As you’ve probably noticed, the clean beauty arena is vast–and it can be overwhelming to navigate. Like many of us, I’ve been simplifying my beauty routine by focusing on those hardworking products that are both safe and efficacious. During the pandemic, I became proficient at painting my own nails and went on a search to find the best non-toxic nail polish. I tried a lot of different brands and as a mom of two, between bottle washing, cleaning, and typing, any nail polish I try is really put to the test.
In my quest to find the best, I tapped friend and extraordinary nail artist, Smith & Cult brand ambassador, and mommy of two, Jessica Tong. In addition to giving me some tips and tricks for applying polish at home, she also filled me in on the importance of using non-toxic nail polish brands. “I have a daughter who is two years old and loves to have her toes painted, so the brands I use have to be good enough for those baby toes to be good enough for my clients,” says Tong.
Keep reading for my top five clean beauty nail polishes and find out which one had the most staying power and the easiest application.
Tips for an at-home manicure
When doing my nails at home, before painting them, I like to file, clean up cuticles, and lightly buff. Then I cleanse the nail with a drop of alcohol on a small 1”x1” square of paper towel to remove oil. After this, apply a thin coat of Smith and Cult Basis of Everything base coat, two thin coats of color polish, and finish with Smith and Cult Above It All topcoat. To speed up the drying process I’ll do Zoya Quick Dry Drops—one drop per nail makes them dry like magic.
I’ve been wearing natural nail polish for some time and one thing I’ve found is the shorter your nails the better, as they get less contact. To keep things fair, I rotated nail polishes on each hand as your middle finger tends to come in contact with more things, while your pinky finger hardly gets used. I also bought new bottles of all the base, topcoat, polish and dry drops, and each polish was purchased directly from the brand’s website.
- Clean up cuticles and lightly buff
- Cleanse the nail with a drop of alcohol
- Used each brands base coat and top coat (1 coat each)
- Two coats of nail polish
- Quick-dry drops (if they had them)
Zoya Price: $12
My Rating: 3.5/5
Pros and Cons: Zoya had my favorite base coat. The consistency was perfect, not too thick or thin. The handle made it easy to apply as it rested nicely in your hand. They have a range of bold colors to choose from. Zoya was placed on my middle finger and thumb. As mentioned before the middle finger has a lot of contacts so it was the first to chip on both hands. My thumb is still in good condition five days later with no chips. The color went on a little thick in my opinion great for coverage but maybe a little too thick in adding a second coat. I find when a polish is too thick it takes forever to dry.
Why I Love It: Zoya was the first to remove toxic ingredients such as toluene, camphor, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, and DBP (dibutyl phthalate) from its formulations. Zoya maintains its focus on the health and well-being of salons, spas, and consumers.
Rating: This is a good polish to throw on quickly when you want a bold pop of color and need your nails to last all night long with one to two applications.
Smith & Cult Price $18
My Rating: 4/5
Procs and Cons: I’ve been using this brand for quite some time. When I was a stylist, this was a brand I often noticed a lot of professionals were using. Personally, I love the shades and they offer a variety of neutrals and muted tones. I used this brand on my pinky and ring finger. I found the color to be slightly on the thinner side but that may have had more to do with what color I choose. It was by far the lightest in the bunch. My only complaint with this brand was the brush. It had the thinnest brush and an awkward handle. If you’re a pro you might not find this a big deal, but if you struggle to paint your nails you might find this hard to apply.
Why I Love It: Smith + Cult is Vegan + Gluten-Free, 8-Free Formula: No Dibutyl Phthalate, Toluene, Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Resin, Camphor, Xylene, Ethyl Tosylamide, & Triphenyl Phosphate.
Rating: Smith & Cult is what I would opt for at the salon for sure, but at home, I think you’ll have trouble properly applying.
Butter Price: $18
My Rating: 2/5
Pros and Cons: I used this polish on my pointer and middle finger. Unfortunately, both my middle and pointer fingers were chipped. Again the placement on the middle finger is tough. Overall this was my least favorite polish. They have a very limited color range and I found the base, color, and topcoat to be very thin. Though I did find the brush easy to use and apply, the polish was very thin.
Why I Love it: Luckily, as with all of the brands, Butter’s lacquers do not contain eight nasty ingredients. They do not add Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Resin, DBP, Toluene, Camphor, Ethyl Tosylamide, Xylene, or TPHP to any of our nail product formulas.
Rating: Not worth the spend when you can get Smith & Cult for the same price TBH!
Ella+Mila Price $10.50
My Rating: 4.5/5
Pros and Cons: This was my go-to polish when I was pregnant. Of all the polishes this is the cleanest. I would call it my runner-up and go-to for pregnant mommies or babies. The top is a little petite which made it a tad harder for me to apply but overall the staying power worked well. I used this brand on my pointer and pinky fingers. With a passion for color and dedication to healthy beauty, the founders strive to provide fashion-forward beauty products without compromise. In addition to being chip-resistant, quick-dry, and high-shine, ella+mila nail colors contain no acetone, animal-derived ingredients, and a host of other nasties making it a seventeen chemical-free product.
Why I Love It: ella+mila polishes are PETA-certified making them vegan, cruelty-free, and proudly made in the USA.
Rating: This one was an almost win for me. It’s safe, has fun colors, and the price is right!
Olive & June Price $8
My Rating: 5/5
Pros and Cons: This was my overall winner. The brush is probably the largest out of the five and the size of the handle is perfect for the hand. They also offer a poppy (which is a handle) however I found the normal top to work just as easy. The polish went on so smooth and the color stayed on and still looks great. I will say the base coat is very different than your typical base coat—I would call it more of a primer and maybe that’s why it stayed on so well. They also carry a range of colors from bright, muted, and classic tones—and it’s the most affordable.
Why I Love It: Their formula is vegan, cruelty-free, and 7-free (excludes 7 potentially harmful ingredients commonly found in nail polish: dibutyl phthalate (DBP), toluene, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, camphor, TPHP, or xylene).
Rating: This is the brand for manicure-conscious people. The polish is still on and hasn’t chipped, and let me tell you, as a mama of two under two, that’s saying something!
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