This is a question I get asked at least once a week. The short answer is “NO”. The long answer…keep reading.
If you’ve ever visited Plum, or had the pleasure (made the mistake?) of asking whether we offer “organic” nails polish or dip powder or gel polish, you’ve probably been given an answer you didn’t expect to hear from a “natural nail spa” that touts its use of as many organic an natural products as possible - and that answer is “There is no such thing”.
The USDA is the body that certifies food as being "organic". This means fruit, vegetables, and herbs are grown in specially curated soil, free from synthetic fertilizer and pesticides. For animals, it means they are fed only certified organic food and do not get the vaccines and hormones conventionally farmed animals do. You can think of it like this: an apple is organic in that it is a carbon-based object (yay for 7th grade science class!), but once you add synthetic fertilizer or pesticides to it, it is no longer 100% organic because it now has non-organic residue.
The FDA regulates cosmetics, and it does not have an organic standard. A product can be considered organic under USDA standards, but it still must be regulated as a cosmetic under FDA regulations (which are a huge joke - In fact, the FDA notes that it's the responsibility of the companies and individuals who market body care to ensure that products and ingredients are safe for the intended use! But that’s a whole rant I won’t get into here…).
The National Organic Program (NOP) is a regulatory program housed within the USDA. If a cosmetic, body care product, or personal care product contains, or is made up of, agricultural ingredients, and can meet the USDA/NOP organic production, handling, processing and labeling standards, it may be eligible to be certified under the NOP regulations. Note, however, that the NOP only certifies the ingredients used, it does not regulate the final products or the production methods.
There is no way any nail enhancement product is organic within the USDA guidelines - which states a product must be made from 95% certified organic ingredients to be called organic, and if it is 70% it can be labeled "made with organic ingredients". It would kind of be like saying a tennis ball is organic because it has some natural rubber in in.
Why do I keep hearing about organic nail products?
So now you are probably wondering why you keep hearing about “organic” products if they don’t exist. One company in particular, SNS, has touted its use of “organically processed benzoyl peroxide” in its dip power product. This basically means nothing to the consumer, and has been misunderstood by nail techs who see the word organic and just repeat it. There is another company called Bio Seaweed that nail techs often tell clients is organic. Really? Do you really think that fuschia, glossy gel polish you are wearing is made from sea weed? It may have a miniscule amount, but nothing that would put it on the spectrum of even pretending to be an natural or organic product.
Nail polish is primarily made of synthetic ingredients. There is just no way around it. It is composed of a variety of colorants, plasticizers, resins, and solvents. That doesn’t meant is is unsafe, though. The mix of ingredients has changed drastically over the years, creating the new era of “x-free” products. Companies use terms like “3-free”, “5-free”, “11-free” to say they offer a “cleaner” product, and, once again, this is often misunderstood by nail techs and the general public (nope, still not organic).
What exactly are these products free from?
Back in the olden days, before gel polish existed, regular nail polish contained 2 chemicals that we now know are extremely toxic: toluene and dibutyl phthalate (DBP). (Formaldehyde is the third ingredient - we’ll talk about that more below). These chemicals increased the wear-ability of nail polish, and were used in almost all polishes up until about 2005 when major companies began finding alternatives that were not so toxic. OPI introduced its first 3-free polish in 2006, and now all but a handful bear this moniker. (Note that these ingredients are not banned and are still used in some brands!).
Today, additional ingredients are getting the boot by some companies. Among them are formaldehyde resin, camphor, triphenyl phosphate (TPHP), ethyl tosylamid, and xylene. The toxicity of these ingredients is debatable and still being studied. Many of the issues with these ingredients stem from personal allergies and sensitivities, actually. Camphor, for instance, can be irritating for some individuals, but is also widely used in nasal sprays and vapor rubs. It’s actually an oil derived from a tree (not everything natural is good for us!). Formaldehyde is another natural product that is found in almost all fruits and vegetables, and is generally recongized as safe in small amounts for most people, but the constant exposure can cause sensitivity for some individuals (especially nail techs who are around it all day).
I’m still confused. What does it all mean?
It means: pay attention, stay informed, be responsible for your own health. Be mindful of everything you are putting on your skin and in your body. Reduce your use of synthetic fragrances (the worst!) and synthetic dyes (especially in food!), and stay away from hormone-disrupting ingredients like parabens and phthalates in the shampoos, lotions and perfumes that you slather on your entire body every day and let them seep through your skin! And find someone you trust, like the manicurists and the crazy-researcher owner of Plum Natural Nail and Skin Spa, to read the research and help make those decisions for you so you can worry about what color you want on your nails, not whether you nail polish is killing you.
At Plum, we offer OPI, which is a 3-free polish, Zoya, which is a 10-free, and CND Vinylux, a 5-free polish. Our gel polishes are from OPI and CND and are both 3-free.