Decoding The Ingredients: 3 Free & 5 Free

If you have ever looked at the ingredient list of your favorite bottle of nail polish, you might have gone cross-eyed from all the chemicals. In this series of posts, Mette Jorgensen is decoding what some of those scary ingredients are, what they do, and how they do their job.

Many of you have probably read articles online or in magazines where they talk about the confusing contents of polish and just expect you to understand what 3 free is and why 5 free is better and what a solvent is and how it’s different to a resin. Well we understand that a lot of our readers don’t understand this nail jargon, which is why we’ve started a ‘Decoding the Ingredients’ series of articles where I will explain the most common ingredients in nail polish so you can all understand what exactly goes in to your polish to make it come out the way it does. The first in the series will explain what 3 free and 5 free mean.

3 Free refers to the absence of the ‘toxic trio’ of formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate (DPB) and toluene. You’re probably wondering what the big deal about these ingredients is; formaldehyde is a known carcinogen which has been linked to both lung and nasal cancer, DBP has been linked to reproductive issues when pregnant mothers are exposed to it, and toluene has been known to affect the nervous system, which is why we absolutely don’t want it in our polish! These ingredients have been banned for use in cosmetics in the EU, but are still allowed in the US. However after consumers in the US responded saying they wanted their polish to be ‘3 Free’, many US brands have come out with supposedly ‘3 Free’ polish, which isn’t always the case. Studies have been conducted by the California EPA Department of Toxic Substances Control and found that 10/12 polishes labeled as not having one or more of the toxic trio did actually contain some or all of these ingredients. This is why you should always check the ingredients list of your polishes and avoid lines containing formaldehyde, DBP and toluene. Some of our favorite 3 Free brands are Butter London and Zoya.

5 Free polishes refer to those that don’t have the toxic trio but are also free of formaldehyde resin and camphor. Formaldehyde resin is a skin allergen and is only truly harmful if ingested or left on the skin for too long, but still it is better to be safe than sorry! Camphor is toxic if you are exposed to the fumes or if they are absorbed in large amounts, meaning manicurists are at the most risk, but again it’s better to be safe, which is why we love that brands are taking on board the potential dangers of these ingredients for consumers and are working to remove them from their recipes. Our favorite 5 free brands are OCC, RGB and Ten Over Ten.

So remember, these ingredients are ones that you want to look out for in your polishes and stop using them if they contain any of the ‘toxic trio’ or formaldehyde resin or camphor!

– Mette Jorgensen

Elise Wright

Elise is a social media strategist from Sydney, now living in NYC, who has a long standing love affair with the beauty industry- especially the nail industry!

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