LOVE your  nailsspacer

I’m not exactly a nails fanatic, although I’ve come to love an occasional pedicure.  The strong fumes of polishes, removers and salons have been a big turn off.  Good thing is, thanks to increased demand, the nail care industry is shifting to safer, more natural products that work just as well.  My friends Tracy and Fiona mentioned that Treat Nail Lounge in Evanston was an eco-friendly salon, so we decided to check it out.  We immediately noticed fresh air as we entered the calm, clean, modern space.  I asked the owner, Hailey, what makes their salon different from a conventional one.  She said they offer various eco-friendly products for their customers.  We found nail polishes known to be less toxic such as Zoya, OPI, Essie and SpaRitual, non-acetone polish remover, and Qtica Smart Spa pedicure products such as the Lime Zest Sugar Scrub.  Another big difference, harsh fumes from acrylic nails didn’t drift our way as we were held captive on the pedi chair, because artificial nails are not on the menu.  Thumbs up, we all enjoyed our relaxing green pedicure.  While Treat made it easy, I needed to do some homework to make healthier choices at home too.  Turns out my daughters love coloring their nails and I’ve been worried about some of the products that have migrated into our home. Fortunately, I’ve found that girls can have great nails and play it safe too.


Top ten healthy mani & pedi tips:

1.  Learn more about the ingredients in your nail care products

In the absence of U.S. certification for ‘safe’ nail products, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Skin Deep database supplies safety ratings on thousands of beauty products.  Before you select nail polish, remover, hand cream, cuticle treatment or foot care products, research the product’s safety.  This popular cosmetics database gets about one million page views per month.  Unfortunately, the database doesn’t review every brand and formulation out there.  In order to recognize toxic ingredients to be weary of, see Green America’s Nine Toxins to Avoid in Personal Care Products.


2. Chose “three-free” nail polishes at a minimum

Exposure to the “toxic trio” of dibutyl phthalate (DBP), toluene and formaldehyde has been associated with cancer, birth defects, asthma and other negative health effects upon prolonged exposure.   In 2006, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics led a successful campaign to pressure OPI (at  that time the leading salon brand but also one of most toxic nail polishes) to reformulate their products using safer chemicals to protect consumers and nail salon workers. Slowly OPI phased out the toxic trio, and their competitors followed suit. In the past few years, nail polishes are also starting to omit formaldehyde resin and camphor.  Many “three-free,” “four-free,” and “five-three” products are available today, as further listed at

three free nail polish

alllacqueredup.comwellandgoodnyc and rawlifecoaching.  Keep in mind even “5-free” nail polishes aren’t necessarily non-toxic, they still contain other chemicals.  Cross checking with EWG’s Skin Deep database can give you a little more insight.  Below find a sampling of brands with available EWG Skin Deep scores (scores may vary depending on formulations and colors: 0-2 = low hazard, 3-6 = moderate hazard, 7-10 = high hazard, * “3-free” verified upon recent California testing):


3. Give water-based nail polishes a try, especially with your kids

Beyond 5-free options, water-based nail polishes are solvent free and considered low hazard lacquers.  For this reason, many of these products are targeted to kids.

kids water based nail polish

My girls enjoy kid-friendly water based nail polish by Keeki, Honeydew Farms, Piggy Paint and Suncoat.

Since these formulas are still somewhat new and improving, durability may not yet be the same as solvent-based nail polishes.  Polishing nails at night to minimize contact can help the lacquer cure better.  Also be sure to follow the directions, since some brands recommend buffing, a base coat or top coats to extend the wear.  The good thing about water-based nail polishes is that they can be removed with less-harsh nail polish removers, some can be peeled off or even wiped off with vodka.  The water based brands below include available EWG Skin Deep scores and notes if the company was a signer of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.


4. Switch to a natural nail polish remover

Conventional acetone nail polish remover contains harsh smelling solvents that are strong enough to disintegrate plastic.   Needless to say, acetone is pretty toxic and actually dries out your nail beds.  While non-acetone or acetate remover can be gentler, it’s not particularly healthy either.  non-toxic nail polish removerNatural removers rely on water and plant based ingredients, such as soy or corn, rather than petroleum based solvents.  These non-toxic removers are often odorless and pleasant smelling, and may include nourishing natural ingredients such as aloe vera and vitamin E to promote nail health.  Several removers also comply with California’s more stringent pollution control laws.  While conventional products might work faster at getting the polish off, natural polish removers will be gentler to your nails, your health and the environment.


5. Seek out an eco-friendly nail salon

First, be choosy about finding a hygienic, reputable salon that demonstrates proper sterilzation protocols.  Posted credentials, hand washing and tools sanitized with an autoclave and EPA certified disinfectants will limit serious infection risks.  In any case, always trust your senses.  If a salon smells strong and wrong or doesn’t look particularly well kept, go somewhere else.

Additionally, seek out green salons that are knowledgeable and committed to non-toxic, natural nail care across the board.  Treat Nail Lounge, as mentioned above is one. Although I have not visited these places myself, the Egea Spa in Evanston (using the SpaRitual line),

Spa O in Deerfield

Soak your feet in a copper bowl at Spa O in Deerfield. Three-free polishes and Spa Organics pedi products can also be found at this soothing space.

Haven Organic Skin and Nail Care in Wilmette (using the SpaRitual line) and Spa O in Deerfiled also promote organic and earth friendly manicures and pedicures.  Truly being pampered at a spa should be fume free with three free polishes, non-toxic polish removers, organic skin scrubs, paraben free lotions and essential oil soaks.  If you love your existing salon, ask them about the ingredients in the products they are using on you, and encourage them to switch to healthier products.  The nail technicians you have come to depend on may thank you, as their health is most compromised by the continuous exposure of chemical fumes.  If in doubt, you can always bring your own trusted products and sterile tools.  With so many new salons popping up here in Winnetka, I’m somewhat surprised more aren’t trying to attract customers by offering healthier eco friendly options, setting them apart from competitors.


6. Always apply and remove polish in a well-ventilated area

Whether at home or in the salon, the best recommendation for reducing toxicity polish nails outsideis to to make sure you are in a well-ventilated space when you use nail polish and removers.  Avoid salons with persistent heavy odors, a tell tale sign they are not well ventilated.  If at home, go outside to dress or undress your nails when possible.  Also, keep the bottle lids closed as much as possible and seal away materials soaked with polish remover to avoid unnecessary escaping fumes.


7. Reconsider acrylic and gel nails

For long and strong nails or glossy lasting color, many women have turned to salons for acrylic nails and the latest rage, soak off gel nails.  Important questions to consider before having either procedure…how toxic are the materials applied to the nail? what will the impact be to your nail bed?  how safe is the UV or LED light used for setting/curing?  how harsh is the removal process?  The application of acrylic nails involves use of strong chemicals, which may include formaldehyde, toluene and methyl methacrylate (MMA).  The resulting fumes can be strong and toxic.  Gel products are relatively new, and little has been reported about the toxicity.  Both CNT Shellac and OPI Gel Color nails are both three-free, but what other chemicals are being used to deliver longer durability?  Concerns have been raised over skin irritating methacrylates, reproductively toxic methylpyrrolidone  and carcinogenic BHA found in some in gel products.  Aggressive nail filing associated with acrylics and gel nails can weaken the nail bed and increase risk of fungal and bacterial infection.  If your skin is accidentally nicked during filing or the salon is using unmarked bottles, hold off on the procedure to avoid heath risks including infections, exposure to prohibited toxins or nerve damage.  For setting acrylic nails and curing gel nail color, your hands will likely sit under a UV light.  Concerns about regular exposure to UV lights include premature aging of your hands and skin cancer risks.  Curing under new LED lights may be safer since it works quicker than a UV light.  You can also wear special gloves or sunscreen for skin protection.  Removal of acrylics and gel nails is also pretty harsh.  The nail beds need to be soaked in toxic acetone nail polish remover for at least 10 minutes and sometimes additional filing is necessary.  Is all of this really necessary to achieve beautiful nails?


8. Dare to go bare

Photo courtesy of

Going natural often looks best, especially with nicely buffed nails. It’s also easier.  Let’s face it, maintaining nail color, especially on fingers, can be a lot of work!  I find many people pass on polish except for special occasions, or prefer to polish only their toes.  Check out natural living expert Annie Bethold-Bond’s advice for giving yourself a natural manicure and natural pedicure.



9. Try natural, DIY recipes for healthy nails

A fun way to give  your nails, hand and feet some love is to create a homemade spa products.

natural pedicure remedy

Photo courtesy of the

Making your own natural soaks, scrubs and creams can be a fun, pampering project, especially with your kids.  The Klutz Natural Beauty Book by Anne Akers Johnson, offers simple recipes designed for kids 12 and up.  You’d be surprised how nourishing avocado, banana, oatmeal and yougurt mixtures can be!  Better habits and a healthy diet can also keep your nails strong and healthy, as these tips suggest.



10. Support reform in the cosmetics industry

Surprisingly, the cosmetics industry is almost completely unregulated, as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not have the power it needs to keep consumers and salon workers safe.  Just last month, a California study showed numerous nail products tested positive for hazardous chemicals despite label claims.  Currently advocates are urging Congress to adopt meaningful cosmetics regulations including the phase-out of ingredients linked to cancer and reproductive or developmental toxicity; a safety standard that protects workers, babies and other vulnerable populations; full disclosure of ingredients; and FDA authority to recall dangerous products from the market.  These elements are part of the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011 (H.R.2359), co-sponsored by our district’s Congresswomen Rep. Jan Schakowsky.  Tell Congress to fix our broken cosmetic laws here.



See companion Non Toxic NailsPinterest Board for many more visuals & ideas!


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updated August 2013