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Too many numbers! What’s going on?
3-free polish does not contain dibutyl phthalate, toluene or formaldehyde.
4-free polish does not contain dibutyl phthalate, toluene, formaldehyde or formaldehyde resin.
5-free polish does not contain dibutyl phthalate, toluene, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin or camphor.
6-free polish does not contain dibutyl phthalate, toluene, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, camphor or parabens.
7-free polish does not contain dibutyl phthalate, toluene, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, camphor, parabens or xylene.
Let’s go through the “nasties”:
Dibutyl phthalate – Actually a bit nasty, though probably not that nasty in the amounts in your nail polish – you’re probably getting phthalates by standing near a plastic container.
Toluene – Nasty if you inhale a whole heap of it for a long period of time.
Formaldehyde – Nasty if you’re allergic, or if you get too much on your skin, or if you inhale a whole heap of it.
3-free verdict: If you’re a salon worker or pregnant it’s worth checking the ingredients list to make sure it’s 3-free. If you’re a normal person, they’re good to avoid as much as you can – nail hardeners pretty much need formaldehyde to work though, so use sparingly in a well-ventilated room and you’ll be fine. Luckily, the vast majority of nail polishes are 3-free these days anyway, so as long as you’re not purposely hunting down vintage nail polishes and sniffing them for funsies you’re probably being 3-free anyway.
Formaldehyde resin – There’s a small amount of formaldehyde in this as an impurity (up to 0.5%).
Fun fact: Your body naturally produces more formaldehyde per day than you’ll get in formaldehyde resin from your nail polish.
4-free verdict: Worth getting if you’re allergic or a salon worker, otherwise don’t bother.
Camphor – This isn’t toxic unless you inhale or drink a huge dose (like, twenty bottles’ worth), but it’s an irritant. It’s found in small amounts near the bottom of the nail polish ingredients list.
Fun fact: It’s 20% of dried rosemary.
5-free verdict: We’re really stretching it here. Unless you’re allergic to camphor, there’s no point in avoiding it. Even the chemophobic EWG rates it as low hazard, and they have one foot in tinfoil hat territory.
Parabens – They’re safe in small amounts, and used to keep cosmetics bacteria-free. But guess what? They’re never really used in nail polish, because the solvents make it inhospitable to bacteria anyway.
6-free verdict: Common-sense-free. Logic-free.
Xylene – This is a solvent that used to be in permanent markers. I have never ever seen it in a nail polish. Perhaps it’s an ingredient in some ancient 1960s nail polish.
7-free verdict: You may as well say your nail polish is free of alien hair trimmings.
8-free – Free of GMOs!
9-free – Free of crude oil!
10-free – Free of gluten!
11-free – Free of added sugar!
12-free – Free of enriched uranium!
13-free – Free of racist jokes!
14-free – Free of loud noises in the night!
15-free – Free of TERRORISTS!