Natural Reaction

Few can deny that the words “all-natural,” “eco-friendly,” and “organic” are all the rage these days. Whether they refer to food, skincare, home-cleaning products, or even clothing lines, it’s obvious that spa-goers, and consumers as a whole, are more educated about ingredients and more aware of the effects that chemicals and toxins can have on them and the environment. Nailcare is no exception.

According to Mintel’s Nail Color and Care U.S. 2015 report, nailcare users are concerned about nail health and the effects of chemicals in nailcare products. In fact, 21 percent of all nail product users worry that polish is damaging their nails, and nearly 20 percent are concerned about chemicals in polish. In addition, 56 percent of nail product users report interest in gentle nailcare products. “Healthier ingredients have been popping up in all aspects of our lives, starting in the food category and ending in the beauty category,” says Liliana Pennington, director of education and business development at Londontown. “As a society, we have become much more aware of what we are putting in and on our bodies, and as a result, we are now demanding that our beauty products are in line with our healthier lifestyle choices. The nail category is no exception, there is no reason why we cannot demand that our nailcare and color products remain free of known harmful ingredients.”

Born Free

Typically, there are two levels of non-toxic nailcare, 3-Free and 5-Free, depending on how many harmful chemicals have been removed from the product. Fortunately, many of today’s popular nailcare brands, such as CND, Dazzle Dry, Duri, Essie, OPI, and Zoya, boast formulas that are either 3-Free or 5-Free. Some brands have even started to enter the 7-Free (Deborah Lippmann) and 9-Free (Londontown and SpaRitual) spaces, creating even healthier and safer formulas. “The modern narrative of today’s society stresses that we must try to be as close to an eco-friendly environment as much as possible,” says Faina Ritz, cofounder and vice president of Duri Cosmetics, makers of Durilaq, a new line of 5-Free gel-effect lacquers that can last for 10 to 14 days. “We are living in a time where not all products adhere to such standards, and some are not beneficial to our health.”

When it comes to eco-friendly nailcare, it’s about finding alternatives to questionable ingredients and incorporating those that soothe and nourish the nails. “The average consumer is more educated about ingredients than ever before,” says Yesenia Flores, associate brand manager at Nail Tek, a division of American International Industries. “They are more aware of ingredients and the possible effects that chemicals can have on the skin, hair, nails, and environment.” Also, many spa and salon professionals are looking for polishes that contain more natural ingredients, because they are in contact with these products for large amounts of time. In fact, it was the health of nail technicians that inspired Shel Pink to launch SpaRitual in 2004. “Our purpose was to raise awareness about hot-button ingredients to the professional, offer them a healthier alternative, and give them the opportunity to educate their client base,” she says. Today, Pink believes that people need to move on from the “free-of” discussion and focus on what’s in the product, rather than what’s not.

Common healthier alternative ingredients include bamboo and citrus extract (instead of formaldehyde) to help strengthen nails, biotin and vitamins A and E to support natural nail growth, chamomile extract to soothe and heal damaged nails, cucumber extract to help prevent nails from splitting, evening primrose oil to prevent nails from cracking, garlic extract to strengthen weak nails, grapeseed extract to moisturize dry nails, and tea tree oil to strengthen brittle nails. In addition, carnauba wax, keratin, nonychosine F, nylon, and rice protein help improve health, wear, and shine, and support nail health.

A Matter of Concern

According to Deborah Lippmann, founder and creative director at Deborah Lippmann, “consumers are taking a greater interest in finding nailcare products that aren’t toxic but still deliver nourishing benefits and beautiful color.” However, whenever the words “all-natural” or “organic” are used, it’s common for some to believe that while the product is healthier for the body and environment, it might not be as effective. In nailcare, these words are often associated with weak pigmentation and chipping, causing clients to pass on these options in favor of proven durability. Certain chemicals, like resins, film formers, plasticizers, and pigments are often found in nail polishes, because they help make them more flexible and durable, thicken the polish, add pigment, and create a smoother surface when applied to the nails. While these benefits certainly produce a desirable product that consumers seek, many of today’s nailcare companies also offer non-toxic formulas that produce comparable results and provide an alternative to consumers seeking “greener” options. “The time has passed when one had to choose between a healthy beauty product and an effective one,” says Pennington.

However, consumers can usually expect to pay more for many of these products. According to Flores, the price of nailcare services using non-toxic formulas are higher, as the ingredients tend to be higher quality. “Realistically, consumers who care about eco-friendly products or products that contain less harmful ingredients are generally willing to spend a little extra for the peace of mind,” she says. 

Because clients are willing to spend a little more on a healthier nail service, spas should use this opportunity to offer these desired services and products. This can, in turn, attract new and loyal clients and boost revenue, as non-toxic nail polishes fit into the healthy (and often eco-friendly) vibe of a spa. “Clients want to leave the spa feeling great, and using a non-toxic nail colors gives them the security of knowing that their fresh manicure isn’t contributing to nail damage,” says Rebecca Isa, creative director at Zoya. “Visiting a well-respected spa with non-toxic offerings allows ‘green’ clients to feel safe in knowing that these pampering services fall in line with the lifestyle that they are living day to day, rather than relying on at-home options, which are typically more controlled,” she says. “When spas offer non-toxic services, green consumers feel included and are thrilled to have options that fall within their requirements.”

What’s Trending

According to Lippmann, more clients are seeking healthier nail options—from the newly pregnant to those simply concerned about the chemicals used in most nail polishes. They want “products that women can feel confident wearing knowing nothing harmful is being put on their body,” she says. Also, some women find that traditional cured gel manicures can be damaging to nails, because the removal process can be harsh if performed incorrectly, causing peeling, breakage, and even permanent damage. Fortunately, traditional gel polishes are also becoming healthier for clients with the introduction of LED lights instead of ultraviolet (UV) lights, and nail technicians are receiving better education and instructions about how to properly remove gel polish (for example, they should never scrape or pick polish off to remove it from the nails, which can damage the nail bed).

There are also a number of gel-like polishes that are new to the market that offer similar benefits. Deborah Lippmann’s Gel Lab Pro color and base/top coat and Londontown’s recent launch of Gel Genius Top Coat, for example, offer clients extended wear and high-shine gel alternatives that do not require the use of UV lamps or tools, and can be removed with any nail polish remover.

Similar to haircare and skincare routines that require at-home maintenance to look their best, at-home nail treatments using all-natural products are becoming increasingly popular among consumers interested in keeping their hands and nails in tip-top shape. “Clients are realizing more and more that to have healthy and beautiful nails, they need to implement a nailcare regimen, similar to their haircare and skincare routines,” says Pennington. “Imagine not moisturizing your face daily and simply applying makeup. Consumers are finally realizing that nailcare is akin to skincare, and simply polishing the nails is not enough.”

Because more consumers are interested in non-toxic nailcare, Flores is seeing a lot of innovation in color collections and luxury brands offering eco-friendly products. “It is more mainstream and less niche than it was before, because there is a high demand,” she says. “We are also seeing a rise in eco-friendly and natural nail salons. Consumers and professionals alike don’t want to be exposed to harmful chemicals for hours at a time while in the salon.” For example, Sandra Weir, founder and CEO of Gloss Nail Bar (Miami) opened her organic nail spa in January 2014. Since then, she has found that the conscious consumer is demanding not only non-toxic polishes but also better products used during services. Weir developed the nail spa’s own line of 7-Free products, Gloss Naturals, to ensure that her spa completely adheres to the eco-friendly concept. “As consumers become more aware of the dangers of the chemicals used in traditional nail polishes and other nailcare products, the industry is finally changing and adjusting the offerings to include more natural products and services,” she says. “I believe the reason for this shift needs to be attributed to the work of business owners like myself who are willing to sacrifice some of the profit for a better overall offering to our clients but also to have healthier environments for the people who provide the services. Everyone benefits from a more natural experience.”

The non-toxic, healthy nailcare trend is one that continues to grow every year with more nail brands entering this category, more options available, and the opening of new organic nail spas like Paloma (Houston), a new high-end non-toxic nail salon that not only offers a range of nail services using polishes from lines like Deborah Lippmann and SpaRitual, but even its furniture fits into this healthy environment. For example, its modern pedicure chairs feature stone basins to avoid bacteria buildup and noxious smells. It’s a reflection of the way society is changing with an interest in a healthier and more holistic lifestyle, and consumers have come to expect spas to offer services and products that align with this lifestyle. “Because non-toxic nail polishes are a healthier option, they are mission-aligned with the spa environment that ultimately stands for health and wellness,” says Pink. “Spas are traditionally a place of renewal and wellbeing, and their product offerings should reflect their wellness mission.”

When Less is More

Still confused about ingredient-free labels in nailcare today?

Here’s a breakdown of the “free-of” designations:

  • 3-Free: Products are free of dibutyl phthalate (DBP), formaldehyde, and toluene.
  • 5-Free: Products are free of camphor, DBP, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, and toluene.
  • 7-Free: Products are free of camphor, DBP, ethyl tosylamide, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, toluene, and xylene.
  • 9-Free: Products are free of acetone, camphor, DBP, ethyl tosylamide, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, parabens, toluene, and xylene.

Safe Inside

Treat clients with eco-friendly nailcare products that provide a healthy alternative for polished manicures and pedicures.—Darby Radcliff

1. Amber Products Solo All-In-One Gel Polish: This 5-free polish (Syrah shown) combines a base coat, a color, and a topcoat in one formula.

2. China Glaze Active Colour: Repair, rehydrate, and revitalize nails in one coat with this calcium, kaolin, and wheat protein-infused lacquer (Retreat Yourself shown) in a soft lavender hue.

3. Côte Nail Polish: This cruelty-free vegan polish (No. 54 shown) is 7-free and features a light coral hue.

4. Dazzle Dry Mani Pedi Lemongrass Lacquer Remover: Infused with clove essential oils and lemongrass, this 100 percent vegan treatment is formulated to be gentle and non-drying to nails and cuticles.

5. Deborah Lippmann Fall 2016 After Midnight Collection: Containing bamboo, biotin, evening primrose, green tea extract, keratin, and rice protein, this 7-free polish (Love Hangover) is a plum cream with brown undertones.

6. Ella+Mila Soy Polish Remover: Infused with lavender essential oil and vitamins A, C, and E, this soy-based polish remover is 7-free, cruelty-free, and vegan and does not contain acetone or acetates.

7. Jurlique Nail and Cuticle Treatment Oil: Restore moisture loss from daily wear and soothe cracked cuticles with this treatment made with almond, calendula, carrot root, horsetail extract, macadamia oil, and rosemary.

8. LVX Fall Winter 2016 Collection: Update a classic red manicure with this bright brick red polish (Brique shown), which is 100-percent vegan, gluten-free, and 7-free.

9. Nail Tek Nail Nutritionist 5 in 1 Nail Treatment: Infused with bamboo extract and natural biotin, this strengthening base coat restores nails and enhances the natural color of the nail bed.

10. Sophi by Piggy Paint: Featuring an advanced water-based formula, this natural, non-toxic nail polish (ROME-ance Me shown) dries to a durable finish.

11. SpaRitual Fall 2016 Feminine Collection: Showcasing a vibrant red hue for the fall season, this nail polish (Brazen shown) is 5-free and vegan.

12. Zoya Urban Grunge Cream Fall 2016 Collection: Featuring a shimmering cherry hue (Ash shown), this polish is 5-free, densely pigmented, and provides a smooth application.