If you’re a nail polish lover, you may be hearing quite a lot about 3-free and 5-free nail polish. What does it mean and why should you care? 3-free and 5-free nail polish formulas are “free” of some of the most harmful chemicals commonly used in nail polish.

What Does 3-Free and 5-Free Mean?

3-free nail polishes don’t contain:

  • Formaldehyde
  • Dibutyl phthalate
  • Toluene

5-free nail polishes don’t contain:

  • Formaldehyde
  • Dibutyl phthalate
  • Toluene
  • Formaldehyde Resin
  • Camphor

The ingredients above can all be harmful in large doses, especially formaldehyde, though formaldehyde resin is less harmful. Many more popular nail polish brands have opted to remain 3-free rather than 5-free and retain formaldehyde resin and camphor.

It should be noted that camphor isn’t necessarily a harmful ingredient. It is used both for culinary and medicinal purposes. The concern is that camphor is used as a medication (a numbing solution) and that it is absorbed through the skin. That minty, tingly sensation you get when doing your nails may very well be the camphor!

And even if you aren’t concerned about your health, you may want to pay attention to these designations–these nail polishes don’t always mix well together. If you use a 5-free base coat or top coat and a 3-free or normal nail polish, you may find it chipping away early.

Popular 3-Free and 5-Free Nail-Polish Brands

3-free nail polish brands:

  • Estee Lauder
  • Hard Candy
  • M.A.C.
  • Nicole
  • OPI

5-free nail polish brands:

  • Chanel
  • Dior
  • Julep
  • L’oreal
  • Zoya

You may want to keep the above 3-free and 5-free designations in mind the next time you’re painting your nails, or keep an eye out for non-toxic nail polish. As of yet there is no consistent labeling among brands so you may not be able to determine whether a brand is 3-free or 5-free simply by looking at the bottle.

So is your favorite nail polish 3-free, 5-free or not free?