The Chemistry of Nail Polish & Nail Polish Remover

Chemistry of Nail Polish

Chemistry of Nail Polish

Painting your nails with nail polishes may not look like a complex chemical process, but there is much more in it than what seems to eyes. In this article, let’s look at distinct chemistry coming up together to color your nails beautifully.

What is Nail Polish?

First, let us know about what nail polish basically is. Nail polish or nail varnish is a lacquer used to apply to human nails, mainly for the purpose of decoration and protection. Nail polish was originated in china, dating back to 3000 BC. During the Zhou Dynasty, that is around 600 BC, royal houses used to prefer color gold and silver; later replaced by red and black as favorites.

Types of Nail Polish

  • Base Coat:

This type of nail polish is specifically used before applying nail polish to the nails and is of opaque or milky colored. The purpose of it is to strengthen the nails or to help nail varnish to adhere to the nails to prevent staining.

  • Top Coat:

This type of polish is clear colored and is used specifically after applying nail polish to the nails. It is used to give polish more better finishing and to keep it for long.

  • Gel:

Gel polish is long lasting one, made up of methacrylate polymer. It is applied like traditional nail paint only but doesn’t dry. It is UV cured under ultraviolet lamps or LED.

  • Matte:

Matte nail polish is like regular polish, but with a dull finish than a shiny finish. It is also found in top coat polishes.

  • Shellac:

It is a type of nail polish like gel polish and can lasts upto two weeks, invented by company Creative Nail Design (NCD).


Chemicals in Nail Polish

Film Forming Polymers and Solvents

Nail polishes contain a film forming polymer which is dissolved in an organic solvent. When applied the solvent in the polish evaporates and the polymer forms a film layer. The most common polymer used is Nitrocellulose that is dissolved generally in butyl acetate or ethyl acetate solvent.

Methacrylate monomers and photoinitiator like benzoyl peroxide are used in gel nail polishes. This mixture after applying is exposed to UV lights to trigger the polymerisation process and solidify polish.


Plasticizers like dibutyl phthalate, camphor and triphenylphosphate are used in polish to prevent cracking and chipping.


Pigments are the compounds used in polishes to give them their colors. It can either be inorganic pigments or organic, thermochromic and photochromic pigments can also be there. Inorganic pigments include chromium oxide for green, iron oxide for red and ferric ferrocyanide for blues. Organic compounds are like food colorings and come in a variety of colors.

The glittery or shimmery look in nail polish can be achieved using titanium dioxide, mica or natural pearls.

Other Agents and Stabilizers

- Some nail polishes contain glitter, thickening agents such as stearalkonium hectorite are used to suspend these glitters, pigments and other additives into polishes

- UV stabilizers are used to resist change in color of polish when it is exposed to sunlight. The commonly used stabilizer is benzophenone-1.


Nail Polish Remover

Nail polish remover is an organic solvent used for removing nail polishes applied on nails. Nail polish remover comes up with distinct packaging, which includes individual pads soaked in nail polish remover, a bottle of remover or a container with foam into which fingers are inserted then twisted until nail polish comes off.


Chemicals in Nail Polish Remover

The original and generally used remover chemical is acetone; colorless, flammable and liquid solvent. It is made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen and is found in environment naturally. Acetone is a strong and harsh option to use as a remover for skin and nails.

The other alternatives available for removers are:

- Ethyl acetate, which mostly consists of isopropyl alcohol

- Butyl acetate and propylene carbonate are also used as nail polish removers

So, far from being a simple colored polish, nail polish meets a plethora of chemistry topics, and all being vital for the effective final product. uses cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. By using this site, you agree to our Privacy Policy and our Terms of Use. X