Anatomy of a polish

Author: Ray Daley  

What's in my nail polish? - A short review of a typical nail lacquer base product

The concept of nail polish has been around for thousands of years. It's reported that the ancient Egyptians tried using various pigments to colour their nails. These days the formula for most coloured nail polishes is pretty similar and essentially polish is simply a film coating on the nail which contains pigments. Let's take a quick look at the formula for an untinted base and work out what ingredient is doing what.


 Butyl acetate and Ethyl acetate are simply solvents to keep the Nitrocellouse is a solube state so that it can be applied to the nail. Changing the proportions of these solvents in the lacquer can modify how fast the polish dries.

Nitrocellulose is the primary film former in the polish i.e the ingredient that creates the coloured film on the nail. It's a semi natural product created by treatment of cellulose. After application to the nail is chnages from being soluble to being insoluble as the solvent evaporate.

Acetyl Tributyl Citrate (ATC) is a plasticiser and the ingredient now commonly used to replace the phthalates ( include DBP ). ATC gives the nitrocellulose film more flexibility and makes it less prone to chipping. It is a derivative of Citric acid.

Phthalic Anhydride/Trimellitic Anhydride/Glycols Copolmyer is a secondary film former. It gives the Nitrocellulose film more flexibity and strength.

Isopropyl Alcohol is a solvent. In most formulations it's used as a carrier for the Citric Acid. It evaporates more slowly than Ethyl Acetate or N Butyl Acetate

Adipic Acid/Fumaric Acid/Phthalic Acid/Tricyclodecane Dimethanol Cpolymer is another film former to give the Nitrcellulose film more flexibility.

Stearalkonium hectorite is a thixotrophic agent. Thixotrophic agents are special sorts of suspending agents that thin out when agitated ( and therefore allow the pigments to mix easily), but then thicken back up when the agitation stops.

Citric acid is added to "activate" the Stearalkonium hectorite after it's been incorporated into the polish base.


This is the base formula for the lacquer base we commonly use and you will probably note that it's free of most of the ingredients that most consumers now seem keen to avoid - Toluene, Formaldehyde, Dibutyl Phthalate, Camphor, TSF resin, Xylene, Ethyl Tolysamide, Triphenyl Phosphate and Benzophenone.

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