Nail Polish

Is Nail Polish Biodegradable?

Sales of nail polish increase year on year with more people regularly manicuring their nails than ever. But is nail polish biodegradable and does it have a negative affect on the environment?

What is Nail Polish?

Nail polish is a liquid coating that is applied to fingernails and toenails. There are many different types of nail polish but the main ingredients are usually the same.

Nail polish contains a polymer, usually nitrocellulose which is dissolved in a solvent, usually ethyl acetate or butyl acetate. When this solution is applied, the solvent evaporates leaving the polymer to form a hard film on the nail.

Is Nail Polish Biodegradable?

No, nail polish is not biodegradable.

The combination of plastic and chemicals found in nail polish will prevent it from being broken down naturally.

Nail polish is considered toxic and a form of household hazardous waste by the EPA. Unwanted or used bottles of nail polish should be taken to your local hazardous waste disposal centre.

Is Nail Polish Eco Friendly?

The chemicals found in most nail polish is harmful to humans and animals but they are usually present in small quantities so are only dangerous if consumed.

As a minimum, look for nail polishes free of the “toxic trio” of dibutyl phthalate, toluene, and formaldehyde. This “toxic trio” are currently being removed from use, but there are still ingredients in nail polish that could cause environmental damage. That problem is that leaking bottles of nail polish could enter soil and cause contamination in ground water.

The main issue with nail polish is that it is difficult to dispose of with few recycling programs available. The nail polish recycling programs that are available often come with restrictions such as no broken glass bottles and the nail polish having to be in liquid form.

The biggest positive change coming to the nail polish industry is vegan nail polish and eco-friendly nail polish which contain natural ingredients. They are often marketed as 3-free, 8-free and 16-free which refers to them not containing the hazardous chemicals that traditional nail polish does.


Nail polish is not biodegradable and should never be poured down the sink.

Instead, use as much of the bottle as possible, leaving only a very small trace and then place the glass bottle into your household waste.

Alternatively, make use of a nail polish recycling program or take your bottles to a hazardous waste facility.

About The Author