the composition of nail polish remover

the composition of nail polish remover - Cosmetic Composition.png

I am a self-proclaimed nail polish addict. I low-key own 80+ polishes. Every few months I sit down and shake each bottle, and add polish thinner to the ones that are getting old. I paint my fingers weekly and my toes a few times each month. I’m no stranger to nail products. So I can tell you just how important it is to have a good nail polish remover that not only does the job but doesn’t dry out my skin and nails. However, recently I realized that aside from acetone I had no idea what kind of ingredients were found in nail polish removers. So, in order to make both you and I more educated on nail polish removers I did some research and I am here to break the ingredients down!

solvent: the magical ingredient

The way nail polish remover works is very simple. Through the use of a solvent, the polish is dissolved and forcefully removed from the nail. So what’s a solvent? A solvent is a chemical compound that can dissolve another substance. Solvents are present in many products, and even if a solvent is not found in the final ingredient list it’s highly likely that one or more were used during the formulation process.

nail polish bottles - Cosmetic Composition

are solvents dangerous?

You may be aware of the chemophobia surrounding nail polish due to the toxicity of some ingredients. The same chemophobia has been translated to nail polish removers. Pinterest is full of “nail polish remover alternatives” with lemon juice + vinegar being the most popular (LabMuffin proved this to be inaccurate).

As with any substance, the dose makes the poison. Using a large amount of anything on your body can start to have negative effects, consuming too much water can cause internal issues. 2-3 cotton balls of nail polish remover will not cause any harm or damage to yourself. Many solvents, especially those used in nail polish remover, are highly volatile and flammable. I’d recommend removing your polish in an open area possibly near a window/fan and never near any candles or in the kitchen. The only time solvents have been shown to be dangerous are when being used in high exposure industrial scales or when a child decides to drink a bottle of polish remover.

nail polish remover solvents

acetone - Cosmetic Composition


The original, and still commonly used, nail polish remover is pure acetone: a colorless, volatile, flammable, liquid solvent.  At its simplest acetone is a ketone, which is an organic functional group essentially meaning an oxygen that is double bound to a carbon and near no other oxygens. Acetone is naturally found in plants and is a result of body fat breakdown. However, acetone is a very strong solvent to use for a polish remover, often leaving the skin and nail bed dry. While it does not cause any long-term damage as a polish remover, if you paint your nails as frequently as me you cannot have your nail beds being dried out constantly. The industry has formulated many acetone alternatives for polish removers that contain a variety of different solvents.

ethyl and butyl acetate - Cosmetic Composition

ethyl acetate and butyl acetate

Ethyl acetate and butyl acetate are the two most commonly used solvents for nail polish remover currently. Both solvents are colorless, volatile, liquids that can dissolve the nitrocellulose (film agent) found in nail polishes. Each compound has an ester functional group which is what gives the solvent it’s characteristic fruity scent.

Other solvents such as ethyl lactateisopropyl alcohol, and propylene carbonate have made their way into the marketplace as other common nail polish removers. All of which are safe when used at the expected levels of simply removing your polish.

common nail polish solvents - Cosmetic Composition

ethyl lactate, isopropyl alcohol, and propylene carbonate

nail polish remover ingredients

Unless you are purchasing pure acetone nail polish remover there are going to be other ingredients found in the remover’s formula. Often times nail polish removers will contain a variety of solvents, however, one solvent will be in more excess than the others. Additional ingredients include compounds such as FD&C colorants, glycerin, gelatin, fragrance, and water. Companies now offer a variety of nail polish removers, including strengthening, nourishing, non-acetone, revitalizing, etc. all of which contain the same basic ingredients and solvent, and simply vary in color, scent, and a key ingredient such a gelatin or glycerin that offers certain benefits.

Hopefully, you understand a bit more about nail polish removers at this point! If you’re stuck on which one polish remover/solvent is the one for you, check out a video I found from Ms. Beautyphile on Youtube!






5 thoughts on “the composition of nail polish remover

  1. mbona geoffrey says:

    hi, I’ve seen nail polish removers with acetone & ethyl acetate, color and perfume.
    what are the percentage additions of each ingredient?



    • Paige DeGarmo says:

      Hi! The percentage breakdown of each nail polish remover will vary with brand and type. However, the solvents (diluted for some) will make up the majority of the formula, followed by water or glycerin if included in the formula as the next highest percentage, and color and perfume being very small amounts in the formulation.
      Hope this helps a little!


  2. Jade says:

    Hi I have recently bought a industrial bottle of ethyl Acetate (5ltrs) & have been using it as my nail polish remover however I’m finding that it’s still drying out our nails, do you know where I could find a recipe of sorts to make a nail polish remover using what I have?


    • Paige DeGarmo says:

      Hi Jade, I would try looking up formulations online. Typically I use Cosmetics & Toiletries database or UL Prospector’s database. Hope this helps!


      • Jade says:

        Hi Paige,

        I can’t quite find what I’m looking for I spent quite a while on both data bases & none of it is making sense to me are you able to assist me with requiring what I’m after?


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