a little girl painting her nails with pink nail polish

Is Nail Polish Safe For Toddlers? Read This Before Your Mommy & Me Mani-Pedi

Having manicure dates is something a lot of moms look forward to doing with their little one. So, if your kiddo is suddenly showing interest in your nail polish, you may be wondering: Is nail polish safe for toddlers?

With more and more attention being put on the beauty industry and the ingredients used in products, there are more "non-toxic" nail polish options for little kids than ever. "Many companies have debuted products that are free of... toxins and other potentially harmful substances," pediatrician Whitney Casares, M.D., tells Romper, since "traditional nail polishes contain toxins like phthalate, toluene, and formaldehyde."

And that's a good thing, because the traditional nail polishes definitely pose a risk to kids. Dr. Casares says they "can be especially harmful if ingested, but may also pose a risk to young children even if applied to nails but not consumed by mouth." Obviously, the biggest risk in this situation is a toddler who sucks their thumb or still uses their hands to eat, because the polish will end up in their tummy. On top of that, according to Harvard University, many nail polishes (whether traditional, gel, or powder) also pose a risk to the health of nails and the skin around them.

Knowing the history of nail polish toxicity, it would seem like the transition to "non-toxic" nail polish is a green-light for having a mani party with your kid, but it's not actually that simple. Dr. Casares says even these polishes can still be risky "if your toddler consistently sucks [their] fingers or puts [their] fingers in [their] mouth to eat." This is because there are still a lot of other ingredients in nail polish formulas that could be harmful. Not to mention, you can't always trust labels.

A 2018 study looked at a variety of nail polishes that marketed themselves as "toxin free," "3-free" (referring to three major toxins traditional polishes have used), or "n-free" (labels promising to be free of 4+ traditional toxins). The researchers examined ingredients in 40 different nail polishes and found that many of the manufacturers' labeling was misleading, because while a formula may be free of the "big three" toxins, there were others added to replace them in an effort to maintain the performance and quality of the nail polish prior to removing them.

Still, even though beauty companies have a long way to go in terms of labeling, the products are getting safer and there are some non-toxic brands that are actually, well, fairly non-toxic. Some of the brands included below are billed as "7-free" or even "18-free," as opposed to 3-free. (Even so, Dr. Casares suggests waiting until the fingers-in-the-mouth stage has passed before regularly painting nails.)

Once you feel like your kiddo is at a point where you can safely paint their nails, consider trying these kid-friendly brands.

The only non-toxic nail polish for kids carried at Target (as well as other places), Piggy Paint comes in a variety of scented colors: purple is "groovy grape," blue is "bossy blueberry," etc. (unscented available too). Plus, Piggy Paint makes an acetone-free, low odor nail polish remover ($6 at Target).

This non-toxic Korean-based brand makes glitter, shimmer, and solid formulas without 18 of the chemicals usually found in nail polish (and with such beneficial ingredients as olive, argan, macadamia and moringa oils). All varieties come in super cute bottles with character brush caps and are banana or strawberry scented, and the polish peels off, so no smelly nail polish remover is required.

Made without 7 of the usual chemicals found in nail polish (toluene, formaldehyde, etc.), ella + mila polishes are vegan and quick-drying, and the Mommy&Me sets include two complementary shades and a nail decoration sheet.

These water-based formulas are chemical-free with no toxic fumes to deal with, and there are a whopping 25 colors (matte, iridescent, and shimmer) available. And at $3 a bottle, trying out an assortment is actually affordable.

Studies referenced:

A. Young, "Phthalate and Organophosphate Plasticizers in Nail Polish: Evaluation of Labels and Ingredients," Environmental Science Technology, October 10, 2018


Whitney Casares, M.D., Pediatrician & Author of The New Baby Blueprint