What Exactly Is 10-Free Nail Polish?

No, it's not a buy-one-get-10-free deal.

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In the world of nail polish, there are a plethora of options — and not just when it comes to colors.

The lacquers of today come in several varieties when we're talking formulation. So whether you want to go with a traditional OG formula, a gel finish, or a plant-based alternative, there's something on the market for you. And you can also opt for a 10-free polish, which has become an option throughout all categories.

But what exactly is a 10-free polish, and how does it differ from the stuff we used to use back in the day?

We went to two experts to find out.

What is a 10-free nail polish?

Glad you asked. 10-free simply means the formula is made without 10 of the most common (and sometimes controversial) chemicals found in old-school polishes. However, it's important to note that 10-free doesn't necessarily mean "clean."

"These chemicals consist of formaldehyde, toluene, parabens, camphor, formaldehyde resin, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), xylene, phthalates, triphenyl phosphate (TPHP), tert-butyl hydroperoxide (TBHP), ethyl tosylamide," says Julie Kandalec, founder of Julie K Nail Artelier in Manhattan.

"Many indie lines and nail brands have excluded these harmful ingredients to create a more health-conscious and green-friendly nail care line for consumers," adds New York City-based nail tech and educator Candice Idehen. "It's not believed to be necessary to have these ingredients included in nail polish to create a lasting color."

Which brings us to our next point ...

How does a 10-free formula differ from a traditional nail polish?

Aside from some slight differences in thickness (that you likely won't notice yourself), both formulas get the job done — and do it well.

"I do find that these formulas are a bit thinner than traditional formulations," Idehen shares. "But the product is just as efficacious at this point because a lot of nail brands have spent a lot of time researching and developing product formulations that are able to last just as long."

Plus, Kandalec adds that you're likely already using a polish free of some of the previously listed chemicals — you may just not know it yet.

"Every modern-day traditional nail polish brand now is at least 3-free, if not 5-free, and is just as effective," she explains. "It's rare to find something that is not free of at least toluene, formaldehyde, and dibutyl phthalate (DBP) unless you find an old polish at a dollar store from 20 years ago. From there, it moves on to the 5-free, where it is free of chemicals such as formaldehyde, resin, and camphor."

Are 10-free polishes actually healthier for your nails?

Yes, but there's also no need to go overboard.

"[10-free polishes] are a lot more health-conscious for not only the consumer but for the technician who is breathing in the fumes on a regular basis during services with clients," says Idehen.

However, Kandalec adds that once you get to around 7-free, you should be fine.

"Anything above 10-free is over overdramatized as a marketing tool," she shares. "I recently received some polish that was advertised as being over 21-free: the highest number I have ever seen. I did a little further digging, and of the 21 ingredients, they listed these items as part of those 21, verbatim: animal derivatives, acetone, synthetic fragrance. While I certainly support animal-safe nail lacquers, the above things aren't in the same category as formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate, or toluene (the "big three"). Acetone is the very ingredient that emulsifies and removes polish! Some companies even include Halal in the free-of-ingredient list — which is also not an actual ingredient."

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When should you opt for 10-free polish?

Pretty much every time you go to get a manicure, especially those who do so regularly or who want to paint their child's nails, says Idehen.

"People who have allergies or are pregnant should also opt for 10-free nail polishes," Kandalec adds.

Which brands offer 10-free polish?

"Brands like Essie, Lights Lacquer, MiniLuxe, CND, and Chanel are some incredible brands that offer a variety of non-toxic 7-free and above options that are all incredibly long-lasting," shares Kandalec.

We're also fans of Butter London.

From non-toxic makeup and skincare to sustainability practices, Clean Slate is an exploration of all things in the green beauty space.

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