Nail Polish Ingredients

Have you ever wondered about nail polish ingredients? What exactly are you putting on your nails?

Nail polish has come a long way in the last few decades. It used to be for show, but now it has added benefits too.

ingredients for nail polish

The benefits of nail polish are due to the vitamins that many of them contain these days. These are non-toxic nail polish and nail strengthener polishes that promote healthier nails.

But what ingredients go into nail polish and how important are they? 

Main Ingredients in Nail Polish

There are 8 main types of ingredients in nail polish. We say ‘types’ because those are the categories that the ingredients fall under. 

Is nail polish toxic? Certain ingredients can be toxic and we’ll discuss that a little as well. But for the most part, nail polish isn’t toxic. 

You can read our article on nail damage from nail polish to learn more about the effects of nail polish.

8 Main Nail Polish Ingredients


Resin is the first ingredient in nail polish. It’s a polymer that holds all the other ingredients together. 

There are usually 2 types of resin used in nail polish:

  1. Film-forming resin is what gives the nail polish a shiny texture when it dries.
  2. Adhesive resin makes it flexible and ensures that the polish won’t be brittle. 

Look for anything that says ‘resin’ on the label. 


ingrediants in nail polish

The resin gets dissolved in a solvent to make it easy to apply. The most common solvents used are ethyl acetate and butyl acetate. At Orly, we use both these solvents in our polishes.

This makes it easy to spread the polish over the nail and helps it dry reasonably quickly.  

As the polish dries, the solvent evaporates. The main concern is ensuring that it doesn’t evaporate too fast. 

If the solvent does evaporate too fast, it’ll cause bubbles to form in the drying polish. 


Dispersants are also known as ‘thickeners’.

They are additives that help the pigments, resin, and solvent mix together. If dispersants aren’t added, the pigments would separate and settle in the bottom of the bottle. 

The two most common dispersants are stearalkonium hectorite and stearalkonium bentonite. We use both these dispersants in our nail polishes.


Have you ever wondered why some polishes last longer than others? This might be the reason. 

We use a plasticizer called ethyl tosylamide to help the polish last longer. It ensures the flexibility of the resin in the dry polish.

In other words, it keeps the polish flexible, with less chipping and cracking.

UV Stabilizers

The name speaks it for itself. Benzophenone-1 is a UV stabilizer that prevents sun damage to the polish. This is the only UV stabilizer used in nail polish.

whats in nail polish

UV radiation has a bad habit of causing fading and discoloration to just about anything. This ingredient keeps your nail polish bright even after hours in the sun. 


Do you know that favorite nail polish color that you always go back to? It took multiple ingredients to get that color just right. 

The pigments can either be organic or inorganic. We use a mix of both. 

Organic (carbon-based) pigments:

  • Similar to pigments used for food colorings. 
  • A wide range of colors.

Inorganic pigments:

  • Chromium oxide: greens
  • Iron oxide: reds and oranges
  • Ferric ferrocyanide: blues


For more complex polishes you need more than pigments. Either mica or finely ground titanium is used for these types of effects. 

Those pretty pearlescence hues are an example of this. 

There are glitter polishes as well, with tiny pieces of glitter added to the polish. The thickener we mentioned above ensures that these extras stay in place. 

Toxic Nail Polish Ingredients to Avoid

As we said, certain ingredients used in nail polish can be toxic. This is why you shouldn't bite your nails if you’re wearing polish.

how is nail polish made

Below, we discuss the 3 main toxic nail polish ingredients. It would be best to avoid nail polishes that contain these 3 ingredients. Luckily for you, at Orly, we don’t use any of these toxic ingredients in our nail polish.


If you’re wondering why this word sounds familiar, you might not like the answer. Formaldehyde is used as a sterilizer, preservative, and embalmer. 

Yes, it’s the key ingredient in embalming fluid. And yes, until recently, it was an ingredient in nail polishes too.

It has since been banned for its links to lung and nasal cancers. 

So why was it used in the first place? It was used in polishers that were considered ‘nail hardeners’.

It used to be a common ingredient in gel nails. Is gel nail polish bad for you? Most, if not all, nail polish manufacturers don’t use this ingredient anymore. 

You’ll be fine as long as the gel polish doesn’t have this ingredient

Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP)

This ingredient was a common plasticizer in nail polish. It made the polish flexible which reduced chipping and cracks.

But concerns arose about it affecting human hormones. The main concern was its effects on reproductive hormones. 

The EU banned it in 2004 and it has been phased out of the US as well.


Toluene is another nail polish ingredient banned in Europe. It was an ingredient found in many cosmetics including nail polish and hair dyes. 

Unfortunately, it’s also a powerful neurotoxin. This means that constant exposure can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, and eye irritation.

If pregnant women are frequently exposed to it, it can cause fetal birth defects. It can even cause developmental defects as the child grows.

Final Word

A lot goes into making those pretty nail polish colors we love so much. And while most ingredients aren’t bad for you, there are a few that are toxic. 

Do nails need a break from polish? Occasionally, yes. Generally, it’s not the polish itself that you need a break from. 

what are the ingredients in nail polish

If moisture gets trapped between the nail bed and the polish, it can cause a fungal infection. Luckily, if you do find yourself suffering from a fungal infection, our Fungus MD will help.

If you want to learn more about the effects of nail polish, try our article on is nail polish bad for your skin.

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