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Sure, acetone gets the job down, but is this ingredient safe to use on your body?

By Lauren Wellbank
March 26, 2021
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woman removing nail polish from fingers
Credit: Kerkez / Getty Images

As more and more people make the move towards natural beauty products, you may find yourself wondering if your favorite formulas—the ones you have used forever and a day—are still safe to use on your skin. It's a normal concern, especially when you think of traditional nail polish removers, which often contain the organic compound acetone; these have been on the market for decades. The steady influx of natural remover alternatives begs the question: Are those age-old formulas still safe to use? We spoke with two experts to find out.

What makes acetone toxic?

Acetone-based nail polish removers are full of harsh ingredients that expose both your nails and the skin surrounding them to their effects, notes Dr. Debra Jaliman, a board-certified New York City dermatologist. The acetone can ultimately break down your skin's lipid layer, which is, according to Layanna Wilkerson, a celebrity hair and makeup artist, part of your skins' protective barrier. "These lipids help with the skin's natural repair process. Breaking them down can cause skin to become brittle and dry and prevent it from holding moisture," she shares, noting that these effects can be exacerbated by frequent use. "A constant use of acetone can make your nails brittle and weaken them," Dr. Jaliman affirms.

How do natural removers stack up?

While natural nail polish removers are almost always the better option, on certain formulas and paint colors, they're often not as effective as acetone-based formulas. "If you have regular nail polish on—and not one that requires acetone for removal—you can buy an acetone-free remover," Dr. Jaliman says. "Natural polish removers are less harsh and less drying." However, you might need to use significantly more elbow grease to eliminate dark polish colors; even with the extra effort, clean formulas often leave polish behind that you will need to buff off.

Which natural options actually work?

Though acetone-based removers are more effective, Wilkerson doesn't believe the risk is worth the reward—especially since there are products on the market that can do the job, even if they do take a little longer. "In the day and age of the rise of alternative options (most consumers want vegan- and cruelty-free, as well as healthy options) acetone-free polish removers can be found," she says. "With these natural options, you get more strength, support, oils, minerals, and added protection, overall. Natural options outweigh traditional acetone removers when it comes down to pros versus cons." As for the formulas she personally recommends? Try the natural removers from Ella Mila ($13.99, target.com) and Mineral Fusion ($7.06, walmart.com). "These add extra nourishment, but are effective in removing polish," Wilkerson adds.

How can you protect your skin if you stick with acetone-based formulas?

If you want to keep using the remover you have turned to for decades, Dr. Jaliman says that you can can mitigate some of the acetone's effects by getting the product on and off as soon as possible—and by never soaking your nails in it. "Use a cotton ball and swipe polish off quickly," she says. "As soon as you are done, wash your hands and apply moisturizer to your hands and nails to prevent your skin from getting too dry."

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