Also known as “Big 3 Free,” 3 Free refers to nail polish devoid of the chemicals formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl phthalate (DBP). The demand for 3 Free nail polish began around the year 2004 and has increasingly become a public health debate , resulting in many manufacturers voluntarily going 3 Free.
1.3 Dibutyl phthalate (DBP)
2. Loopholes, Mislabeling and Controversy
3. Future Legality
4. 3 Free Brands
According to the US National Toxicology Program, formaldehyde is a carcinogen. It is also widely used as a preservative and is a primary ingredient in embalming fluid. While formaldehyde in its base form is found only in nail hardeners, nail polishes use a resin derivative called tosylamide, which helps polish to harden and adhere [8 6 5]. Formaldehyde resin is known to cause acute upper respiratory irritation and contact dermatitis [8 6 2].
Toluene is an industrial solvent found in crude oil. It is used to keep nail polish liquefied and smooth [8 6 5]. Toluene is a known neurotoxin that causes dizziness, decreased cognitive function, euphoria, sleepiness and, in some cases, death, according to the US National Pollutant Inventory. In pregnant women, toluene is capable of crossing the placenta and causing the fetus to have developmental abnormalities . In cases of abuse such as huffing, toluene can also cause brain damage and dementia .
Dibutyl pthalalte (DBP)
Dibutyl phthalate (DBP) is a plasticizer used to make nail polish more flexible and thereby prevent chipping [8 6 2]. It is commonly used to make polymers such as PVC, adhesives and inks . Arguably the most dangerous of the Big 3, DBP was banned in the European Union in 2004 under Directive 76/768/EEC, and was added to California Proposition 65 for suspected causation of physiological abnormalities .
Loopholes, Mislabeling and Controversy
Several instances of 3 Free mislabeling have been noted [2 9 1 7]. In April 2012, the California EPA’s Department of Toxic Substances Control conducted a study in which 25 polishes labeled as 3 Free were chosen at random and tested for the Big 3. They found that ten of a dozen products claiming to be free of toluene actually contained it; four brands with dangerously high levels. Five of the seven products claiming to be entirely 3 Free included high levels of one or more of the chemicals .
The safety of formaldehyde resin, or tosylamide, has yet to be determined, and industry activists claim that some manufacturers are able to use the 3 Free designation just because their polishes don’t contain pure formaldehyde [9 2].
The Cosmetics Safety Enhancement Act of 2012 was introduced to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce by Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ) on March 26 2013. If passed, the bill would grant the FDA power to demand a recall of toxic cosmetics. However, it would not require manufacturers to remove toxins, nor would they fully have to disclose their ingredients.
3 Free Brands 
- Formaldehyde and DBP Free – Carolyn New York, CND (Creative Nail Design) and NYX
- Big 3 Free – butter London, Calvin Klein, China Glaze (black label), Color Club, Essie, Finger Paints, Hard Candy, Illamasqua, Maybelline Express Finish, Maybelline Salon Expert, Nicole, OPI (green label) and Sally Hansen Salon
- Big 3 Free, No Formaldehyde Resin – MAC, Milani, N.Y.C. Long Wearing, Nailtini (except Vodka), NARS, Nocti, Orly, PeaceKeeper, Pop Beauty Nail Glam, Rescue Beauty Lounge, SpaRitual and Wet n’ Wild
- Big 3 Free, No Formaldehyde Resin, No Camphor – Chanel, Dashing Diva, Dior, Estee Lauder, Givenchy, Lancome, Lippmann, L’oreal, No-Miss, Nubar, NYC In A New York Color Minute, Revlon, Rimmel London 60 Seconds, Sally Hansen Insta-Dri, Sante, Shades by Barielle, Shu Uemura, Sinful Colors and Zoya
- Water based, Big 3 Free, No Formaldehyde Resin, No Camphor, No Ethyl Acetate – Acquarella, Honeybee Gardens, Sula and Suncoat
- “Calif. Report Reveals “non-toxic” Nail Polishes Could Cause Birth Defects.” CBSNews. CBS Interactive, 10 Apr. 2012. Web. 03 Mar. 2013. <http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504763_162-57411794-10391704/calif-report-reveals-non-toxic-nail-polishes-could-cause-birth-defects/>.
- “Concerned Advocates, Companies Respond to Calif. “toxic” Nail Polish Report.” CBSNews. CBS Interactive, 11 Apr. 2012. Web. 03 Mar. 2013. <Concerned>.
- Craft, Kyle. “Non Toxic Revolution.” Keep A Breast Foundation. N.p., 26 Mar. 2012. Web. 03 Mar. 2013. <Craft>.
- Mismas, Michelle. “The Big 3.” All Lacquered Up. AllLacqueredUp.com, 11 May 2007. Web. 05 Mar. 2013. <http://www.alllacqueredup.com/2007/05/big-3-chemicals-that-is.html>.
- Mismas, Michelle. “Celebrate Earth Day — Check Your Ingredients.” All Lacquered Up. N.p., 22 Apr. 2009. Web. 04 Mar. 2013. <http://www.alllacqueredup.com/2009/04/celebrate-earth-day-check-your.html>.
- “PassionForPolish: What Is Big 3 Free?” PassionForPolish: What Is Big 3 Free? N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2013. <PassionForPolish>.
- Sole-Smith, Virginia. “Toxins Found in “Toxin-Free” Nail Polish: Another Reason Beauty Regulation Needs a Makeover.” Slate.com | The XX Factor. Slate.com, 13 Apr. 2012. Web. 01 Mar. 2013. <Sole-Smith>.
- “The Science of “3 Free” Nail Polish.” Persephone Magazine. Persephone Magazine, 8 Mar. 2011. Web. 03 Mar. 2013. <The Science>.
- Stanell, Victoria. “What Really Makes a Nail Polish Green?” Beautylish. Beautylish.com, 4 Apr. 2012. Web. 01 Mar. 2013. <Stanell>.