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how to make nail polish

Updated on September 25, 2012

Through this hub we will look at important considerations that go into making of nail polishes. It should be noted that this hub is only for information. Before attempting production kindly refer regulatory guidelines, Good Manufacturing practices and safety recommendations laid by competent authorities. The key points discussed about nail polish in this hub are:

  1. Characteristics of good nail polish.
  2. Nail polish ingredients.
  3. A commercially Viable Nail polish formula.
  4. Procedure for making nail polish on lab scale.
  5. Popular Marketed brands of nail polish.
  6. Nail polish Shades.
  7. Suggested application Method.

Model Wearing Nail Polish
Model Wearing Nail Polish

What is nail polish?

Nail polish is a pigmented solution that forms a colored film on human fingernails or toenails when applied. It is applied to decorate nails.

Clear varnishes are also available that give gloss to human nails making it appear clean and shiny. The art of polishing nails has evolved considerably in last few decades and now nail polishes are available in multiple shades.

Characteristics of good nail polish

  1. A good nail polish should be innocuous to skin and nails.
  2. It should be stable on storage throughout it’s shelf life with respect to homogeneity, sedimentation, separation and consistency of colour.
  3. A good nail polish should give a film of satisfactory characteristics, satisfactory characteristics are:
  • Optimal thickness, neither very thick not very thin, good wetting and good flow properties, so that it can easily be applied on nails.
  • Should have uniform color dispersion throughout the film, otherwise nail polish would appear patchy.
  • Good Gloss, as gloss appeal more to the consumer.
  • Nail polish film should adhere to the nail for long without getting distorted.
  • Optimally flexible, to maintain structure and flexible to avoid cracking.
  • Optimally hard to resist scratches and day-to-day impacts that incur during household work.
  • Satisfactory drying properties.
  • Should maintain these properties for at least a weak after application on the nail.

Nail Polish
Nail Polish

Ingredients used for making Nail polish

Five basic components of Nail Polish are Film formers, Plasticizers, Solvents, Diluents and Colors.

  1. Nail Polish Film Formers: Basic film former used for making nail polish is Nitrocellulose, Nitrocellulose or Cellulose Nitrate is obtained by nitration of cellulose, i.e reacting cotton (cellulose) with concentrated Nitric Acid (HNO3) in presence of Concentrated Sulfuric Acid (H2SO4). Film produced by Nitrocellulose is waterproof, tough, hard and resist aberration. But when nitrocellulose is used alone it has some drawbacks like poor gloss, shrinks with time and acquires brittleness. In view of these drawbacks modifying resins are added to nitrocellulose for improve gloss and adhesion properties.

  2. Nail Polish Plasticizers: Plasticizers reduce shrinkage of the film and impart flexibility. Aryl sulfonamide formaldehyde type resins are luxuriously used as plasticizer in nail polish industry. Plasticizers like melamine formaldehyde, urea formaldehyde and acrylic Plasticizers remain in the nail polish film after the solvent evaporates. These plasticizers improve gloss of the film and flow properties, good flow property of the film aids application to the nail.

    Plasticizers used in nail polish are of two types:
    • Solvent Plasticizers: Those dissolve nitrocellulose
    • Non-Solvent Plasticizers: Also referred as softeners, eg. Dibutyl Pthalate (was widely used but now European Union has banned it’s use in nail polish due to suspected teratogenicity, In United States it is a suspected teratogen). Now days use of Dibutyl phosphate and Butyl Phthalyl Butyl Glycolate, Triethyl citrate type of plasticizers is more prevalent eg. Acetyl Tributyl Citrate.

  3. Solvents used in Nail polish: Solvent used in a nail polish is typically a blend of a medium, a low and a high boiling point liquid. Low boiling point component of the solvent is boiling point less than 100 degree Celsius like acetone or ethyl acetate, Medium boiling point components have boiling point in the range of 100 to 150 degree Celsius like n-butyl acetate, and high boiling point liquids are generally cellulose derivatives having boiling point greater than 150 degree Celsius.

  4. Diluents used in nail polish: Diluents are not true solvents for nitrocellulose but are organic solvents for modifying resins and plasticizers, Diluents are used because they are economical than solvents. Although diluents help in stabilizing preparation viscosity, there principal use is to reduce the over all cost of the preparation. Three classes of diluents are generally used:

    • Alcohols: Ethyl Alcohol( C2H5-OH), Butyl Alcohol(C4H9-OH), and Isopropyl alcohol((CH3)2CHOH.
    • Aromatic Hydrocarbons: Toluene (C6H5-CH3), Xylene (C6H4(CH3)2
    • Aliphatic hydrocarbons: Of suitable boiling point.

  5. Nail polish Colors: Water insoluble Lake colors are used in nail polishes as they are food grade, do not dye the nail or skin permanently, and are available in many shades, FD&C colors quite popular among manufacturers and consumers. Some of the popular colors are FD&C Red 40, FD&C Red 3(Lake Erythrosine), FD&C Yellow, FD&C Blue 1(brilliant blue), FD&C Green 3(Lake Fast Green FCF).

    Various shades are developed by blending mentioned and other lake colours as permitted by respective FDA. Titanium Dioxide is used to confer opacity, creaminess and produce pastel shades when blended with permitted colors. Powdered Mica is used to confer glitter to nail polish. Powdered Mica is used in relatively high concentrations with Shades of light Grey to produce metallic silver shades. If solid particles like mica are added then a thickening agent like stearalkonium hectorite may be added to prevent sedimentation. To keep the color intact during shelf life of the product during it’s intended stay on nails Benzophenone-1 is added to the preparation.

    Nail polish colours should be substantially insoluble in used solvents, compatible with other ingredients and safe to use.

Popular Nail Polish Colors
Popular Nail Polish Colors

Nail Polish Formula

Ingredient (Quantity)

  • Nitrocellulose (15 grams)
  • Eudragit RL ( 0.25 grams)
  • Acetyl Tributyl Citrate (3.75 grams)
  • Butyl Acetate (30 grams)
  • Ethyl Acetate (2 Grams)
  • Color of your choice (In sufficient quantity)
  • Toluene (To make 100 grams)

How to make Nail Polish

  • Step 1: Procure and measure the quantities as per formula, keep them in closed container away from all sources of fire as they are highly inflammable.
  • Step 2: First Mix Butyl and Ethyl acetate and keep it in a close container.
  • Step 3: Dissolve the entire weighed quantity of Nitrocellulose in around 6 grams of Butyl and Ethyl acetate mixture obtained in step 2. In the remaining 26 grams of Mixture dissolve eudragit.
  • Step 4: Now slowly add Eudragit solution to Nitrocellulose solution to get another solution.
  • Step 5: To the solution obtained at the end of step 4 Acetyl Tributyl Citrate is added.
  • Step 6: Add color slowly and mix it well with the above solution.
  • Step 7: Add toluene slowly till the weight of the preparation reaches 100 grams.
  • Step 8: Add the finished product into previously labeled narrow mouth airtight container with application brush.

Nail polish is ready!

Popular Nail Polish Brands

Butter London
Color Club
China Glaze
Sinful Colors
Bobbi Brown
Sally Hansen
Tips and Toes
Popular Nail Polish Brands

Suggested application Method

Nail polishes are applied by painting the nail with a brush. It is advised that nail lacquer is removed with a solvent followed by application of a basecoat, two coats of colored nail polish, and a topcoat allowing sufficient time for drying between coats. The basecoat increases the adhesion of the colored nail polish to the nail while the topcoat increases the chip - resistant characteristics of the nail polish.


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    • jbosh1972 profile image

      Jason 3 years ago from Indianapolis, IN. USA

      Fascinating. I just assumed that nail polish was just acrylic resin dissolved in acetone or ethyl acetate. Never put much thought into it. I now imagine a team of chemical engineers and their supporting technicians modifying and running quality control on new formulations.

    • profile image

      TINNI 4 years ago

      ITS FABULOUS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • profile image

      sowjanya 4 years ago

      hai what are the cautions to be taken while using

    • profile image

      cbar77 4 years ago

      I like this hub! Being a nail polish fan myself, this was interesting to read and learn how nail polish is made and what makes for a good quality polish. Thanks for writing :)

    • Tintin25 profile image

      Tintin25 5 years ago

      sure! just scroll up and start reading :)!

    • profile image

      SHONA 5 years ago



    • profile image

      sowmya 5 years ago

      ok thnq

    • Tintin25 profile image

      Tintin25 5 years ago

      Do not inhale fumes , use all precautions applicable when handling highly inflammable substances.

    • profile image

      sowmya 5 years ago


      I found that its really a useful information.

      can u please let me know the safety measures to be followed while preparing a nail polish in a laboratory

    • Tintin25 profile image

      Tintin25 5 years ago

      where are you located? try alibaba for vendors!

    • profile image

      marso 5 years ago

      I'm looking for lab who can help me to lunch new nail polish brand. Do you know some good labs or factories?

    • Tintin25 profile image

      Tintin25 5 years ago

      A Silver ball is generally dropped to aid mixing before application. The end user is advised to shake the bottle before use to get uniform shade on each application.

    • profile image

      bernadette 5 years ago

      good article, thank you. i saw a video by heidi klum making nail polish and at the end of it she dropped a little silver ball into the polish bottle. do you know why?

    • Tintin25 profile image

      Tintin25 5 years ago

      yes toluene can be substituted by other diluents like Isopropyl Alcohol or ethyl alcohol to make this formulation toluene free.

    • profile image

      BM Briggs 5 years ago

      Good formula but i think you should replace toluene with a more better and less toxic solvent.

    • naturalmedicines profile image

      naturalmedicines 5 years ago

      One caution, all ingredients used for making nail polish are highly inflammable so please do not try this at home, try it in a lab that has adequate safety arrangements. Secondly nitrocellulose is a controlled substance in many countries so you need to take relevant permissions and approvals before buying commercial quantities.

    • Tintin25 profile image

      Tintin25 6 years ago

      thanks a ton for going through it!

    • diydiva profile image

      Kay Mitchell 6 years ago from California

      Wow that's pretty intense and way out of my diy league but a great hub!

    • Tintin25 profile image

      Tintin25 6 years ago

      Thanks Keri for appreciating the hub!

    • Keri Summers profile image

      Keri Summers 6 years ago from West of England

      I'm unlikely to be opening a nail polish factory anytime soon, but I found this Hub truly fascinating. It's an insight into an every day product, and we don't get to learn stuff like this very often! Up and interesting.


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