So you’ve made the decision to go vegan - great choice! As you likely have already realized, the vegan lifestyle extends far beyond what you eat. It also limits you in terms of the products you put on your body. From shampoo to moisturizer, to even your nail polish.

Many companies are getting tricky about the ingredients they use. You may not even realize that many of the ingredients on your label are non-vegan. But don’t worry - we’re here to help clear the air and eliminate any confusion you may have. In this article, we’ll go over vegan nail polish ingredients. You’ll learn what to avoid, but you’ll also learn which ingredients can actually help your nail health. Let’s start with a quick explanation of what makes a nail polish “vegan”.

What Exactly Is Vegan Nail Polish?

As the name suggests, vegan nail polishes are carefully crafted to be free of any animal-derived ingredients. Just as a vegan diet consists of only plant-based foods, so too does a vegan nail polish. We know what you may be thinking: there’s no way meat makes its way into nail polish - what’s the big deal? Well, the term “vegan” doesn’t just take into account meat, eggs, or dairy - but really anything animal-based whatsoever.

That means that even something as minor as a crushed-up beetle is off-limits. And while you may not have known it until now, that is a common ingredient in traditional nail polish. Gross, right? We’ll list out all the common animal-derived ingredients you should avoid if you’re seeking a vegan nail polish in just a moment. Before that, we want to quickly explain the difference between vegan and cruelty-free.

While vegan products must not contain any animal-based ingredients, cruelty-free products must not exploit animals whatsoever. That means they cannot be tested on animals - even if they have a 100% plant-based ingredient label. We tell you this to say that you should seek out not just a vegan nail polish - but one that is also certified to be cruelty-free.

Vegan Nail Polish Ingredients: What To Avoid

Now, without any further ado, let’s talk about vegan nail polish. We’ll start by explaining which common ingredients you should avoid. There are really just 6 common ingredients you need to check for when considering nail polish: carmine, guanine, squalene, tallow, lanolin, and shellac.


When we briefly mentioned crushed bugs as a common nail polish ingredient, we were referring to carmine. This ingredient provides a red pigment in not just nail polish but other cosmetic goods like lipstick. As we said, this is derived from the shells of little female insects in the Cochineal family.


Derived from fish scales, guanine is a crystalline material that you’ll find in most traditional nail polishes. It provides a glamorous, shimmering effect - but because it’s derived from fish, it cannot be used on any vegan ingredient label.


Squalene is a tricky ingredient because it can be both vegan and nonvegan - depending on how it is derived. Most nail polishes derive their squalene from shark liver oil - making it a non-vegan ingredient. However, some brands derive this compound from plants such as olives or wheat germ. That’s why we say it’s best to avoid this ingredient altogether, thus, avoiding any guessing game about the origins.


Tallow is animal fat - this one is pretty self-explanatory as to why you should avoid it. Because animals must be killed to extract tallow, you cannot use it while living a vegan lifestyle. Just like squalene, there are some vegan alternatives - such as Oleic acid derived from coconut, olives, or nuts. You’ll know this is the case because the brand will be quick to let you know on the ingredients label.


A classic example of an ingredient that meets vegetarian standards - but not vegan standards - is lanolin. Derived from sheep wool, you’ll find this product in all sorts of beauty products, including nail polish. It helps with moisturization, something everyone can benefit from. Nevertheless, it must be avoided.


This is another ingredient obtained from creepy crawly bugs. Shellac is popular for its fast dry time and long-lasting shine and color - with easy removal to boot. But, if you see this common nail polish ingredient on the label - it is not a vegan polish. It's incredibly inefficient, as tons of insects are killed to produce a very small amount of shellac.

Vegan Nail Polish Ingredients: What To Look For

The six ingredients listed above are the most common to watch out for. But what are some vegan-friendly ingredients you should look for when shopping? There are some impressive powerhouse formulas that will not just help you paint your nails. But, they also encourage greater nail health and strength all at the same time. Let’s take a look at a few of these ingredients worth seeking out: horsetail extract and garlic.

Horsetail Extract

While it looks at first glance that this is a non-vegan ingredient, horsetail is actually the name of a plant species. This is not an ingredient extracted from the hair of a horse's tail. It’s loaded with silica, a powerful compound for strengthening cells. This leads to nails that are stronger and more resistant to bending, peeling, or breaking.

Garlic Extract

If you’re like us, you wish your nails would grow faster. Well, when you use a nail polish containing garlic extract you can make your goals a reality. Garlic extract provides a healthy dose of selenium. Selenium speeds up nail growth and helps you bring your dream nails to life!

How Can I Tell For Sure My Nail Polish Contains Only Vegan Ingredients?

Now that you know which vegan nail polish ingredients to avoid and to seek out, you might be wondering if there is a quick and easy way to identify quality vegan nail polish. And fortunately for you, there sure is. Any vegan nail polish will proudly display its vegan certifications right on the bottle! A quick glance at their formulation is a great way to be sure the ingredients meet your expectations, though.

And, if you’re looking for a specific recommendation - our year-end review of the best vegan nail polish is a great resource. There, you’ll learn all there is to know about vegan and cruelty-free nail care - including the top polish currently on the market.

Closing Thoughts On Vegan Nail Polish Ingredients

At this point, there is just one thing left to do - get the vegan & cruelty-free nail polish you deserve at BeautyGarde. We also offer nail bundles that will help you take your nail care to the next level, featuring our revolutionary strengthening formula. When you shop with us, you don’t have to compromise on your values or lifestyle to unlock gorgeous, healthy nails. See what the hype is about for yourself - you won’t regret it.