21 Best Nail Polish Brands for Your Next Manicure 2022: Essie, Sally Hansen, Orly, Jinsoon, and More

If you grew up in the French manicure era of the 2000s (hello, 90s babies) you know just how far nail art has progressed. Today, the best nail polish brands have a wide variety of nail polish types, from basic polish to gel, dip powder, press-ons, and more, plus they can all leave different types of finishes. Of course, there’s the usual sheer and matte finishes but you can try switching it up with metallic, holographic, or textured finishes as well. Whichever look you decide to go for, you can achieve salon-level home manicures with just a few high-quality nail polishes at your disposal.

What makes nail polish “non-toxic”?

With the clean beauty movement on the rise, your options don’t just stop at nail colors. More nail polish brands than ever are now marketing their formulas as “non-toxic” by labeling their products as 5-free, 7-free, 10-free, or even 23-free. This all comes down to how the brand claims to make its products.

If you’ve ever wondered where nail polish gets its strong odor, take a scan of its ingredients list. The chemicals used in your favorite lacquers run the gamut, and many traditional add-ins have been linked to various adverse health effects because nail polish can enter the body, research shows. That said, the connection between certain nail polish ingredients and their potential health effects aren’t fully understood and require further study, per Harvard Health experts.

According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the most common nail product ingredients include formaldehyde (or formalin), formaldehyde resin (used in nail polish coating), methacrylic (used in nail primers), phthalates (used to reduce cracking) , dibutyl phthalate (used for nail hardeners), and toluene (a solvent that is slowly being phased out). According to a 2018 study published in the journal Environmental Study & Technology, nail polish brands started to label their products as 3-free in the 2000s to exclude toluene, formaldehyde, and dibutyl phthalate. Since then this labeling has increased to what we see today with double digit “free” labeling. But because this labeling is not required to be validated by a third-party or approved by the FDA, it’s up to the nail polish brand to be explicit about which ingredients are used or in this case withheld—and sometimes when an ingredient is excluded it can be replaced with a similar potentially questionable ingredient, the study authors note.

The gist: “Non-toxic” labeling isn’t standardized, so it’s tough to figure out what, exactly, is excluded from your nail polish unless you dig deep into its ingredients list. With that said, “free” labeling is a great indicator that the brand is aware of and actively trying to avoid certain ingredients that are still up for debate when it comes to their potential health effects. But because most of us don’t have a background in chemistry, familiarizing yourself with the brand’s mission and ethos is another way to ensure you’re buying a product that’s aligned with your personal preferences.

What are other common nail polish terms should you know?

  • Plant-based: Product (sometimes product brush) is 100% made from plant extracts and other ingredients typically not derived from animals.
  • Vegan: No animal products are used within the ingredients.
  • Cruelty-free: Product ingredients not tested on animals.
  • Leaping Bunny Certified: No animal testing used in any phase of product development (or paid by a third party to test).

After checking out a whole lot of nail polishes, we got it down to 21 that you should add to your collection. You’ll note cult-favorite brands like Essie and OPI but we also found some lesser-known brands like Kokoist and OOOpolish. And, because we recognize this form of self-expression and art is one close to the heart of many Black and POC communities, we made sure our list represents the full scope of the nail care industry, from the colors we selected to the individual brands we thing to highlight. Here’s to healthy nails and mastering home manicures!

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