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Just when you think you've seen it all, you come to find out that there's nail polish on the market that costs $250,000. Yes, you got it right; two hundred fifty thousand dollars. And to think that the nail polish was originally a cocktail of beeswax, egg whites, gelatin,  vegetable dyes, and gum arabic. Today, however, polymers, pigments and solvents are included in the mixture; when the mixture is ready, you can fill the bottles using nail polish filling equipment.

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Polymers, plasticizers, pigment and solvents… Just mix them and fill the bottle using nail polish filling equipment

Even though each manufacturer has its secret formula, there are still elements in common. Let’s start with nitrocellulose, a film-forming polymer, that forms the hard film on the surface of your nail, as the name implies. It is dissolved in a solvent such as ethyl acetate or butyl acetate which evaporates once the nail polish is applied so that nitrocellulose can dry forming the film.

By itself, nitrocellulose is brittle and doesn’t stick to the nail, so there is a chance that the polish will crack. To avoid this, manufacturers add plasticizers such as camphor to make the polish more flexible and tosylamide-formaldehyde resin to make the polish stick better to your nail.

But what makes your eyes sparkle when you see the nail polish is its many colors. Color is possible because of the pigments such as iron oxides. The color can fade when exposed to the sun, so benzophenone-1 is added to protect the nail polish from sunlight. After chemists find the right formula and the ingredients are mixed in a stainless steel kettle, the mixture is pumped into small bottles using nail polish filling equipment. The small bottles are sealed with a stopper having the bristle to paint your nail.

Regular nail polish vs gel nail polish – What lies behind it?

If you want to get comfortable and wait for your gel polish to air dry, you need to know that you can wait forever, because that’s never going to happen. Unlike regular nail polish, gel nail polish needs UV light to dry. But this is not enough. The ingredient that changes it all is a photoinitiator, which in most cases is benzoyl peroxide. The photoinitiator absorbs the UV lights starting the polymerization process, i.e. the solidification of the nail polish. In the gel nail polish, the benzoyl peroxide is mixed with a form of plastic called methacrylate that makes the gel more flexible.

Towards a more eco-friendly nail polish

It’s good to make things plain from the beginning; there is no such thing as zero waste nail polish. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and the European Union commission classify nail polish as household hazardous waste due to the toxic ingredients it’s made of, so it cannot be recycled. That’s because the bottles are impossible to clean thoroughly and there will always be some hazardous waste left behind. So throwing it in the trash is not an option, but it has to be disposed of as such.

To protect our health and our planet, the European Commission banned the use of what is called the Toxic Trio (toluene, formaldehyde and dibutyl phthalate) in nail polish in 2004. Compared to Europe, the United States has not restricted the use of these ingredients in cosmetic products. But despite this, manufacturers are trying their best to move towards more sustainable products. Apart from using more sustainable packaging or alternatives to plastic caps, they have eliminated this toxic trifecta from their formula, creating eco-friendly water-based nail polishes and using as few chemicals as possible or none at all. But this is true up to a point, because in order for it to adhere to the nail, you must always use plastic.

Processing steps involved in nail polish making

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