What's in Your Nail Polish?

Here at your fingertips: The need-to-know info on essential ingredients, the latest (prettiest!) hues, and how to paint on the color so it lasts.

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Good Formulas Don't Have…

…worrisome chemicals. More and more brands (from drugstore favorites to high-end newbies) are creating nail polishes with fewer potential toxins. Look for bottles labeled "3- ," "5- ," or "7-free," which typically means they've eliminated that number of additives.

But They Do Have These Ingredients

Film formers create a hard, shiny coating that makes your polish stay put. Our pros recommend keeping an eye out for acrylates copolymer and nitro cellulose — the second one comes from green plants.

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Plasticizers soften those tough, shell-like film formers, making the polish less brittle and more flexible (extremely important for avoiding chips). Check the label for "triphenyl phosphate" or "polyvinyl butyral."

Solvents (usually alcohols such as ethyl or isopropyl or a clear, fruity-smelling liquid called butyl acetate) give the polish a fluid, spreadable texture that makes it easier to brush onto your nails.

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What Makes Your Mani Look Shiny (or Matte)

Traditional polishes get their glossy finish from film formers. But the trendy new matte options dull that shine with a powder matting agent such as silica, which makes the polish scatter light instead of reflecting it back to the eye. Random bonus: The powder ingredient also thickens the formula and helps it dry faster.

Yes, a Base Coat and a Top Coat Make a Difference

These do totally separate things (despite what some two-in-one labels might say), so trust us, it's definitely worth buying one of each. Base coats generally contain resins that form a sticky layer, which helps bind the color to your nails. Top coats, on the other hand, are all about protecting your nail polish, making it last longer and giving your digits that brilliant, reflective sheen.

3 Hot Fall Colors

Deep Red: Sally Hansen Miracle Gel in Rhapsody Red ($10, drugstores)

Beigy Pink: Zoya Nail Polish in Chantal ($9, zoya.com)

Dark Chocolate: Formula X The Cut Nail Polish in Decadent ($10.50, sephora.com)

This story originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of Dr. Oz The Good Life.

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