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Nail Polish Ingredients We Bet You Never Knew About

Nail Polish Ingredients
One of the indispensable fashion accessories, nail polish is actually a cocktail of chemicals. It is rather interesting to know about the ingredients of this popular cosmetic.
Sonia Nair
Last Updated: Feb 22, 2018
Did You Know?
It was Michelle Menard, a French makeup artist, who came up with the idea of modern-day nail polish. She worked with Charles Revson, who later founded today's Revlon. In fact, Menard's formulation was inspired by a new type of car paint developed during the 1920s.
Coloring nails has been a beauty statement since the time of ancient Egyptians, who used henna to color their nails and hair. However, the forerunner of the present day nail polish is believed to be invented in China, around 3000 BC. This colored lacquer was made of egg whites, Arabic gum, gelatin, and beeswax. Later, they discovered that a mixture of alum, mashed rose flowers, petals of impatiens and orchids, etc., can be applied to the nails to achieve a color ranging between pink and red.

Even though the Chinese are credited with the invention of the earlier version of nail polish, there are some researchers, who believe that the honor belongs to the Japanese and the Italians. The invention of modern-day nail polish is dated back to the 1920s. It is said that the formulation was developed by Michelle Menard, a French makeup artist.
The Chemistry of Nail Polish
nail polish bottles
The modern-day nail polish comes in tiny bottles attached with a small brush for application. Once applied, it hardens to form a smooth and glossy coating on the nails, which can last for several days before chipping off. Though the formula of its preparation varies with different manufacturers, the basic nail polish ingredients remain the same. They include film-forming agents, plasticizers, resins, coloring agents, and solvents.
Basic Nail Polish Ingredients
Film-forming Agents
From the 1920s, nitrocellulose has been the primary ingredient of nail polish. It is a film-forming agent that forms a tough, even coating on the nails, and holds the ingredients together. Derived from nitrating cellulose, nitrocellulose is highly combustible, and is a component in dynamite as well as fireworks. Nitrocellulose is cellulose nitrate, which is a liquid mixed with microscopic cotton fibers. Nowadays, certain brands claim to be free of this ingredient.
Adhesive Polymers
These are chemicals that ensure adherence of nitrocellulose to the nails. Tosylamide formaldehyde resin is an example of an adhesive used in nail polish. Though it is a polymer produced through reaction between toluenesulfonamide and formaldehyde, it is claimed to have no harmful effects, as the resin does not have any properties of formaldehyde. The resins, along with plasticizers protect the nail polish from dissolving in water or soap solutions.
Another group of chemicals that are commonly found in nail polish are plasticizers. These chemicals are meant to make the final product flexible. The most common plasticizers are dibutyl phthalate, castor oil, glycerol, fatty acids, camphor, and acetic acid. Combination of different chemicals, like amyl and butyl stearate, are also used for this purpose.
Coloring Pigments, Glitters
There are certain ingredients that are used for adding color to the nail polish. A wide range of chemicals are used as coloring agents and they include iron oxide, chromium oxide greens, ferric ammonium ferrocyanide, titanium dioxide, manganese violet, etc. For shimmer, substances like, aluminum powder, ground mica, natural pearls, titanium dioxide, etc., are used.
These chemicals are used as a medium in which the other ingredients are suspended properly. Once applied, the nail polish spreads evenly and the solvent evaporates. Solvents found in nail polish include ethyl acetate, butyl acetate and isopropyl alcohol. The solvents help the nail polish to dry faster.
Apart from the ingredients mentioned above, nail polish may contain thickening agents, ultraviolet stabilizers, etc. While thickening agents prevent separation of ingredients and ensures proper suspension of sparkling particles, ultraviolet stabilizers protect nail polish from losing color, when exposed to sunlight.
Harmful Nail Polish Ingredients
caution in nail polish
Many chemical ingredients are found in nail polish, and most are considered safe. However, others are harmful. The most infamous are formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl phthalate. While most brands claim to be free of formaldehyde, the other two chemicals are used within limits.The use of such harmful ingredients are restricted and controlled by the FDA, but environmentalists say that companies are still using them. So, you must check the nail polish ingredients before buying this cosmetic.
In short, the modern-day car paint and nail polish have some common roots. However the former product has evolved a lot with new ingredients. Though nail polish too has come a long way and are available in numerous types, the basic formulation and ingredients are still the same, except new variants, like water-based products.
Bright nail polish
Colored nail polish dripping from stacked bottles on dark background
Bottles With Spilled Nail Polish Over White Background
Flowing blue nail polish in a yellow bottle