A question I get asked all the time is: “Is Nail Polish Vegan?”. The short answer is no, not all nail polish is vegan, but the majority of it is. If you’re looking for vegan nail polish then you will probably also want it to be cruelty free as well (not tested on animals). I’ll explain how to determine if a brand is cruelty free and then if a certain nail polish is vegan by looking at the ingredients on the product.
Today, I will only be referring to actual nail polish products, not gels, acrylics or any sort of hand or nail care products (like creams and oils). If you are wanting to find a vegan and cruelty free gel, then the only one I recommend is BioSculpture, as I had it on for many years and my natural nails were very healthy underneath.
Before I get into the non-vegan ingredients of nail polish that you need to look for, I just want to cover the basics of cruelty free and vegan differences (as I explained in detail in my Vegan and Cruelty Free Standards in Beauty blog post). Cruelty free and vegan are not the same thing, cruelty free is no animal testing, vegan is no animal ingredients or animal by products. Chances are, if you’re looking for a vegan nail polish, then you will also want it to be cruelty free/not tested on animals. To know if a product is cruelty free, you need to look into the brand as a whole. For a brand to be cruelty free, none of their ingredients or finished products can be tested on animals by the brand or any third party. They must not “test when required by law”, so they cannot sell their products in countries like China that require cosmetic animal testing. China just recently changed their cosmetic animal testing laws to include more products that must be tested see my Changes to Cosmetic Animal Testing in China blog post so that you know what is now required by law to be tested on. You may also want to avoid buying from a company that has a parent company that tests on animals as the money you spend will eventually end up in with the animal testers – I have more information on this in my Cosmetic Parent Companies and Cruelty Free Brands blog post.
I tend to use indie nail polish as the brands are cruelty free and the nail polish is typically vegan (I haven’t come across an indie that isn’t cruelty free or any that use animal ingredients in their nail polish). I love my aussie indies, so I wrote a post about the active ones in Australia that I can recommend. You can see my list of Aussie indie polish brands in my Guide To Australian Indie Nail Polish blog post. I also listed some cruelty free and non-cruelty free brands there. Some of the cruelty free brands (not necessarily vegan) I mentioned that aren’t indies are China Glaze, Zoya, Wet n Wild, Barry M, ORLY, Color Club, ELF, OCC, Furless, Kester Black, Natio, ULTA3 and Australis.
Now, to tell if a nail polish is vegan, you need to look at the full ingredients of the product. I have only ever come across a few of non-vegan ingredients that are included in products, so they are what you need to look out for. The first is guanine, which can be listed as crystalised guanine or pearl essence. Guanine tends to be derived from fish scales and is used to create a shimmery or luminous effect. This will be found in nail polishes that have a pearl, shimmer or metallic look to them. This is the main ingredient I look for in coloured nail polishes as it tends to be the most common non-vegan ingredient.
Carmine can be used in polish, but in my experience, it is rarely listed in the ingredients on many nail polish bottles – I think because many brands do make a conscious effort to stay away from it. Carmine is very common in makeup like eyeshadows and lipsticks but there are other ingredients that can be used to make nail polish red. I have heard some people warn about oleic acid, but I haven’t seen it. So just keep an eye out for those ingredients just incase there is a product that does include them.
Now to nail hardeners. Nail hardener ingredients can be completely different from coloured polish ingredients as they try to put as many things as possible in there that could have some affect on the nail. Silk is a common ingredient in nail hardeners. I’ve seen it listed as silk powder, hydrolyzed silk and one that had it listed as silk lipesters. I haven’t found any research that suggests that silk has any positive effect on the nail plate but it does probably help make the nail feel stronger whilst the nail hardener is on the nail (which is what many ingredients in nail hardeners do). I have also seen keratin in a nail hardeners which is listed as hydrolyzed keratin. Many products will even have keratin in the name of it, but it is easy to find in the ingredients anyway. I have also seen one product that listed hydrolyzed collagen as an ingredient.
I did a lot of googling of ingredient listings before writing this post to try and find all the non-vegan ingredients I could. I found one nail hardener that included gelatin as an ingredient. Gelatin can be plant derived but the particular product I found it in had various other non-vegan ingredients so I doubt it would be in that product. I also found calcium which was listed as Calcium Pantothenate in a product. The research I did, seems to indicate that Calcium Pantothenate is typically synthetic but you should email the company if you see that ingredient and want to be sure.
You may think it is easier to just email the brand as ask if a product is vegan or not, but many brands have no idea what vegan actually means and some brands just make mistakes. Recently Wet N Wild Beauty labeled their 10 in 1 Nail Strengthener as vegan when the ingredients clearly stated that it contained Silk Powder. They have apologised and are looking into it, but you can see that even companies that are usually good about their labeling still get it wrong sometimes.
So now you know what to look for when trying to find vegan nail polish. I tried to find every non-vegan ingredient I could but there may have been something I missed, let me know if that is the case. It tends to be harder to find the cruelty free status of a brand as you often you have to email them with in depth questions to determine if they are cruelty free or not. There are however blogs like mine that do the work for you and sites like Choose Cruelty Free that keep an updated list of accredited cruelty free brands. To get you started, here are some brands that are cruelty free and have vegan nail polish (note: other products they stock may contain animal derived ingredients) – Pretty Serious Cosmetics, Powder Perfect, Emily de Molly, Femme Fatale Cosmetics, Furless, Zoya, Color Club, KBShimmer, Cirque Colors, ILNP, Kester Black, OCC, ELF, Designer Brands, Pacifica and Picture Polish. If you’re looking for a nail hardener that is cruelty free, vegan, and actually works then I can recommend the Pretty Serious nail hardeners – see my blog post Pretty Serious Rock On and Harden Up Review. I hope all of this information is helpful to you and makes it easier to find a product you want. Don’t forget to sign up to email updates to get my new posts delivered to your inbox. Do you buy vegan nail polish? Have you seen any other non-vegan ingredients in nail polish?
All this information is incredibly helpful. Thank you for breaking this all down and getting really specific.
There is absolutely no need for nail polish to use animal ingredients any more. Out of all the products in the beauty realm, nail polish has come the furthest in developing synthetic or natural alternatives to nearly every animal based ingredient, and the ones they haven’t really aren’t essential to developing a great nail lacquer. Let’s hope the industry wakes up to this even more in the coming years.
Yes, there has thankfully been a push in the nail world for vegan products, and as such no reason to use them now – unfortunately there are always companies who ae stuck in their old ways.
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Such an interesting, helpful post! I already only buy cruelty-free beauty products but it’s always good to know more about brands with vegan options – I’m off to look into the ones you’ve suggested here 🙂 xx
Thank you, I buy cruelty free too but choose vegan when I am informed about it. Nail polish seems to be one of the best cosmetic products for vegan alternatives 🙂