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September 18, 2021 — 11:31 AM
It’s no secret clean nail polishes are commanding the market, with gorgeous shades, long-wear formulas, and salon-quality finishes. Now, you can find silky-smooth formulas that are 5-free, 10-free, 12-free—nail polish has quickly become a game of let’s race to 100! (We joke, of course, as the “no-list” for polish ingredients is actually not that long; see here for the ingredients you should watch out for.)
That label means the brand has removed a certain number of chemicals from the lacquer, usually ones that are associated with health concerns (like formaldehyde, toluene, etc.). Did you know, though, that some of those eliminated ingredients are actually animal products?
Yes, vegan nail polish is a thing. Here’s how to know if your varnish is really vegan, along with our favorite options to try.
What makes a polish vegan?
Vegan beauty products don’t contain any animal-derived ingredients or byproducts. (For what it’s worth, many vegan brands are marketed as “cruelty-free” as well, but the stand-alone “vegan” refers only to the product’s actual makeup; just because it doesn’t contain any animal ingredients doesn’t mean the formula isn’t tested on animals themselves, so be sure to look for both labels.)
If you’re wondering, What kinds of animal products can you find in nail polish? you should know that these ingredients often fly under the radar. Traditional red lacquers often contain carmine—a dye derived from beetles that gives the polish a crimson hue; shimmery, holographic polishes can have guanine (or “pearl essence”), which comes from fish scales; and some also include oleic acid, a fatty acid found in various animal sources, that helps thicken the varnish and add a smooth emollience. We should note that oleic acid isn’t always derived from animals (the fatty acid is also found in olive oil and shea butter), but if your ingredient list has it and you want to be sure of the source, it’s worth doing some digging.
Here’s the thing about vegan nail polish: In addition to leaving out the animal byproducts, many brands also skip those chemical red flags, like formaldehyde, camphor, toluene, and other common allergens and irritants. (Our favorites do, anyway.) So even if you don’t follow a vegan lifestyle, you’ll love these clean options.
sundays Nail Polish in No.09
This 10-free formula does not skimp out on intense pigment. Each curated shade offers a candyshell gleam that rivals the look of a gel mani (especially if you snag their high-shine top coat). We love this playful coral-pink—it simply screams tropical summer.
Nail Polish in No.09, sundays ($18)
Pear Nova Classic Lacquer in Berry Jane
A berry-red so vibrant, you’ll likely only need a single coat to nail a wow-worthy color. It’s vegan and cruelty-free (again, these are not interchangeable), and the finishes are oh-so luxe.
Classic Lacquer in Berry Jane, Pear Nova ($13.50)
Paint Box Nail Lacquer in Like Camel
A rich, butterscotch hue is an autumn must-have, don’t you think? It adds a cozy, sophisticated flair to your nails but still keeps it neutral—moody plums and vampy reds have their moments during the fall season, but I love a good caramel for an everyday look.
Nail Lacquer in Like Camel, Paint Box ($22)
ORLY Nail Color in Confetti
And for pink lovers everywhere, you can’t go wrong with this bubblegum shade. The full-coverage pigment provides extra longwear (no chipping after a mere few days) and for the not-so-confident nail painters among us: Each bottle comes with a patented gripper cap, so it’s easier to wield the brush without accidentally painting your cuticles.
Nail Color in Confetti, ORLY ($9.50)
Olive & June Polish in SD
We said a chic, edgy plum will have its moment, and here it is. Glamorous and deliciously complex, you won’t be able to stop staring at your fingertips. The salon-quality formula is also so long-lasting, and the wide fan-shaped brush will help you coat stubborn spots in one swipe.
Polish in SD, Olive & June ($8)
Olive & June
Mischo Beauty Nail Lacquer in #NYFW
A midnight blue hue, a 10-free formula, and a luxurious bottle that doubles as art. Truly, what else do you need? The high-shine and chip-resistant lacquer also provides a bold, patent-leather payoff.
Nail Lacquer in #NYFW, Mischo Beauty ($20)
côte No. 45 Metallic Bronze Nail Polish
Yes, your shimmery polishes can glimmer without guanine. Just take this metallic bronze: It catches the light beautifully, with a smooth, glass-like application. It glows, without going full-on holographic—like your nails have been sprinkled with metallic dust.
No. 45 Metallic Bronze Nail Polish, côte ($18)
Ella + Mila Nail Polish in ‘Cause I’m Happy
Try not to smile when wearing this tangerine hue. We dare you. The orange beauty has a natural quick-dry quality that cuts down the dry time (because you’ve got things to do and people to see). Bonus tip: Apply one coat of white polish as a base before layering on the pigment—the result will be extra vibrant.
Nail Polish in ‘Cause I’m Happy, Ella + Mila ($10.50)
Ella + Mila
tenoverten Nail Polish in Austin
This 8-free polish brand is the epitome of cool, showcased by this icy blue hue. Every carefully curated shade is named after the streets of New York (the brand’s hometown), each delivering a story to your fingertips.
Nail Polish in Austin, tenoverten ($12)
JinSoon Nail Polish in Coral Peony
A flirty hot pink is simply a classic, and this lustrous number does not disappoint. Along with a quick-dry formula and chip-free finish, the goop also contains UV filters that help keep the color from fading. Read: Your hot pink will stay piping hot.
Nail Polish in Coral Peony, JinSoon ($18)
Deborah Lippmann Gel Lab Pro Color in Skinny Dippin’
A lavender latte—that’s what comes to mind after taking one look at this pastel hue. Celebrity manicurist Deborah Lippmann is known for her nail-nurturing formulas, so you know this pigment will deliver intense color without sacrificing the health of those tips (in fact, the lacquer is infused with keratin, biotin, green tea extract, and rice protein). Healthy, happy claws, all dressed in light lavender.
Gel Lab Pro Color in Skinny Dippin’, Deborah Lippmann ($20)