Is Nail Polish Bad For the Environment?

Nail polish has one of the highest demands in the cosmetic market. It’s a beauty product with several uses, even beyond manicures and pedicures. Research has also shown that 5.13 million women used nail polish in the US in 2020 alone.

Nail polish is so common among women and even among men now because it’s one of the easiest ways to beautify the hands. It can make you feel beautiful and boost your confidence.

Beyond the beauty it adds to the nails, nail polish has other excellent benefits like serving as a source of relaxation for your mind and body through getting a manicure or pedicure treatment. It can also help cover up flawed or unattractive fingernails or toenails.

But as much as we love the giddy effect nail polish gives when applying it, we can’t overlook its effect on the environment. This blog post will explore how nail polish and remover impact the environment and what to do with the ones we don’t need or want anymore. Enjoy!

How Does Nail Polish Affect the Environment?             

Nail treatment has some health benefits. For instance, using organic nail polish removers is excellent because they don’t contain harsh chemicals, and have vitamins and minerals in them that help condition and strengthen your nails.

Also, the cuticle oil used to clean up and prep the cuticles and remove dead skin cells helps make the skin surrounding the nails soft and conditioned. This helps prevent the growth of fungus and bacteria and prevents infection when the nails fall off.

If you wonder how nail polish affects the environment, we must first analyze what manufacturers use. Afterward, we’ll determine its effects on the environment.

There’s no formula for manufacturing nail polish. However, several ingredient types are commonly used. These essential components include; film-forming agents, resins and plasticizers, solvents, and coloring agents.

The exact formulation of polish depends significantly on the choices made by chemists and chemical engineers in the research and development phase of manufacturing.

The primary ingredient in nail polish is nitrocellulose (cellulose nitrate) cotton. This is what acts as a film-forming agent for the polish.

Manufacturers also add synthetic resins, toluene, dibutyl phthalates, butyl acetate, and plasticizers to improve flexibility, resistance to soap and water, and other qualities. Finally, they use soluble dyes or pigments to give it color.

Your pedicurist or manicurist doesn’t know that your gels and acrylics are non-biodegradable and cannot be recycled. Nitrocellulose is also an ingredient used in the making of explosives and dynamite. In addition, its vapors are irritating to the skin, eyes, and lungs.

When discarded, nail polish sits in landfills and leaches toxic components such as toluene, formaldehyde, and dibutyl phthalate, among others, into the soil and even water. These chemicals, also known as the “Big Three,” have many health implications.

Toluene causes a range of neurological and reproductive issues at low-level exposure. It’s a skin irritant, toxic to the nervous system, and causes symptoms such as tiredness, confusion, and memory loss. In addition, it can lead to dizziness, nausea, and headaches when inhaled.

Formaldehyde is a potential carcinogen and can aggravate respiratory problems.  It’s a common indoor air pollutant. When the fumes are inhaled, it can cause watery eyes, headaches, labored breathing, and a burning throat sensation.

The colors used in nail polish are synthetic and are often associated with a range of neurotoxic and carcinogenic effects. Although nail polish manufacturers use naturally occurring ingredients like mica to give them shimmer, mining mica is dangerous and, worse off, requires the labor of primarily women and children.

Recycling facilities cannot easily recycle nail polish bottles because they can only accept clean and dry nail polish bottles. And this involves hazardous waste going into the trash or even down the drain. Therefore, it’s recommended that nail polish bottles be taken to a hazardous waste facility and not out into the garbage.

Is Glitter Nail Polish Bad For the Environment?

In a bid to add a little extra glam to nail polish, manufacturers started producing nail polish glitter in them. And it has fast become a consumer favorite, especially among younger women. After all, you can use it to spruce up just about anything.

However, glitter is essentially a type of microplastic made out of etched aluminum and polyethylene terephthalate, which have come to be realized to have a terrible impact on the environment.

They don’t biodegrade because they are made of plastics and cannot be recycled. So, they have existed for years, polluting land and water. Once they end up in our water bodies, they can cause severe damage to marine animals.

The aluminum component of the glitter is a neurotoxin that can get into the waterways when glitter nail polish is disposed of and lead to a high risk of dementia. They also cause harm to aquatic life.

In addition, another factor worth considering is that microplastics never break down. This is because they are the smallest plastics in existence, so they can’t decompose.

As such, they’ll only remain in the environment for an undetermined period, during which they’ll keep wreaking the havoc plastic is renowned for.

They are also small enough for easy transportation – this means that when you step on microplastics, they can stick on your shoes for a long time and may shed off as you move. This makes it easier for them to pollute the atmosphere, water bodies, and anywhere they can get to.

They can travel for miles.

Is Nail Polish Remover Bad For the Environment?

As the name suggests, nail polish removers are for removing nail polish enamel. Most of these polish removers contain acetone which is very effective for removing polish quickly. It also works well with nail glitter or false nails.

Acetone-based nail polish removers contain poisonous ingredients such as dimethyl ketone and dimethyl formaldehyde which causes damaging effects to the body.

It can lead to cardiovascular dysfunction as it lowers blood pressure. It also affects the gastrointestinal system by causing nausea, abdominal pain, and vomiting.

Nail polish removers are considered hazardous waste because they are toxic and flammable. They can also lead to system toxicity when inhaled excessively. In addition to these, they can cause blisters to form one’s hands, allergic dermatitis, onycholysis, and brittleness. 

Is There Any Eco-Friendly Nail Polish?

Now that you know the effects nail polish and glitters have on the environment, you’re probably wondering if there are environmentally friendly nail polishes. The good news is that there are indeed eco-friendly nail polishes.

Eco-friendly polish is water-based nail polish. Their formulas have the least or no amount of harmful chemicals. For example, some brands have leveraged bamboo oil to create silica and used wheat and corn to create agro-solvents rather than toxic petrochemical solvents.

These eco-friendly and organic ingredients also have health benefits. For example, bamboo-based silica is excellent for helping to strengthen the nails and make them more resistant to wear and tear over time. It also helps cure brittle nails.

You can also look for options with sustainable nail polish packaging and production processes. For example, some brands have started using polish bottles that have caps made of sustainably harvested wood as a substitute for plastic lids.

Thankfully, the bottles they come in are made from glass, which Recycling facilities can recycle. So, we don’t need to worry about contamination on their part.

What Can You Do With Old Nail Polish?

Many women often buy numerous bottles of nail polish at a go, mainly because they want a variety of colors, and so find themselves stuck with multiple bottles of half-used nail polish when they get tired of the colors they have or see new shades of colors they like.

However, they might not want to throw the bottles out to avoid contributing to damaging the ecosystem, and so they begin to wonder what to do with half-used bottles of nail polish.

Here are some great ways to repurpose those bottles without letting them go to waste:

1. Spruce it Up!

You can use them to paint bobby pins for your little girls. You can also use them to create lovely marble designs for your coffee mugs and turn them into a work of art.

You can also try marbleizing your eggs too. You can paint candles, vases, and papers for decorative areas around your home. You can also try painting your old jewelry to change the colors and give them a new look.

You can create murals and paintings using your nail polish as paint. You can paint your drawer knobs, kitchen cabinets, and even the drawers themselves any color you desire. You can paint your own Christmas bulbs to create a personalized collection.

If you love getting creative with designs for your phone, laptop, and tab pouches, you can use different nail polish colors to create lovely designs for your gadget pouches or even on your gadgets themselves. You can also try your hand out at designing flip flops or crocs using excess nail polish.

2. Prevent Water Rings

You can use your transparent polishes to prevent rust rings that tins and cans can leave around your bathtub or any other surface. So grab a bottle of old polish and paint the bottom of your cans that may come in contact with liquid.

3. Beauty Hacks

You can create your faux stones as nail polish can make them look like precious gems when painted against a reflective surface. In addition, applying clear nail polish to new jewelry helps prevent tarnishing by locking out air.

If you’re a lover of DIY hacks, then you already know that applying clear nail polish to a tear in your stockings or fishnets can help prevent it from getting worse when the polish hardens.

Likewise, you can try using nail polish to the tip of a thread you’re trying to pass through a needle, and once the polish dries off, it makes it easier for the thread to pass through the needle.

4. Organizational Hacks

You can also try using nail polish to color code your keys; it’ll make your keys look prettier and easier to remember which keys go into which hole. You don’t need to worry about the coat of polish interfering with the key slipping into the keyhole.

We bet you didn’t know you can use nail polish to seal envelopes. So, yes, you can stop licking your envelopes to seal them. You can also use your nail polish to paint over scuffs and tears on your shoes and bags.


Nail polish is one of the more popular beauty products, and we consume a high rate of it yearly. As such, it’s in the environment’s best interest to consider the impact nail polish leaves on it. We’ve adequately delved into that in this article, so please, read up and make informed decisions.

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About Rinkesh

A true environmentalist by heart ❤️. Founded Conserve Energy Future with the sole motto of providing helpful information related to our rapidly depleting environment. Unless you strongly believe in Elon Musk‘s idea of making Mars as another habitable planet, do remember that there really is no 'Planet B' in this whole universe.