Skip to content

Water Based Nail Polish – Green Dream or just another one of those things?

January 4, 2012

After reading the Cosmetic design newsletter over coffee this morning I was drawn to this article stating that water-based nail polish is building momentum.  Like many things in life I assumed that I knew all about  it and quickly moved to something more interesting (have you seen my hands???? I hardly EVER wear nail polish as they are just so itchy and swollen from years of working with toxic nasty chemicals (and due to the fact that I was born that way babe – eczema, genetic fault, blame mother/father/dog)).  However, something in my mind told me I had to think about this one a bit and so I returned to the article and dug a little deeper…..

Water based nail polish is seen as the ‘hero’ product in what has traditionally been known as the cosmetics industries dirty little secret (I made that up).  For many years nail polish was the place that toxic and evil ingredients went on to better their lives as beautiful glossy coverings for ladies and gentlemen who wanted to make a statement (I kind of made that up too).   Nail polish contained formaldehyde, gender bending plasticisers such as DBP and solvents that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy – Toluene.  But all of that changed a few years ago (starting back in the late 1990’s and gathering pace around 2005-6) thanks to the arrival of some new polymer chemistry.

Basically the ‘nasties’ in the old type of nail polish did the following jobs:

DBP – This was the plasticiser used to make the resin flexible enough to spread, like a plastic coat across the nail.

Formaldehyde – NO this wasn’t used to preserve the product, it was in there as part of the resin that creates a hard film on the nail.

Toluene – This was one of the main solvents used to help dry your colour quickly and evenly so you don’t run out of time to dry your hair.

By the early 2000’s numerous reports including one by Greenpeace triggered a new round of concern and debate amongst the cosmetics industry and the laws surrounding pthalate use in perfumes and nail products were reviewed.  In the case of DBP the laws governing cosmetics were found to be adequate and no amendment was made. However, a few other pthalates used in perfumery were reviewed and their maximum permitted levels reduced in line with new scientific data.

As far as the public were concerned, pthalates were now on the map and a report by Greenpeace in February 2005 meant that soon EVERYONE wanted their nail polish ‘free from’.

Time for innovation.

New Chemistry doesn’t just pop out from behind the curtain with a taadaaaaa and a top hat, it has to be developed and so during the next couple of years new polymers were tested and new systems played with.   During this time the world of nail polish was turned on its head and formulations that were once pigments -in-oily-solvents became pigments-in-watery-polymers until we ended up with what we have now.

So, water based nail polishes are pretty amazing from a chemical nerd point of view but I won’t bore you with that.  All I will say is this, don’t be fooled that your water based polish is ‘chemical free’.  Firstly, that is a dam silly thing to say and secondly the thing that makes the polish work is a rather sophisticated acrylate polymer and these, when I last looked were mainly derived from petrochemicals.

On a parting note I do think that these water based polishes are a fab innovation as they are easier to remove and chemically ‘cleaner’ than their older counterparts.

So, enjoy and wear your water-colour with pride but don’t get stuck into the greenwash.




One Comment leave one →
  1. April 5, 2012 3:24 pm

    Thanks for this article about water based nail polishes. I would like to know more about the chemical aspects of how water based nail polishes are made. Do you know if the main ingredient in the acrylic polymers used is polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA)? Thanks for your informative site.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: