UCSB Science Line
Sponge Spicules Nerve Cells Galaxy Abalone Shell Nickel Succinate X-ray Lens Lupine
UCSB Science Line
How it Works
Ask a Question
Search Topics
Our Scientists
Science Links
Contact Information
How is nail polish made? What ingredients are used and what chemical reactions occur when making it? Chemically what is happening?
Question Date: 2002-05-15
Answer 1:

There are three major ingredients in most of the nail polish brands:

1. organic solvents
2. thickeners or hardening agents
3. color pigments or other agents for special effects

The most common organic solvents are ethyl acetate and butyl acetate. Chemically these are esters (esters are made by reacting a carboxylic acid with an alcohol and the general formula is R-COO-R' ). These solvents also dry fast so the application of the nail polish is easy. Both solvents are also used as nail polish removers.

The thickeners and hardening agents are nitrocellulose and different acrylate and polyester/polyurethane copolymers. So they are basically plastics that are dissolved in ethyl acetate. When the ethyl acetate (solvent) dissolves (evaporates) then the plastic stays on the surface of the nail as a thin coating.

For color, different materials and dyes (D&C red #7 or # 34 for example; the "D&C" means certified by the Food and Drug Administration) are used. Mica and aluminum powder are used to make the nail polish glittery or pearl-like.

Click Here to return to the search form.

University of California, Santa Barbara Materials Research Laboratory National Science Foundation
This program is co-sponsored by the National Science Foundation and UCSB School-University Partnerships
Copyright © 2020 The Regents of the University of California,
All Rights Reserved.
UCSB Terms of Use