As someone who is constantly in the kitchen, my manicure usually lasts about as long as it takes to cook dinner. Which made me pause and think, where does all that nail polish go? I don’t think I am literally eating it but it did make me think twice about exactly what I’m putting on my nails. The truth is, what we put on our skin (and nails) is just as important as what we put in our bodies. So when it comes to beauty, it’s important to choose products that are not harmful to our health.

When you think of nail polish, eco-friendly is not typically the first word that comes to mind. The simplest thing to do is skip polish all together, but that’s not really a fully feasible option for me. Luckily there are countless clean beauty brands that offer healthier formulas and are making a difference in the industry.

I spent some time chatting with Nadine Abramcyk, one of the founders of tenoverten, the salon that is pioneering what a clean mani means. Nadine is incredibly knowledgeable and dedicated to creating a safe, fun experience in her salons for both the customer and nail technician. She was transparent, explaining that if you’re using nail polish, there is really no such thing as an 100% all natural manicure. But there is such thing as a manicure that is significantly better for your health and, just as importantly, the health of the technicians who are in the salon day in and day out. It is also possible to replace every product and tool you come in contact with clean eco-friendly alternatives.

What is the industry doing to keep technicians and customers safe?

Many of you may remember the expose that ran in the NY Times last spring. Not only did it make everyone think twice about where they were getting their weekly manicure, but it evidently made a difference in the industry and elevated standards across the board. The governor made every salon in NYC get wage bond insurance for employees and  increased regulations in terms of safety. Tenoverten worked closely with the governor’s office as an advisor for how these changes would work in practice. Technicians are now required to wear masks during filing and buffing of nails and gloves during cutting. Nadine shared with me that in Austin there are regulations in place that require vents at every single manicure station something we will hopefully start to see across the country.

It’s also important to take hygiene very seriously. Tenoverten uses a medical grade piece of equipment to clean all metal tools. UV lights and barbicide do not kill everything. At tenoverten, anything that touches a customers skin is one time use (like a nail file). If the nail file being used on you has marks on it or shows signs of useage, it’s a warning sign that you are in a dirty salon. Either ask for a new one or head to a different salon next time.


Do natural manis last as long as their traditional counterparts?

Good news for all of us natural-beauty obsessed! Nadine shared that there are two things that make a difference in the longevity of the manicure, and neither of them are impacted by using better-for-you products. First, the nail bed must be cleaned properly (if there is oil on your nail your polish will peel right off). Second, painting the free edge of the nail makes a major difference. Another thing to keep in mind is polish lines are formulated to chemically go well together, so if you are using a tenoverten polish it is best to use a tenoverten base coat and top coat for longevities sake. Same goes to if you are using any other brand.


I created this roundup to help you choose the best non-toxic nail polish no matter if you’re giving yourself a mani at home or taking a trip to the salon. Tenoverten has developed their own line of nail polishes and has stripped 8 chemicals out of their polishes that could potentially be harmful with overuse. Base coat is typically the worst offender since it sits directly on the nail bed   something to keep in mind if you are bringing your color to the salon. Don’t forget to check out my favorite nails salons in NYC, LA and SF. These spots not only have fun, bright colors to choose from, but they also pay careful attention to hygiene and other products used in the salon.

the nontoxic mani // clean food dirty city

Choosing a non-toxic nail polish:


This is an absolute minimum requirement – many of popular nail polish brands are 3-Free, meaning they are formulated without formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate + toluene (also known as the toxic trio), including Essie + OPI. The one exception to this is neon colors – you absolutely cannot make neon colors without formaldehyde resin, so you may want to skip those shades.  



When it comes to polish, I try to go a little greener with formulas that are at least 5-Free, meaning they are formulated without formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate, toluene, formaldehyde resin + camphor. There are tons of great 5-Free brands – including Aila, Chanel, Deborah Lippmann, JINsoon, Kure Bazaar, Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics, RGB, RMS, Scotch Naturals + Zoya .



Some brands even taking it a step further with 7-Free formulas – removing formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate, toluene, formaldehyde resin, camphor, ethyl tosylamide + xylene – including Butter London and Pacifica.



Next up are 8-Free polishes, which are formulated without formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate, toluene, formaldehyde resin, camphor, ethyl tosylamide, xylene + triphenyl phosphate (tphp), including one of my favorite brands tenoverten.



And if you want to make your mani even healthier, try a 9-Free formula that’s free of formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate, toluene, formaldehyde resin, camphor, ethyl tosylamide, xylene, parabens + lead, like Acquarella and Londontown.


Looking to pamper yourself with clean mani? Check out my fav non-toxic nail salons from coast to coast.



PH7 Nail Couture // Williamsburg


tenoverten // Soho + Midtown West


Van Court // Financial District



Alchemie Spa // Santa Monica


Côte // Brentwood


Olive & June // Beverly Hills, Pasadena + Santa Monica



LuxSF // Hayes Valley


Parlor // Russian Hill


ZaZa Nails // SoMa
What are your go-to non-toxic polish brands + nail salons? Let me know in the comments!

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