The 6 Best Non-Toxic Nail Polish Removers of 2021

Come clean with these safer nail polish removers.

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The Rundown
Acetone-free and strengthening remover with added vitamin E and aloe vera.
This type of remover has just two ingredients, and is available widely and affordably.
More portable and with less chance of spill and mess than bottled liquids.
Best Soy-Based + Best Plastic-Free:
Karma Naturals Organic Nail Polish Remover at Amazon
Skip the acetone and alcohols with this lavender-scented remover in eco-friendly packaging.
A powerful remover without extra ingredients that can tackle taking off gel manicures.
This soy-based formula has added vitamins to leave your skin and nails soft and moisturized.

Nothing makes you feel fancy faster than a fresh manicure or pedicure (or both). There are a number of non-toxic ways to achieve naturally beautiful nails without polish. But it’s also fun to express yourself, level up your look, and practice some self-care by adding some color or design to your nails. With the variety of nail color and style options available today, the hardest part might be choosing what color currently reflects your individual personality and mood.

Nail polishes have come a long way from their early more toxic days, although the ingredients in nail polishes still vary widely by brand. There are more and more non-toxic and less toxic nail polish brands available on the market because consumers continue to demand it.

The dried and hardened part of nail polish is a polymer—usually a form of plastic—made from a combination of pigments, hardeners, and binders specifically designed to be resistant to wear making them harder to remove. That emphasis on durability and lasting color also means that when it’s time for a change or a new coat, only ingredients capable of dissolving plastics will work effectively. Those ingredients are called solvents.

Unfortunately, to date, there is no fully non-toxic way to remove nail polish because there is no fully non-toxic solvent. Even manual scraping removes layers of healthy nail. So below we emphasize less toxic nail polish removers that are effective, well-rated, and easy to use. Most contain the chemical known as denatonium benzoate, a bittering agent. These agents are used to deter people (including young children) and animals from drinking it by accident or to get drunk. Always be sure to follow the manufacturer's safety recommendations.

If you're looking for a non-toxic nail polish remover, below are some of the best options.

Best Overall: Piggy Paint Nail Polish Remover

Piggy Paint Nail Polish Remover

Most of us want a nail polish remover that is easy to use and works well on a variety of polishes without overly drying or damaging nails. We also want a brand that doesn’t smell too strongly or have solvents that are dangerous through inhalation or skin exposure.

Piggy Paint Low Odor No Acetone Nail Polish Remover meets all of those important requirements. Although many removers use acetone as the solvent that dissolves the polish, Piggy Paint uses corn-derived ethyl alcohol, also known as ethanol, which is the very simple alcohol found in drinkable alcoholic beverages. Although ethanol does have a wine-like odor, it is generally much milder than acetone.

Ethanol is flammable so be sure to keep this and other polish removers away from flames and ignition sources. This remover’s other ingredients include aloe vera and vitamin E to help soften, protect and heal your nails and cuticles. Piggy Paint was founded in Arkansas and is made in the U.S. by a "mompreneur" so her young kids could get in on the fun of painting their nails without harsh chemicals.

Low Waste Tip

To cut down on waste, some people opt for reusable felt pads (view on Etsy) instead of disposable cotton ball or rounds to take off nail polish. Keep in mind that most nail polish remover will stain and warp fabric, so these pads won't last forever.

Best Budget: Kroger Maximum Strength Nail Polish Remover

Kroger Maximum Strength Nail Polish Remover

You may think you need to spend a lot of extra money to get a better nail polish remover. But in this case, the nail polish removers that have the best ratings from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) all contain the same two ingredients: acetone and a bittering agent called denatonium benzoate. Acetone is not a perfect ingredient. It’s highly flammable and there are occupational hazards associated with handling it excessively during manufacturing. But EWG rates it as 3 out of 10 on their toxicity scale (lower numbers indicating safer ingredients).

Kroger 100% Acetone Nail Polish Remover is an example of this simple, yet popular, type of remover. A number of brands—including Modesa, Studio M Pro, Studio Selection, Up & Up, and Daylogic—offer a similar product with these same ingredients at very affordable prices in a wide range of grocery and dollar stores and pharmacies nation-wide.

Acetone-based nail polish removers generally perform very well but they also come with a chemical odor and can be drying. Ideally, use them outside or in areas with good ventilation and limit your exposure by putting the lid on and storing safely when not in use. Acetone-based nail polish removers shouldn’t be expensive unless they are adding additional ingredients such as essential oils as moisturizers.

Best Wipes: Ella+Mia Soy Nail Polish Remover Wipes

Ella+Mia Soy Nail Polish Remover Wipes

Although disposable wipes have more packaging than liquid removers, the impact is roughly the same since as a disposable a cotton ball or pad to use a liquid nail polish remover. Ella+Mia Soy Nail Polish Remover Wipes make it easier than ever to remove your polish in a single step, and can be a better choice if you need to take remover on the road.

The wipes are free of acetone, alcohol, or acetates, which can be harsh on the nails and cuticles. They also are vegan and cruelty-free and formulated with vitamins A, C, and E. Each individual ingredient is rated by EWG between “1” and “3” except for vitamin A, also known as retinyl palmitate.

A range of retinoid compounds have been added to skin care and health and beauty products in the last two decades. But in certain conditions and in high concentrations, vitamin A has raised concerns, primarily in products worn in sunlight. EWG recommends that consumers avoid sunscreens and other skin and lip products containing vitamin A, retinyl palmitate, retinol, retinyl acetate, retinyl linoleate, and retinoic acid.

Best Soy-Based + Best Plastic-Free: Karma Naturals Organic Nail Polish Remover with Soybean Oil and Lavender

Karma Naturals Nail Polish Remover with Soybean Oil and Lavender

Most people would like to avoid nail- and skin-drying solvents like acetone and ethanol. But the truth is, when you avoid solvents, you must work harder to remove the polish. If you’re willing to put in the elbow grease, try a soy-based remover like Karma Organic Soy Lavender Nail Polish Remover. Vegan and cruelty-free, this remover is made of a propylene carbonate solvent rated as a “1” by EWG. The other ingredients are soybean oil, vitamin E, and lavender essential oil.

This remover leaves nails feeling soft and smelling beautiful, but you’ll definitely need to rub harder and longer than other removers. Also available in tea tree oil scent and unscented, this remover is not suitable for gel or acrylic treated nails.

Karma Naturals refuses to use plastic in their products, instead using recyclable glass bottles with metal tops and even using soy-based ink on their labels.

A close runner up in this category was the Priti NYC Unscented Soy Nail Polish Remover (view at Walmart). Although not evaluated by EWG, each of its biodegradable ingredients—methyl soyate (from soybean oil), dimethyl adipate and dimethyl glutarate—are rated with a “1” for low human health and environmental toxicity.

Best for Gels: Onyx Professional 100% Pure Acetone Maximum Strength Nail Polish Remover

Onyx Professional 100% Pure Acetone Maximum Strength Nail Polish Remover

You might notice that many nail polish removers note that they are not suitable for gel manicures or acrylic nails. These manicures use stronger glues and adhesives that are harder to dissolve. They require longer soaking or help from a professional manicurist.

Onyx Professional Maximum Strength Nail Polish Remover is 100% acetone as well and comes in a larger volume so you can soak your nails in it. This brand is made in the U.S. and does not test on animals. But beware, some try to sell this same product as a professional product at much higher prices without added value. It will evaporate quickly if left open so close tightly and store away from heat.

Best Splurge: Ella+Mila Soy Nail Polish Remover

Ella + Mila Unscented Soy Polish Remover is one of the most popular acetone-free nail polish removers. That’s because it contains vitamins A, C, and E and is available in scented form with lavender essential oil.

This remover is vegan and cruelty-free, certified by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and made in the United States. It is also considered "7-Free” which means it does not contain any of a group of seven cosmetic chemicals known to cause human health problems (see our What to Look For below for more details).

It has more ingredients that affect its look, feel, and performance while still earning an overall rating of “3” from EWG. Each individual ingredient is rated by EWG between “1” and “3” except for vitamin A, also known as retinyl palmitate.

Final Verdict

In general, you can skip nail polish and therefore the need for nail polish remover by sticking to a natural manicure. But when you do choose to wear polish, opt for Piggy Paint Low Odor No Acetone Nail Polish Remover (view at Amazon) when it's time to take it off. It uses a less toxic solvent. If you’re willing to put in the time and elbow grease, then try Karma Naturals Organic Soybean Oil & Lavender Nail Polish Remover (view at Amazon) to avoid plastic packaging.

What to Look for in Non-Toxic Nail Polish Remover

Solvents & Allergens

Most nail polish removers are highly flammable because they contain chemicals called solvents that dissolve the plastics in nail polish. Propylene carbonate is a more benign solvent than acetone but it doesn’t work as quickly or easily. If you’re willing to work a little harder at removal, opt for removers that use propylene carbonate as their main ingredient. However, many are combined with soy-based ingredients so check the label if you’re allergic to soy products.

Acetone and the other solvents used to remove nail polish are usually highly flammable and also can permanently damage furniture, rugs, and especially other synthetic fabrics and surfaces. You’ll want to avoid ignition sources like candles, cigarettes, and sources of sparks while using them.

Several brands have begun dispensing nail polish remover in a spill-proof pump (view at Amazon). But you can also buy a reusable pump bottle separately. The pumps generally have a wider base and are more resistant to tipping, and also will not leak when tipped. The pump top allows you to push a cotton ball or pad down onto a spout, receiving one “dose” per pump. That’s much safer than tipping and pouring the entire bottle onto your cotton ball.

Avoid Artificial Fragrance & the Toxic Trio

When researching EWG ratings for environmental and human health, we found that many removers that use propylene carbonate or acetone solvents receive poor ratings because of added fragrances and colors. Fragrances are added to help cover the alcoholic odors of the solvent ingredients, and although they smell better, they are not better for you. Many artificial fragrances are respiratory irritants and some are known mimics of estrogen which can disrupt our delicate hormone systems through endocrine disruption. 

While most nail polishes are completely harmless, some are not so benign. Online and on packaging you’ll likely notice mention of the “toxic trio of nail polish” which includes dibutyl phthalate, toluene, and formaldehyde. Each is an industrial chemical used in a variety of ways that are also known to have significant negative health impacts in humans. Consider choosing polishes and other nail products that are marketed as “3-Free,” “5-Free,” “7-Free,” or “10-Free” because they lack this toxic trio.

FAQs

Is non-toxic nail polish remover effective on all types of manicures?

Not all non-toxic nail polishes are created equally. In general, the milder ones don’t work as well on gel and acrylic nails because they use tougher glues and adhesives. So there is no blanket rule regarding effectiveness of non-toxic removers.

Check the label before buying. Manufacturers don’t want to disappoint their customers since many also sell polishes, cosmetics, and other beauty products. That’s why most removers will clearly indicate that they work on “all types” of polishes or will list the types that they do not work well with.

Is it safe to make my own nail polish remover?

There are a number of DIY recipes online that use non-toxic ingredients like lemon juice, vinegar, hand sanitizer, and even deodorant to remove nail polish. However, their effectiveness depends on the type of polish and how hard and long you work at it, and some don't work at all. You’ve probably noticed while cooking that your polish doesn’t fall off or disappear when you squeeze a lemon or spill vinegar on your hands.

When handling solvents, such as acetone from the hardware store, be aware of where you’re working. You’ll want to pour and work outside or in well ventilated areas free of open flames and sparking sources that could ignite the solvent or its fumes.

Does non-toxic nail polish remover expire?

Although most nail polish removers are not marked with an expiration date, the solvents in them usually evaporate quickly if left open to the air for any length of time. Cap containers tightly when not in use and safely dispose of any container that appears to be bloating or expanded.

In general, nail polish remover that isn’t contaminated and is stored in tightly sealed containers can last several years. But over a longer period of time the nail polish remover solvents can slowly decompose. Acetone decomposes when exposed to the ultraviolet light in sunlight to gasses like methane and ethane. Propylene carbonate can decompose to propylene glycol, a common ingredient in cosmetics, rated as a “3” by EWG.

If you use the container often, replace it more frequently, such as every year. Otherwise you can wait an extra couple of years or more when stored properly and out of sunlight.

Why Trust Treehugger?

To make this list, we carefully reviewed all the ingredients in a range of popular nail polish removers. We also researched user experiences to make sure products will get the job done.

Unless otherwise noted, each of the brands on this list have earned a top score of “1” from theEnvironmental Working Group’s (EWG) Skin Deep Database, which ranks products based on the human and environmental toxicity of their chemical ingredients. We found that only a small percentage of products on the market have been rated by EWG and most contain at least some ingredients that are known to be harmful in high concentrations and exposure scenarios.

Lorraine Wilde has only the highest standards for what goes on her family’s skin and into our delicate water bodies. Lorraine also holds a Master’s degree in environmental science with an emphasis on toxicology. She is a firm believer that consumers can make healthy, informed, and environmentally-conscious choices to protect their families and our planet.

View Article Sources
  1. Skin Deep. "Nenatonuim Benzoate." EWG.

  2. The Problem with vitamin A.” EWG

  3. Skin Deep. “Propylene Carbonate.” EWG.