincare and haircare. Clean skincare is extremely important because we are applying products directly to our skin. If you don’t use non-toxic ingredients, this could allow the chemicals to absorb into our bloodstream and seriously damage your hormonal balance and cause other health issues.

Lastly, it is an ethical choice to use vegan nail polish. It is saving animals, the environment, and the health of your nails and your body.

Is vegan nail polish toxic to the environment?

As we already mentioned, regular nail polishes typically contain harsh chemicals, those that can be harmful to your health and also harmful to the environment. These chemicals saturate into the soil when your nail polish is thrown away and left in a landfill. Therefore, all gel and acrylic nails are non-biodegradable and are considered toxic waste.

Implementing vegan nail polish into your life is beneficial due to offsetting its impact on the environment. The most eco-friendly nail polishes are those that are water-based. Their formulas have the least amount of harmful chemicals, or in some cases almost no added chemicals at all. The next level down are ones that are labeled as non-toxic and with a high number of chemicals that are excluded from their formulation.

vegan gel nail polish

Is it only for vegans?

No! Anyone can use sustainable and vegan products. You do not have to be vegan to use vegan products and help the environment.

Therefore, it is equally important to do your research when looking for vegan brands and companies that align with your values and lifestyle.

Because of everything we said above, you should give priority to vegan and natural ingredients. If you want to expand from vegan nail polish into vegan skincare, check Plant Mother’s products. Plant Mother is a zero waste skincare with 100% vegan, botanical ingredients. Its hero products are Vegan Vitamin C serum and Retinol Serum. Both serums are made with over twenty plants rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and omegas. Plant Mother also uses sustainable, eco-friendly packaging for their products, using practices that are people, animal, and Earth friendly.

Key Takeaways

Vegan nail polish and beauty products are extremely beneficial for everyone. Not only are you doing your part in saving the environment and animals, but it is also useful to your own health, body, and nails! It may be difficult to truly find clean, organic products, so vegan subscription boxes create opportunities for you to try out brand new products in any category, including nail polishes.

No matter your lifestyle, you can help preserve the environment and community by transitioning vegan products into your daily life. Researching and finding the right products for you and even asking your favorite companies and brands about their sustainability efforts is the first step to a healthy and organic life.


This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. The publisher of this content does not take responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, skincare product, or lifestyle program.

Samantha Tran
Samantha is an aspiring Public Relations Professional at the California State University Fullerton. Her interests include the beauty, fashion and entertainment industry. Adobe Creative Cloud programs are her specialty and she is always open to learn and refine her skillset in anything she is working on. Samantha’s hobbies are reading, baking and shopping! She enjoys baking for her loved ones, especially snickerdoodle cookies and flan.