What Makes Nail Polish Non-Vegan?


While we are living in the futuristic sounding year of 2024, there are still many beauty products that aren’t vegan. Nail polish unfortunately is one of them.

Fortunately though, vegan polishes are a lot easier to find nowadays, as long as you know what to look out for. Also luckily, I’ve done the research so you don’t have to!

Common Non-Vegan Nail Polish Ingredients:


Let’s start with one you’ve surely heard me talk about before if you’ve been around. Carmine – also sometimes called Red 40 or Allura Red –  is a vivid red dye that is used in a lot of different products (including food!) that is made from crushed cochineal beetles. Speaking of food, I recently found this ingredient in Hickory Sticks, so unfortunately simply not buying a red coloured polish wouldn’t necessarily mean you’re off the hook.


Another ingredient I’m sure you’ve heard of before, Shellac is a resin secreted by the female lac bug, which obviously makes it not vegan. Why is there another bug in your nail polish? Because it’s used to give polishes that typical glossy shine.


Here’s one you might remember from my Vegan Sunscreen post. Lanolin is an animal fat that’s extracted from sheep’s wool. It’s classified as a moisturizer, which is why it’s sometimes added to nail polishes.


If you read this article, you’ll remember this ingredient, too. Tallow is rendered animal fat, typically coming from cattle. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a specific reason as to why some companies put Tallow in their nail polishes, I found a bunch of articles speculating that this ingredient could be the reason your nails sometimes turn yellow after wearing polish for a long time.


Also sometimes simply called Pearl Essence, this ingredient provides a shimmering luster to polishes that make their shines almost irresistible. Until you learn that this ingredient is derived from fish scales.


This ingredient is used for it’s strengthening properties, which is supposed to enhance the durability of your manicure. (Ie make it not chip off as fast) Which sounds like a good idea, right? Well, it would be! If this ingredient wasn’t a protein that is typically made from hooves, horns and hair.


Think you’ll be safe from non-vegan ingredients if you reach for a polish that says something like ‘all natural’ on it? Think again. Some of these fake saving-the-Earth companies that market or boast their products as being all natural use ingredients like beeswax and honey. Which I hopefully don’t need to explain are not vegan.

The only way to be sure that you’re actually getting a vegan nail polish is to look on the label and not see if it actually says the word vegan on it, but read the ingredients list! Some vegan polishes may also say something like water-based formula or breathable on their label. Before actually going to the store, you can also check out the brand’s website if they have one. You can often very quickly find out whether or not a brand is vegan or sells vegan products from their website.

That said, while some polishes ingredients may indicate they’re vegan, keep in mind the brand selling them might not be. Not only could they be a brand that sells both vegan and non-vegan polishes, but they may also not be cruelty-free. The company might boast that they don’t test on animals but watch out for an asterisk (*) somewhere in that statement. Or if they say something like we don’t test our products or ingredients on animals, except where mandatory by law.

This means they unfortunately do test their products or ingredients on animals, so that they’re allowed to be sold in a particular country. I’ve most often seen this statement to mean companies sell their products in China, which requires animal testing before allowing certain products to be sold there.

As I always say though, the decision of whether or not to support these non-vegan brands is up to you. Is it worth it (or sustainable) for you to only buy and support 100% vegan companies? Or is it enough for you to simply buy a vegan product from a non-vegan company? I’m a fan of voting with your dollar, so while buying from a non-vegan company is obviously not ideal, buying their vegan products will show that company that that’s what their consumers want. And this will hopefully (eventually) lead the company to offer more vegan products in the future.

I know this is a vegan ingredient article, but I also think it’s worth mentioning that non-vegan ingredients aren’t the only problematic ingredients in nail polish. Some polishes also contain toxic chemicals.

Dun dun dunnn

No but seriously, some polishes contain very harsh chemicals that you definitely shouldn’t be putting on your body.

Ingredients like:

  • Toluene (which has been linked to reproductive harm and respiratory issues)
  • Formaldehyde (a known carcinogen)
  • Dibutyl Phthalate aka DBP (can interfere with hormone function)
  • Camphor (a resin which comes from a tree so you may think it’s safe, but has unfortunately been known to cause skin irritation, cause respiratory problems and could potentially even lead to liver damage)

Ever wonder why some nail polishes smell super awful? These guys are usually the reason. If you’d like to save your body – and nostrils! – from further abuse, look for polishes that say anywhere from 3-10+ Free on the label/in the website description.

I know this may seem like a tall order – not only trying to find vegan polishes, but 10 Free, too? But don’t worry!

As I said at the beginning of the article, vegan and healthier polishes are becoming much easier to find nowadays, because we really are living in the future!

Here’s some of my personal favourite brands to help you get started:

  • Karma Organics
  • ORLY
  • Sally Hansen’s Good. Kind. Pure. Line
  • Nails Inc (I haven’t actually used Nails Inc. yet – they stopped selling in Canada right before I placed an order – but they’re vegan and have cool polishes like colour changing and scented options!)

I’m purposefully not listing why I love these brands in this article, because I’m planning on doing Product Reviews on them in the future.

As I said at the top of the article, this is just a list of the most common non-vegan ingredients in nail polishes, not an exhaustive list! I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I recommend you to do your own research for country-specific rules or ingredients or if nothing else, read the ingredient label yourself before buying!

Do you know of any other common non-vegan ingredients I missed? Or do you have your own favourite vegan nail polish brands? Sound off in the comments!

Like this article? Check out more Vegan Tips here!

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