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Why does Nail Polish “Smell”?

Most nail polishes, whether it’s a “free from” or a conventional nail polish will have that typical nail polish smell. With some, the smell will be stronger and with others it will be slightly milder. But why does nail polish have this smell and is it “bad” for us? We answer these questions in today’s video and blog post. 

Why does Nail Polish “Smell”? 

Whilst painting our nails is fun, relaxing and just a little something extra we can do for our beauty, I think we can all agree that the smell of nail polish is not our favourite thing in the world. Many women try to find a nail polish which wouldn’t smell, and we also receive this question quite often: “does your nail polish smell like the typical nail polish?”. Because the smell of nail polish can be rather potent (especially in comparison to any other beauty product), it’s easy to assume that perhaps this potent smell is “bad” for us. However, the smell of nail polish is nothing “toxic” but rather it’s just simply the characteristic smell that almost any solvent has, and solvents are the main ingredients in our nail polish (when in the bottle). To understand more about the ingredients in a nail polish check out our blog post on how nail polish is made here.

The “smelly” ingredient(s) in nail polish

The typical smell of nail polish comes from the solvents which it uses, which unlike in any other beauty product, are very highly concentrated in a nail polish. There are several different types of solvents that are used in nail polishes where some smell a bit stronger than others and where some are also more problematic than others. In a nail polish a solvent is required because that is essentially what keeps the nail polish liquid in the bottle. Once the nail polish is applied on your nails the solvents evaporate leaving a hard coloured film on your nails. The smell of most solvents are usually described as fruity and pleasant but that of course is when used in smaller amounts. Since the solvents are in quite high concentration in a nail polish, their smell becomes overpowering and even stingy. That’s also why many nail polish removers will smell a little – even acetone (which is a solvent) free nail polish removers will use some other kind of solvent which will have a slightly stingy smell. Acetone e.g. is however considered as one of the smelliest solvents but acetone you will find more often in nail polish removers and it is almost never used as a solvent in nail polish itself.

To know which solvent(s) are used in your nail polish, simply check the first 1-3 ingredients of your nail polish. Here is an overview of the most common solvents used in a nail polish:


Is the smell of nail polish harmful?

The most common solvents used in nail polish are ethyl acetate and butyl acetate which, as seen in the table above, are not harmful ingredients to our health. The only solvent which has been classified as (very) harmful by is toluene because it has been linked to developmental toxicity and reproductive toxicity. You won’t however find toluene too often in nail polish anymore but it’s good to check the ingredients and make sure there is no toluene in there because you should definitely avoid it. As for the other common solvents i.e. isopropyl alcohol and propyl alcohol, these are also safe. So generally, just because nail polish has a bit of a potent & stingy smell does not mean it is “bad” for us – except if the solvent is toluene. Of course, like any more potent smell, some people might experience headaches when smelling solvents and if you know you are sensitive to smells, make sure to open a window when painting your nails. 

That was our blog post today. We hope you now know more about why nail polish smells and about the common solvents used in nail polish as well as which solvent to avoid. 

We wish you an amazing day and if you have any other questions don’t hesitate to ask us anytime. 

Lots of Love,
Your Kia-Charlotta Team 

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