You turn down the lights, pour a glass of tea or wine, and sit down for a DIY mani-pedi. It might be a small thing, but giving yourself a manicure can be a mindful ritual that can help you slow down, be present, and give yourself some TLC.
You open up the nail polish remover bottle, and—whew! The strong scent knocks you back. You know the smell I’m talking about… it’s one that doesn’t exactly smell like peace, tranquility, and self love. It smells toxic… and it is!
In this article, we’re going to talk about what exactly it is about most nail polish removers that make them toxic, and then give our recommendations for the best and most transparent brands that make non-toxic nail polish remover. These removers will not only leave your nails feeling fresh and nourished, but they’re are effective too.
This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission if you choose to make a purchase. We only make recommendations that are genuine and meet our ingredient/material safety standards.
What Makes Nail Polish Remover Toxic?
Let’s start with the toxic (and very common) nail polish remover ingredient that’s probably the most well-known: acetone.
What is Acetone and How is it Toxic?
Acetone is a colorless organic compound. It’s the clear liquid that gives nail polish remover that distinct strong smell. (And why the non-toxic, non-acetone removers listed below smell so much better!)
Acetone is qualified as a volatile organic compound, or VOC. It’s highly flammable, so you should always be careful and never using acetone nail polish remover around candles.
It can cause eye, skin, and throat irritation, respiratory issues, and dizziness. Acetone also has the potential to affect the hematological and neurological systems of the body.
Even more severely, if someone is exposed to too much acetone, it can cause official acetone poisoning, which can be life-threatening. You would basically have to drink nail polish remover in order for this to occur (which is why it’s important to keep nail polish remover and other acetone-containing cleaners, polishes, and solvents far away from the reach of children and pets).
Why Do I Need to Use an Acetone-Free Nail Polish Remover?
We are exposed to so many different environmental toxins in our everyday lives, which can add up over time and lead to serious and longterm health issues. Many of those toxins can’t be entirely avoided, unfortunately. But there are a lot of toxins that can be avoided by making simple product swaps! Nail polish remover is one of those. Using non-toxic, acetone-free nail polish remover is one easy way to reduce the amount of toxins that you’re breathing and soaking into your body. Even if it’s just a small thing, all those small things add up!
Are All Acetone-Free Nail Polish Removers Non-Toxic?
Buying acetone-free nail polish remover is certainly a great place to start—it’s a step in removing one big toxin from your mani/pedi routine.
But, just because nail polish remover doesn’t contain acetone doesn’t mean it’s completely non-toxic. There are some other ingredients to look out for, too.
Other Ingredients to Avoid in Eco-Friendly Nail Polish Removers
Here are some other potentially toxic ingredients that are commonly found in nail polish remover, including those that are acetone-free:
Toluene: this is a solvent that can cause neurological damage, impaired breathing, hearing loss, brain dysfunction, and possible birth defects in pregnancies.
Methanol: this one is found in many non-acetone nail polish removers, but can actually be more harmful than acetone! It can cause similar symptoms, like headaches, dizziness, and respiratory irritation.
Butyl acetate, ethyl acetate, and/or isopropyl acetate: these three are often found in non-acetone nail polish removers. But they actually come with a lot of the same issues that acetone does — they are all flammable and considered irritants to one’s respiratory system.
[ Related: The Best Non-Toxic Nail Polish Brands ]
The Best Non-Toxic, Eco-Friendly Nail Polish Removers:
This non-toxic nail polish remover is made with soy and is actually a 2-in-1 remover and nail hydrator. It’s infused with vitamins A, C, and E, so you don’t have that problem where your nails feel all dry and crispy after you remove your polish. This stuff smells really good, too!
This non-toxic nail polish remover is made with several hydrating oils, including bamboo, cinnamon, and ginger. Yum. (P.S. While you’re at it, check out their gorgeous organic cuticle oil, too.)
Also made with soy to hydrate your nails, La Pierre’s Soytone™ nail polish remover is completely safe, non-flammable, nourishing, and effective.
If you’re looking for travel or to stick in your purse, LVX’s non-toxic nail polish remover wipes are super convenient. These are made with soy and jojoba oil, and infused with vitamins A, C and E to strengthen and hydrate your nails in between polishes.
This soy nail polish remover comes in a few different variations: lemongrass scent, organic lemongrass scent, and unscented. For those with soy sensitivities who may be wondering about all of these soy-containing nail polish removers, Priti notes:
“The soy in Priti NYC’s remover is a highly refined material. It does not include proteins, is extremely low in fatty acids, and has no measurable DNA, or other hormone creating structures, that we are aware of. There have been no reports of soy allergic reactions of any type.“
This non-toxic nail polish remover has soothing aloe in it! It also contains horsetail leaf extract and several other oils to leave your nails fresh and clean.
Are there natural nail polish removers?
The non-toxic nail polish remover brands above use mostly natural ingredients. We have yet to find a nail polish remover that is made from 100% natural ingredients, so let us know if you know of one!
Keep in mind, though, that just because something is “100% natural” doesn’t mean it’s 100% safe. Acetone, after all, is a naturally occurring substance! Likewise, just because something is synthetic doesn’t automatically make it safe. Beware of greenwashing when you see words like “all natural.” This doesn’t always mean non-toxic… it’s a marketing tactic!
Alternatives for Nail Polish Remover
What is a good substitute for nail polish remover? If you’re in a pinch, there are some common (and cheap) household products that could work to remove your polish.
- Warm water + hydrogen peroxide
- Rubbing alcohol + an exfoliator like sugar
- Warm water + baking soda
- Vinegar + lemon juice (more on that below)
Will Vinegar Work to Remove Nail Polish?
The verdict is still out on whether vinegar and lemon juice will actually remove nail polish. It didn’t work for us, but some people swear it’s worked for them!
Perhaps whether or not vinegar will work to remove your nail polish depends on a few things, like what kind of nail polish you’re using, how fresh it is, how long you’ve soaked your nails in the vinegar + lemon juice solution, and how much extra scrubbing you’re willing to do on your nails. It’s worth a try if you’re in a pickle, but better to use one of the effective and nail-nourishing brands above if possible!
Conclusion: Try any of these best of the best eco-friendly, non-toxic nail polish removers and avoid dry brittle nails from acetone’s harsh assault on your manicure!
Image credits: cottonbro, product photos belong to respective brands