There are several better-for-you nail polish removers but which ones meet at the crossroads of less harsh + actually work??? All this plus best packaging, ingredients to celebrate, things to consider and how to shop. Read on for our list of healthiest natural nail polish remover.
Okay, we’ve talked about our picks for the best nontoxic nail polishes but what about the best nontoxic nail polish remover? Nail polish remover is to nail polish as peanut butter is to jelly…I mean, you really can’t have one without the other, so let’s jump in.
How to shop for a nontoxic nail polish remover
When it comes to shopping for a nontoxic nail polish remover, the major tipping point is acetone and acetone constituents. Here’s why.
The EPA’s Safer Chemical Ingredient List (1) is a certification that groups chemical ingredients by function and then ranks them according to safety. (Green circle being of “lowest concern” and gray square being “not acceptable to be used in the EPA’s Safer Choice Label.”)
Acetone is categorized as a yellow triangle (2), which means it has some hazard profiles.
However, when it comes to acetone in a nail polish remover, it’s less about “toxicity” and more about the effect it has on nails and skin. Used as a nail polish remover, it’s harsh on nails and skin and is the most common cause of irritant contact dermatitis. Excessive use of acetone products can also lead to dry, brittle nails—completely stripping the skin and nail bed of natural oils. (3)
But (!) the good news is, after consulting the EPA’s Safer Chemical Ingredient List, we’ve identified some less harsh options for solvents.
TIP: For at-home manis, rather than use acetone to remove any oil from the nail bed prior to applying polish, use ethyl alcohol instead to dry out the bed so the varnish can bind.
Better alternatives to acetone
Better nail polish removers typically position themselves as “acetone free” and will avoid using acetone and its derivatives as an active ingredient—choosing a less harsh option instead.
Some of these less harsh solvent(s) are as follows. Most of these are also listed as a “green circle” on the EPA’s Safer Chemical Ingredient List too.
- Dimethyl Succinate (4)
- Ethyl Acetate (5)
- Dimethyl Adipate (6)
- Dimethyl Glutarate (2)
- Propylene Carbonate (7, 8)
- Butyl Acetate (9)
- Isopropyl Alcohol (2)
- Methyl Soyate (soybean oil methyl ester, or methyl oleate/palmitate/linoleate/stearate) (2)
Additional ingredients to consider in natural nail polish removers
But of course the buck doesn’t stop at better swaps for acetone (I mean, how often is it just one ingredient that we’re keeping an eye out for?). Acetone-free natural nail polish removers could still contain ingredients that raise a red flag. Keep these ingredients in mind as you shop for a nontoxic nail polish remover.
- Methyl Isobutyl Ketone (also listed as 2-butanone, butanone, ethyl methyl ketone, and methyl acetone)—This solvent isn’t used much anymore but it has been linked to cancer and is worth listing here for the sake of #knowledge. (10, 11)
- Gamma-butyrolactone—This solvent is often found in “acetone-free” formulas and can be highly toxic or fatal if ingested by children. (Apparently, this has happened a lot when curious babies and children access the nail polish remover containers and suck and/or consume remover pads/wipes). (12, 13)
- Methyl pyrrolidone (NMP)—Sometimes used in nail polish removers, this chemical is linked to developmental toxicity and fetal death (such as miscarriage or stillbirth). (14)
- Methyl Ethyl Ketone (MEK)—A possible neurotoxin. (15)
- Ethoxylated ingredients like PEGs, polysorbates, and polyoxyethylene castor oil—These can introduce possible 1,4 dioxane contamination. (16)
- Fragrance—Per usual, an ingredient to avoid for many reasons. The main reason being a nondisclosure issue because simply listing “fragrance” on a label doesn’t tell consumers what the actual ingredients are. Fragrance can contain thousands of components, some of which are benign but some can be harmful like phthalates or plasticizers that can be linked to birth defects (17) and endocrine disruption (18).
These are some of the ubiquitous ones but of course, there are more outliers, including isolates, phenoxyethanol, propylene glycol, benzophenone-1…
But before you throw up your hands like “WTF (!!!) this is too hard to figure out and I’ll never remember this on the fly!”…
Don’t get overwhelmed (sometimes easier said than done, amiright?). The thing is, most of the time, I can pick up a remover, spot fragrance, acetone or PEGs and then know that it’s not a good fit for me immediately. I definitely don’t walk around with this list memorized in my head and you definitely don’t have to either. Use it as a guide…and a “now it’s on your radar” reference point.
Ingredients to celebrate (look for) in natural nail polish removers
On the flip side, some brands include nourishing, skin-loving ingredients that are really cool to see in a nail polish remover. Of course these won’t be the same across the board, but here are some nourishing ingredients we’ve seen in some of the natural nail polish removers.
- Rosa rubiginosa seed oil—Highly moisturizing and provides excellent anti-aging properties, helping in the regeneration and healing of damaged skin. (19)
- Tocopherol—An antioxidant. (20)
- Aloe vera gel—Skin soothing and moisture-retaining. (21)
- Rosemary—Antifungal, antioxidant, and antibacterial. (22)
- Equisetum (horsetail) arvense extract—Anti-inflammatory. (23)
Our top picks for natural nontoxic nail polish removers
We’ve scoured the worldwide inventory of better nail polish removers and we are excited to report back on our top three. These are the best of the best that we’ve found when it comes to healthier natural nail polish remover that still works.
It’s sheer coincidence that all three of our top picks have a different delivery method but how cool (!) because now we have options!
Kure Bazaar Natural Nail Polish Remover Rose | $38
By far, our top pick for several reasons. Kure Bazaar just seems to do everything right here. We see diethyl succinate being used as a less harsh solvent. And in addition, we also see nourishing ingredients like patchouli leaf oil, rosa rubiginosa seed oil, and tocopherol. Let’s get right to the pros + cons.
- Just shy of 8.5 oz, this thing is HUGE.
- Packaged in glass.
- Still smells like a solvent but the scent is very mild in comparison to your typical nail polish remover.
- Does not dry out hands or nails.
- Leaves hands and nails feeling conditioned.
- Super cute packaging.
- Actually works (novel, right?).
- Won’t work as fast as an acetone remover but it will take your polish off.
Full ingredient list: rose damascena flower water, diethyl succinate, pogostemon cablin leaf oil, rosa rubiginosa seed oil, tocopherol, citric acid, potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate.
Côte Take Off Towelettes | $14
Côte chooses EPA-green-circle propylene carbonate as a solvent and compliments it with nourishing horsetail extract, rosemary leaf extract, and aloe leaf juice. Plus we love the convenience of keeping a couple in your bag for those omg-why-do-I-still-have-this-nail-polish-on-it’s-been-5-weeks moments.
- One-the-go convenience.
- Won’t dry out nails.
- Leaves hands and nails feeling conditioned.
- A light orangey scent.
- One wipe can do both hands (unless it’s a red and you may need two).
- No additional materials needed (cotton rounds, paper towels, etc.).
- Potentially creates more waste than using remover out of a bottle.
- Each box only comes with 10 wipes.
Full ingredient list: propylene carbonate, alcohol denat, equisetum arvense (horsetail) extract, rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) leaf extract, aloe barbadensis leaf juice, glycerin, tocopheryl acetate, water, natural tuscan blood orange oil blend.
Olive + June Mani Polish Remover Pot | $8
Olive + June is bringing us right back to the 80s with their remover pot—lol. Twist the cap off and nostalgia ensues. It’s like I’m right back at my nan’s kitchen table watching her do her nails when I was 10. Love that this formula is a bare-bones “everything you need and nothing you don’t” version of a better remover. Here’s what else it offers.
- No additional materials needed (cotton rounds, paper towel, etc.).
- Vegan + cruelty free.
- No-frills formula.
- Easy to use.
- Plastic packaging.
- O+J says this product is meant to last 2-3 months tops.
- The re-dip heebie-jeebies.
- Dark colors and glitters can cling to the inside of the sponge.
Full ingredient list: ethyl acetate, butyl acetate, alcohol, water/aqua/eau, isopropyl myristate.
Have you tried any of these?
1. United States Environmental Protection Agency; Safer Chemical Ingredients List; https://www.epa.gov/saferchoice/safer-ingredients
2. United States Environmental Protection Agency; Safer Chemical Ingredients List; Acetone; https://www.epa.gov/saferchoice/safer-ingredients#searchList
3. Das, Anupam; Chandra, Somodyuti; The science of nail polish, nail polish remover, and nail moisturizers: A Comprehensive Approach, February 2019; https://www.researchgate.net/publication/330976621_The_science_of_nail_polish_nail_polish_remover_and_nail_moisturizers_A_Comprehensive_Approach
4. National Library of Medicine; Updated on February 13th, 2021; Created on March 26th, 2005; https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Dimethyl-succinate
5. Cosmetics Info; FDA; https://cosmeticsinfo.org/ingredient/ethyl-acetate
6. National Library of Medicine; Compound summary Dimethyl adipate; https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/12329
7. United States Environmental Protection Agency; National Service Center for Environmental Publications (NSCEP); https://nepis.epa.gov/Exe/ZyNET.exe/30003NMC.txt?ZyActionD=ZyDocument&Client=EPA&Index=1995%20Thru%201999&Docs=&Query=&Time=&EndTime=&SearchMethod=1&TocRestrict=n&Toc=&TocEntry=&QField=&QFieldYear=&QFieldMonth=&QFieldDay=&UseQField=&IntQFieldOp=0&ExtQFieldOp=0&XmlQuery=&File=D%3A%5CZYFILES%5CINDEX%20DATA%5C95THRU99%5CTXT%5C00000012%5C30003NMC.txt&User=ANONYMOUS&Password=anonymous&SortMethod=h%7C-&MaximumDocuments=1&FuzzyDegree=0&ImageQuality=r75g8/r75g8/x150y150g16/i425&Display=p%7Cf&DefSeekPage=x&SearchBack=ZyActionL&Back=ZyActionS&BackDesc=Results%20page&MaximumPages=1&ZyEntry=1&slide
8. Cosmetics Info; Propylene Carbonate; https://cosmeticsinfo.org/ingredient/propylene-carbonate
9. New Jersey Department of Health; Hazardous Fact Sheet; Revised in April 2010; https://www.nj.gov/health/eoh/rtkweb/documents/fs/1329.pdf
10. Battelle Northwest Operations; NTP Pathology Working Group; Experimental Pathology Laboratories, Inc.; Dynamac Corporation; Constella Group; Inc. Biotechnical Services, Inc.; National Toxicology Program, February 2007; Toxicology and carcinogenesis studies of methyl isobutyl ketone; https://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/ntp/htdocs/lt_rpts/tr538.pdf
11. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Toxicological Review for Methyl Ethyl Ketone, September 2003; https://cfpub.epa.gov/ncea/iris/iris_documents/documents/toxreviews/0071tr.pdf
12. World Health Organization; Expert Committee on Drug Dependence, Thirty‐sixth Meeting, Geneva, 16‐20 June 2014; Gamma‐butyrolactone (GBL) Critical Review Report; https://www.who.int/medicines/areas/quality_safety/4_3_Review.pdf
13. Savage, Tim; Ali-Khan, Asif; Acetone-free nail polish remover pads: toxicity in a 9-month old; https://www.academia.edu/22381705/Acetone_free_nail_polish_remover_pads_toxicity_in_a_9_month_old
14. Safer chemicals, healthy families; https://saferchemicals.org/get-the-facts/toxic-chemicals/nmp-n-methylpyrrolidone/
15. Campaign for Safe Cosmetics; Nail Polish Removers; https://www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/nail-polish-removers/
16. Agency of Toxic Substances and Disease Registry; Public Health Statement for 1,4 Dioxane, CAS# 123-91-1; https://wwwn.cdc.gov/TSP/PHS/PHS.aspx?phsid=953&toxid=199
17. Kortenkamp, Andreas; M.Kochb, Holger; International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, Volume 224; Refined reference doses and new procedures for phthalate mixture risk assessment focused on male developmental toxicity; March 2020; https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1438463919308351
18. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences; Endocrine Disruptors; https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/endocrine/index.cfm
19. Mármol, Inés; Sánchez-de-Diego, Cristina; Jiménez-Moreno, Nerea; Ancín-Azpilicueta, Carmen Ancín-Azpilicueta; Rodríguez-Yoldi, María, Jesús Therapeutic Applications of Rose Hips from Different Rosa Species; International Journal of Molecular Sciences, June 2017; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5485961/#:~:text=Their%20antioxidant%20activity%20is%20due,19%2C20%2C21%5D.
20. Nachbar, F; Korting, H C; The role of vitamin E in normal and damaged skin; National Library of Science; Journal of Molecular Medicine, January 1995; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7633944/
21.Hekmatpou, Davood, PhD; Mehrabi, Fatemeh Mehrabi; Rahzani, Kobra,PhD; Aminiyan, Atefeh, PhD; The Effect of Aloe Vera Clinical Trials on Prevention and Healing of Skin Wound: A Systematic Review, January 2019; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6330525/
22. Nieto, Gema; Ros, Gaspar; Castillo, Julián; Antioxidant and Antimicrobial Properties of Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis, L.): A Review, September 2018; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6165352/
23. Gründemann, Carsten; Lengen, Karin; Sauer, Barbara; Käufer, Manuel, Garcia; Zehl, Martin; Huber, Roman; Equisetum arvense (common horsetail) modulates the function of inflammatory immunocompetent cells, August 2014; BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4132922/