Here is a question I hear often: Do vegan nail products exist?
Many people believe that vegan claims are only about foods, and not cosmetics. However, there are several sides to this issue to consider. I’ve talked to vegans about this, and they make a good point. They feel that if a product contains animal by-products, even though it’s not food, they don’t want to use them. So some dietary vegans also look for so-called vegan cosmetics and vegan nail products. To my way of thinking, that makes this a valid claim. Even so, very few nail polishes use any animal by-products. So most nail polishes could claim to be vegan, but don’t because they don’t consider it a meaningful claim. I’m using the term nail polish properly; to mean varnish, lacquer, or enamel.
Many years ago, some nail polishes used to contain fish scales, which created sparkle effects, but that’s not been done in years. Manufacturers are now using superior synthetic sparkle effects instead. There are only two other possible sources of animal by-products that I’m aware of:
- A few red shades of nail polishes still use “carmine” as a pigment, which is extracted from insects. That bothers some vegans who consider even insects as animals. This colorant can cause moderate to serious adverse skin reactions in sensitive individuals. In the US, any cosmetic using carmine and is designed for skin contact must carry a warning. Nail polishes aren’t applied to the skin, so this isn’t a likely problem for this application. On the other hand, skin creams for sensitive skin should probably avoid this ingredient.
- Some naturally occurring clays (used to control the thickness of nail polish) are modified with a small amount of tallow (from cows) to increase effectiveness. However, manufacturers tell me that very few brands of nail polishes continue to use these types of thickeners since most have changed to plant-modified clays. So the only real difference between vegan and all other nail polishes is that they don’t use carmine as a colorant, and they avoid the clay that’s treated with small amounts of animal tallow.
Of course, I have an open mind about this issue and respect vegans who look for vegan cosmetics. But I will say this: being a “vegan nail polish” does NOT make this nail polish any safer than other nail polishes. This is a personal lifestyle preference, and not related in any way to safety. I don’t think many understand this. That’s because the public has been tricked into thinking some types of nail polish are not safe, when in fact ALL nail polish can be used safely. I don’t know of any exceptions.