Nail polish has become a staple beauty product used by people of all genders worldwide. But is painting your nails considered “makeup”?
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore what defines makeup, the different types of nail polish, key ingredients, how it’s applied, and the reasons people wear it.
By the end, you’ll understand the nuances in the nail polish vs makeup debate. Discover why nail lacquer toes are the line between cosmetic and beauty treatment.
Table of Contents
What is Nail Polish Exactly?
“Nail polish” refers to lacquers, varnishes, enamels, and colors applied to fingernails and toenails to decorate and protect the nails. Modern nail polish consists of a mix of:
- Nitrocellulose- The main film-forming polymer that gives polish its shiny, hard finish
- Plasticizers- Allow flexibility and prevent chipping
- Resins- Help the lacquer adhere to the nail surface
- Pigments – Provide color, tint, and opacity
- Solvents- Keep the polish liquid before application
Beyond decorating nails, it also serves practical functions like strengthening nails and preventing chipping. Many enjoy nail polishing as a relaxing self-care ritual for decorating nails and expressing creativity.
Major Types of Nail Polish
There are various formulations of nail lacquer:
- Regular nail polish – Applied directly to nails and hardens as solvents evaporate. Requires frequent touch-ups.
- Gel nail polish– Cured under LED lamp for a glossy, chip-free finish lasting 2-3 weeks.
- Dip powder – Powder and liquid layered to form a durable polish lasting 2-4 weeks.
- Acrylics– Applied over nail tip extensions for length and strength. Fill is needed every 2-4 weeks.
- Shellac – Brand name for no-light gels with extended wear up to 2 weeks.
- UV gel polish– Gel formula cured with UV lamps for long-lasting polish up to 3 weeks.
The type of polish determines durability, shine, and removal requirements. Salon nail polish services require skilled nail technicians. Home DIY polishing allows creativity.
Key Ingredients in Nail Polish Formulas
Basic nail lacquer contains:
Nitrocellulose – Creates the hard glossy film covering the nails
Acetates – Help nitrocellulose adhere properly to the nail surface
Plasticizers – Provide flexibility to avoid cracks and chips
Resins – Impart shine and longevity while aiding adhesion
Pigments – Add color, tint, and opacity for a wide color spectrum
Solvents – Allow application as a liquid before hardening on nails
Some polishes also include:
Biotin – Essential B vitamin that helps strengthen weak thin nails prone to splitting
Formaldehyde– Used in small doses to help preserve color and prevent chipping
Tosylamide – Promotes nail growth for longer, stronger nails
Camphor – Improves luster and sheen while limiting fungal infections
Understanding ingredients helps avoid concerning chemicals and find nourishing formulas.
Step-By-Step Process of Applying Nail Polish
Applying nail polish is a meticulous multi-step process:
- Cleaning nails– Use a remover containing acetone to remove oil, debris, and old polish from nails to prep the surface.
- Filing and shaping – File nails to the desired length and shape the tips. Eliminate any rough edges for flawless polish application.
- Cuticle care – Gently push back and trim excess cuticles so they don’t interfere with polish spreading smoothly.
- Dehydrator- Wipe nails with an alcohol-based dehydrator to remove moisture and oils for better adhesion.
- Primer – Apply a base coat primer for added protection against staining.
- Color coats – Carefully apply 1-2 thin coats of polish, allowing drying time between coats. Thick globs can lead to chipping.
- Topcoat – Finish with a protective clear coat for additional shine and chip resistance.
Nail polish can be applied at home, in salons by professionals, or using automated nail polish robot machines for convenience.
Why Do People Wear Nail Polish?
There are several motivations for using nail lacquer:
Cosmetic reasons– To enhance the appearance of hands, conceal flaws
Creative expression – Allows endless color options for artistic creativity
Complements outfits– Matches clothing colors like a fashion accessory
Protects nails – Strengthens weak thin nails prone to splitting and chipping
Hides imperfections – Conceals nail damage from biting, peeling, splitting
Camouflages discoloration- Masks yellowing, bruising, staining, or fungus on nails
Therapeutic relaxation – Provides relaxing “me time” during application
Beyond decorating for aesthetics, it also serves functional purposes like protecting nail integrity.
How Does Nail Polish Differ From Facial Makeup?
While nail polish offers cosmetic enhancement like makeup, they differ in:
Location applied- Nail polish only used on fingernails and toenails, makeup applied to face and eyes
Duration – Nail polish lasts around 1-2 weeks on average with touch-ups, makeup requires daily reapplication
Removal – Nail polish remover with acetone dissolves it, and makeup comes off with soap and water
Primary purpose – Nail polish is mainly for decorating nails, and makeup to enhance facial features
Gender norms – Makeup traditionally associated with women, nail polish acceptable for anyone
Skill required – Applying nail polish is easier and quicker than makeup skills
So while nail lacquer provides decorative cosmetic ability like makeup, it differs in location used, longevity, removal method, and primary purpose.
Is Nail Polish Considered Makeup?
Given its cosmetic nature, “nail polish” toes the line between decorative beauty items and true makeup:
- Like makeup, it aesthetically enhances one’s appearance – polish makes nails look prettier much like lipstick makes lips more attractive.
- However, nail lacquer also serves functional purposes like protecting and strengthening fragile nails prone to splitting and chipping. Makeup does not strengthen skin.
- Facial makeup aims to accentuate eyes, lips, cheekbones, etc. Nail polish provides color for decoration rather than accenting the nails.
- Makeup has traditionally been associated with women, whereas nail polish is gender-neutral and socially acceptable for anyone to wear.
- However, some consider very dark lacquers like black polish as “gothic makeup” when applied heavily for an edgy look.
So in summary, while nail polish offers cosmetic enhancement and often color coordinates with makeup palettes, it is not traditionally considered actual makeup on its own. It occupies more of a middle ground between cosmetic and nail treatment.
Benefits of Regularly Polishing Nails
Despite debatable makeup status, properly applied nail polish offers:
Decoration – Allows endless color options for creative self-expression and complementing outfits
Conceals flaws – Hides unattractive nails by covering chips, cracks, dents, grooves, and spots
Camouflages damage – Masks unsightly nail-biting effects, white spots, discoloration, and fungal infections
Protects nails– Forms protective shield against moisture, debris, and daily wear and tear
Prevents breakage– Reinforces weak, brittle, thin nails prone to splitting and chipping
Stimulates growth– Ingredients like biotin, calcium, and tosylamide help extend nails
Provides therapeutic value- Polishing rituals offer stress-relieving “me time”
Potential Downsides of Frequent Nail Polish Use
However, some potential drawbacks of very regular nail lacquer use include:
Can damage nails: Excessive filing and repeated polish removal progressively thin out nail beds.
Hides underlying issues: Continually painting nails can conceal fungal or bacterial infections needing treatment.
Contains concerning ingredients: Many polishes contain toxic chemicals like formaldehyde, phthalates, toluene, and camphor which can irritate skin or be absorbed.
Allergy risks: Ingredients, fumes, and UV lamps used for gel manicures can provoke skin or eye reactions in sensitive people.
Time-consuming: Frequent reapplication and touch-ups to combat chipping takes time. Trips to the salon also require significant time investment.
Proper nail health practices like giving nails an occasional break and moisturizing cuticles help avoid problems if you enjoy polishing regularly.
Caring For Polished Nails
Follow these tips to keep your lacquered nails looking fab:
Apply thinner coats: Thin, even layers are less likely to chip than thick gloppy polish
Use a top coat: A protective top coat adds shine and chip resistance
Avoid soap: Wear gloves for hand washing and cleaning to keep polish intact
Moisturize hands: Keep cuticles soft with heavy-duty hand creams and cuticle oil to prevent hangnails
Take polish breaks: Give nails an occasional breather to mitigate thinning and brittleness
Remove properly: Never peel off polish; use remover to protect nails
With careful polish application and removal, you can enjoy beautiful nail lacquer without compromising the health and strength of your natural nails.
Special Considerations For Men Wearing Nail Polish
Traditionally seen as a feminine practice, polished nails are becoming increasingly common among men:
Use neutral colors: Subtle nude and gray tones are modern masculine options for men new to coloring nails
Match polish to style: Alternate rocker chic black nails with clean, professional looks for work
Care for nails diligently: Meticulous cuticle care prevents hangnails that snag polish
Remove thoroughly: Acetone remover prevents color stains on the nail plate
While still taboo in some social circles, polished nails also allow men to showcase their personal style and creativity.
Is Nail Polish Safe For Children?
Nail polish is fine for children if using kid-friendly formulas:
Avoid toxic trio – Steer clear of polishes with dibutyl phthalate, toluene, and formaldehyde
Choose natural hues – Stick to sheer pinks and pale colors rather than bold glitzy shades
Use remover carefully – Ensure proper ventilation and avoid contact with skin
Supervise application- Watch for polish getting on fingers to prevent accidental ingestion
Remove completely – Thorough removal prevents damage if biting nails
With non-toxic polish and proper adult supervision, occasional polishing can be a fun way for kids to explore creativity and self-expression.
Are There Risks or Allergies to Be Aware Of?
Some potential risks of using nail polish include:
Skin irritation- Ingredients, latex gloves, and adhesive can cause dermatitis around nails and cuticles in sensitive people. Look for hypoallergenic formulas.
Nail thinning – Excessive filing and repeated polish removal can gradually thin and weaken nails.
Respiratory irritation – Fumes from solvents may provoke headaches or asthma symptoms in those sensitive. Work in ventilated areas.
Eye irritation– Some report UV lamps used for gel and shellac manicures causing eye dryness or light sensitivity. Use licensed technicians.
Toxic trio- Many polishes contain dibutyl phthalate, toluene, and formaldehyde linked to endocrine disruption and cancer risk. Seek out non-toxic 10-free formulas.
While most people tolerate occasional polishing well, those with allergy risks should take precautions like patch testing and ventilating salons.
Shopping For Non-Toxic and “Clean” Nail Polish
Seeking healthier polish options? Look for:
10-Free – Formulas free of the “toxic trio” and other harsh additives like camphor, xylene, ethyl tosylamide
Plant-based – Polishes using natural ingredients like bamboo, corn, and flower extracts
Water-based– Avoid solvents by choosing new water-based formulas that are well-reviewed
Natural colorants– Pigments from herbs, clays, fruits, and vegetables
Creme finish– Glossy creme polishes skip the plastic glitter particles that stick to nails
Good ventilation – Ensure room circulation if doing your own manicures at home
Clean nail polish allows you to enjoy coloring your nails without exposure to worrying chemicals. Just check third-party ratings to ensure non-toxic formulas still deliver shine and wear.
Frequently Asked Questions About Nail Polish as Makeup
Does nail polish count as makeup?
While nail lacquer has cosmetic properties, it is generally not classified as actual makeup since it decorates nails rather than accentuating facial features like eyeshadow or lipstick. However, very dark polishes are sometimes referred to as “gothic makeup” when applied heavily.
Is nail polish only for women?
Not! While traditionally associated with women, nail polish is gender-neutral. Painted nails allow people to showcase creativity, self-care, and personal style.
Can nail polish damage your nails?
Excessive filing, improper polish removal, and lack of nail breaks can gradually thinen nails. But occasional polishing shouldn’t harm healthy nails if removed properly with non-acetone remover. Always moisturize cuticles and hold the nail file perpendicular to reduce filing damage.
Does the nail polish expire?
Yes, most nail polish expires 2-3 years after opening due to solvent evaporation. Signs of expired polish include thick goopy consistency, separated product, and diminished shine. Properly stored, unopened polish can last 3-5 years.
Are shellac and gel polishes better for your nails?
Gels and shellac last longer without chipping, reducing the need for re-polishing that can thin nails. However, UV lamps during application and soaking removal can still damage nails over time if done excessively. Moderation is key.
#The Bottom Line
While debated, nail polish is not considered actual makeup since it decorates nails rather than accentuating facial features. However, it allows creative self-expression much like makeup.
Occasionally polishing your nails offers decorating fun without compromising nail health if done carefully.
Seek plant-based, non-toxic formulas and incorporate nail care practices like moisturizing and taking occasional polish breaks. With some polish know-how, you can keep your nails looking fab!