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Cosmetic formulation basics – Nail Polish

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Nail Polish

Nail polish is designed to improve the appearance and condition of nails. It also can protect nails from breakage.

What nail polish does

In its simplest form, a nail polish is a liquid solution of pigments, solvents and film formers. It typically comes in a bottle with a brush applicator. The solution is applied to the nail and then allowed to dry at which point it becomes a smooth, hard, colored film.

How nail polish works

Nail polishes contain a number of ingredients including pigments, film formers, plasticizers, resins, solvents and other additives.

There are two types of pigments used in nail polishes. Mineral pigments like titanium dioxide and colored iron oxides and organic pigments like red #6 and yellow #5. In the US the pigments that are allowed for use in nail polish are strictly limited.

To make the nail polish look right, a film former is needed. The ingredient most frequently used is nitrocellulose. Since it is a dangerous compound to work with there are a limited number of manufacturers who can produce nail polish.

Resins like shellac and acrylic polymers are added to improve the properties of the nitrocellulose film. This makes the film tougher and helps the nail polish last longer. Plasticizers are needed to improve the film flexibility. Camphor and dibutyl phthalate are most often used.

Solvents like alcohols, esters, and ketones are used to help the product spread and dry quickly. Finally, additives like viscosity modifiers and UV protectors may be included.

Nail polish formulation

Here is a standard nail polish formulation (click to enlarge)

{ 94 comments… add one }
  • Divya 01/20/2016, 2:32 am

    Such a informative post. I have few questions-
    Can you please provide formulation of 3-free and 5-free polishes??
    And are polishes easy to formulate??
    Can a person with non chemistry background can also mix the ingredients and create the polishes??
    Can you suggest a polish base supplier in India who doesn’t sell it in bulk??

    TIA :)

  • Mick Salvador 01/19/2016, 4:56 am


    I am basing my investigatory project on nail polish from some of your raw materials. I have a question regarding the availability of these materials in local pharmacies? Can these be easily obtained? Thank you.

    • Perry Romanowski 01/19/2016, 10:00 am

      I don’t really know the market in which you are. Doing a Google search for specific chemicals and raw material suppliers will give you the answer.

      • Mick Salvador 01/20/2016, 4:32 am

        Okay, I understand. Thank you so much! :)

  • satish 01/06/2016, 1:54 am

    Hi..I am interested to manufacture nail polish in Nasik.. India. Need to know from whetre can I get all the raw materials in wholesale. Can somebody guide me.

  • lokesh grover 09/03/2015, 1:56 pm

    Dear sir, I want to start a business in nail polish making plz guide me where I can get training for this.raw material supplier process etc.plz reply I am waiting for your ans my no.9713200641. I am ready to pay the training fee. Thanks

  • Lisa 07/11/2015, 2:27 am

    Hi, after completed my masters in social work, I have realised my passion is in the nail industry. I am now looking to start an nail polish line and would like advice on where to find a manufacturer in the UK that can assist in polish and labelling. I also will like to know more information on what materials I need to developING my own polish and colours , do i need a licence or euipmemt to start from home. I am hoping this will allow me to get an insight in the whole process of nail polish. Many thanks Lisa

  • Arpit 06/04/2015, 12:52 am

    how to make lipgloss plz give me fourmula. .

  • Divya Pandey 04/01/2015, 4:37 am

    Hi!! I am from India and i would like to know form where i can buy a good suspension base for nail polish making. I want either 3free or 5free base. Which all sellers ship to India??

    • MIGUEL PISATURO 10/22/2015, 6:29 am

      I have a problem in my formulation, with separation, among resin and pigment.
      I would like to know what I need to do to solv this problem.
      Thank You.

  • billie 01/20/2015, 6:39 pm

    ​I also have a bad reaction to nail polish remover! I just use as little as posible, make sure to wash my hand after, and then I use the Lady Soma Nail treatment after washing my hands. I didnt used to use a moisturizer after nail polish remover, but its a must, because it will leave your hands looking tired

  • shailesh hedau 11/19/2014, 11:54 pm

    Hello, Mr.Raj sir
    I want to start my new business of nail enamel,
    so my request to you plz guide me how to manufacture of nail enamel which type of chemicals use in this process and also suggest contain of chemicals.

    Thanks & warm regard

  • Trish 10/08/2014, 10:40 pm

    Hello, I am in Jamaica and I currently study chemistry but I would like to start making my own nail polish to get my cosmetic line started. Could you assist me with a basic formulation and areas to get my raw materials. Do I need any special instruments to do this?

  • Deepak Arora 09/28/2014, 11:54 am

    Hiii Rajat ji
    Hou many solid contents should be there in nail polish lequer.
    and please tell me ratio of NC cotton, Reisan and DBP. Which grade of NC cotton should we use

  • Dani 08/29/2014, 8:34 pm

    Hi Rajat, I want to start with making nail polishes as a hobby and then take it forward to a small business.. How do i contact you for the information and products i need to start this.. Please reply

  • sara 07/23/2014, 2:18 am

    hello. i want to make crackel nail polish. can you help me in formulation?
    thank you…

    • Rajat 08/28/2014, 3:43 am

      Yes, I can.



  • Rupesh Kumar 07/20/2014, 6:04 am

    I am manufacture of nail polish in India.I make a good quality international nail polish . can u give me some idea how u can help me.and i want to make it at very resnable price so i need formulation regarding it if u can provide its very thankful to you. And i also manufracture wood finishing product

    • Rajat 08/28/2014, 5:01 am

      Hi Rupesh,

      There would be few questions to make it cheaper. How much do you produce? Do you buy the base from somewhere or you develop it yourself? To understand the cost of the product, it would require a detailed analysis.



  • Rose 05/11/2014, 5:40 am

    Am a nigerian, married and tired of staying at home after my university education, pls I wana start my nail polish manufacturing bussiness, pls can u help me with measurement of may be 50litres of nail polish and I will grow from there,

    • Rajat 08/28/2014, 4:59 am

      Hi Rose,

      You could buy readymade base and pigments separately and create colours you like to start this business. Please feel free to contact me if you need any further information.



      • Nikul 04/20/2015, 2:42 am

        Hi, I would like to buy quality nail colours for artificial acrylic nail arts. If any one can guarantee high quality products for sale in Europe. Approved by European legislation.

  • Elverta Whitaker 03/28/2014, 7:05 pm

    I am my own nail polish using ready made base’s and my own color mixes. I want to make my colors less transparent by using Titanium dioxide. Can you advise the proportion of Titanium dioxide to mica I should use. Or is the measurement by volume?

    Thank you

    • Rajat 08/28/2014, 4:57 am

      Hi Elverta,

      It would mostly depend on the combination of your base and pigment material used. Please send me your specification in details with grades you are trying to use. You maynot need to add titanium dioxide to make it more transparent.



  • Alexia Abrams 03/18/2014, 11:18 am

    I’m new to this but I’ve been searching for a while now for websites or manufacturers to purchase the things that i need to start my own polish line. With me being a stay at home wife I need the most reasonable prices available. I’m also looking for a chemist in Alabama to help me along the way. Much help needed. Thanks in Advance

    • Rajat 08/28/2014, 5:05 am

      Hi Alexia,

      Were you successful in starting your own line? Best I could suggest is to buy base and pigments separately and mix them your way.



  • Justin 02/01/2014, 5:19 am

    Hi Rajat,

    Im looking for a chemist in the UK, idealy in the middle of the uk to help with a coating. many thanks

    • Rajat 08/28/2014, 5:06 am

      Hi Justin,

      Apologies for this delayed reply? What help are you looking for specifically? Email me your contact number .



  • Devan Robinson 01/02/2014, 1:51 am

    Hello, I am looking for a chemist that can assist my wife and I in our quest to take the nail polish industry by storm. Please respond via email to dtsolutions13@gmail.com

    • Rajat 08/28/2014, 5:10 am

      Hi Devan,

      By storm doesn’t depend on us, it solely depends on you that how many clients you could gather. I could help you get a decent start by helping you develop the right products to take them to your clients.



      • Nikul 04/20/2015, 2:46 am

        Hi Rajat,
        Could you please advice of artificial nail products? I am a supplier of high quality nail polymers and have lot of enquiries of nail colours? Please advice and also if you are in same business, i would like to chat with you.

  • jaswinder singh 12/25/2013, 4:39 am

    I want a chemist for nail polish remover thinner
    in india area

    I want raw material providers list for nail polish remover thinner

    • Rajat 08/28/2014, 5:12 am

      Hi Jaswinder,

      Yes, there is a very good supplier in India. Send me an email, I’ll pass you the contact.



  • jay 10/01/2013, 9:25 am

    Dear sir,
    I am in search of relaible manufactur for nailpolish.
    Who are ready to do thard party job for export and
    domestic market.
    Plz contact us. Email : rpresources7@gmail.com
    thanks and regards

    • Rajat 08/28/2014, 5:15 am

      Hi Jay,

      Send me an email and I’ll pass you the contact of the number for your needs.



  • Bev Spears 08/20/2013, 3:49 pm

    Does anyone know where HEMA is used in cosmetics other than Nail Polish?

    • Rajat 08/28/2014, 5:25 am

      Hi Bev,

      Other than nail polish it is also used in Soak Off gels and dental industry too.



  • Amit 07/30/2013, 1:06 am

    Hi Rajat,

    I would like your help for product developement for four products which we currently have in mind. It would be great if we can touch base thru phone/email. My Email address is amitsureshgandhi@gmail.com would await your mail.



    • Perry Romanowski 07/30/2013, 6:52 am

      Hello – You can use the ‘contact us’ button at the top of this page to get in touch with us via email.

      • Amit Gandhi 07/30/2013, 11:11 am


        Already did. Kindly revert for the same.



    • Lynn 12/11/2013, 9:53 pm

      Looking for someone to formulate a water-based nail polish. In the USA hope you can help.
      Thank you

      • Rajat 08/28/2014, 5:26 am

        Hi Lynn,

        It is not a very successful concept as it doesn’t last long like solvent based nail polish but significant developments have been made in innovation of Water based nail polishes. Yes it is possible, but in USA, I am not very sure.


  • Jen 07/28/2013, 4:10 pm

    I have a client allergic to ingredient yellow #5. Anyone know how a line without his ingredient?

    • Rajat Narang 07/29/2013, 8:42 am

      Hi Jen,

      If your client is allergic to yellow 5, you don’t need a whole line as yellow 5 is a colorant CI 19140, which as a colorant won’t be used more than 1% . Your client would avoid using certain colours where Yellow 5 is used and INCI list can be found on secondary packaging.

  • navid eghbali 06/22/2013, 4:55 am

    I made nail polish with nitrocellulose and that is matt .which one of raw material can i add for having glossy

    • Rajat 08/28/2014, 5:28 am

      Hi Navid,

      You are going somwhere in the wrong direction. Nitrocellulose is considered a film former, so it is not responsible for the matt effect. Looks like you have increased the percentage of other ingredient, what ingredients are you using to creat the base?



  • Tu Hoang 06/08/2013, 2:02 pm

    Hi everybody,

    I am making nail polish based on the suggested formula, but I cann’t find STEARALKONIUM HECTORITE.
    Some one knows, which supplier can provide this gelling agent?

    Thank you for your help.
    Tu Hoang

    • Rajat Narang 06/10/2013, 2:54 am

      Rockwood and Elementis are the companies you are looking for. This formula here is not really updated as toluene has already been banned, it is better if you see the updated formulation.



  • sachhip@yahoo.com 06/08/2013, 9:13 am

    I want a chemist for nail polish formulation
    in mumbai , india area

    I want raw material providers list for nail polish

    • Rajat Narang 06/10/2013, 2:56 am


      I can help you develop your formulation as well as have global links to all the suppliers for all the raw materials of nail polish.


      Rajat Narang

      • Andrew 09/15/2013, 3:05 am


        I am also interested in a formulation and list of raw materials for product development. Can you please help with a price to get this done?

  • ashok dixit 06/06/2013, 5:45 am

    thanks for providing valuable information

  • Kimberlee 05/06/2013, 5:25 pm

    Good Day,
    I want to make a Mother of Pearl Nail Polish. Which Mica Pigment do I need to use….i.e coastal scents

    (not making the polish from scratch, I have a base polish, just need to know what color of mica to add to it)

    All info and help welcomed!


    • Rajat Narang 05/07/2013, 4:51 am

      One of the pearl of Merck or 11oo’s ….I don’t remeber the exact number.. i think 1198 it is of Azelis is the same pearl powder you are looking for.

      All the best

      • Rajat Narang 05/07/2013, 4:57 am

        A little green (or blue and yellow) pigment with Aqua pearl of Merck may also take you very near to what your target is.



        • Rajat Narang 05/07/2013, 4:59 am

          Use base 97-98%, pearl powder 2-2.5% and .03 around pigment..



          • Kimberlee 05/08/2013, 12:23 am

            Thanks for the leads thus far. Could you possibly provide links?


          • Yvette 06/18/2013, 6:54 pm

            Can you recommend a reputable nail polish manufacturer in the uk?

  • Tiera 03/13/2013, 4:36 pm

    I just want to have a makeup line not exactly make it myself how do I got about finding a distributor to mix it then I label it?

    • Perry Romanowski 03/18/2013, 9:25 pm

      Check a cosmetic buyer’s guide. You can find a number of them searching this site or through Google.

    • Perry Romanowski 03/19/2013, 7:13 am

      I’d suggest you download our free report http://startacosmeticline.com

  • Régis 12/12/2012, 3:43 pm

    I cant stop reading the post serie name: Cosmetic formulation basics. There so much information and i want to take this opportunity to say to every one who work on this , Thank to all of you for this knowledge base.

    I was wondering if there’s a safer alternative to nitrocellulose to use as a film former. Something that a non-chemist person could find easilly enough … and which would keep a good result on the final product.
    Thank you to all !

    • RAjat 08/28/2014, 5:33 am


      Yes, there is a safer alternative, but not as good as nitrocellulose, but it do the work.



  • Rabindra giri 11/26/2012, 3:42 am

    Dear sir, iwant full formulation of all types of nail polish, like red,top coat ,base coat, jari, sparkle

    • Perry 11/26/2012, 8:21 am

      See the post

  • saleem 10/29/2012, 12:44 am

    Hy guys
    our team producing cosmetic products at cheap rates with great skills.
    If some one have some problems so contact with us.

  • dilip patel 08/03/2012, 9:17 am

    cosmetic formula

    • Rajat Narang 08/03/2012, 10:19 am

      Hi Dilip,

      What formulation are you looking for?


  • NAVEEN BAGLA 05/26/2012, 4:36 am

    hi rajat
    how ar u
    hope ur fine ,
    i am manufacture of nail polish in India since long time & i am not able to make a good quality international nail polish . can u give me some idea how u can help me .
    naveen bagla

  • Ashlynn 05/08/2012, 7:52 am

    I’m thinking of making my own glitter nail polish using a premade clear base. Any tips on where I can get stearalkonium hectorite for suspending agent? Any other tips appreciated. :) Thank you!

    • Perry 05/08/2012, 2:25 pm

      Check out the INCI Directory.

      • Rajat 05/08/2012, 2:44 pm

        Hi Ashlyn,

        In Glitter gel, there is no stearalknium hectorite, because it gives a earthy opaque base, whereas glitter gel is almost clear. If it’s not clear, the glitter wont be visible much. So generally silica is used as antisettling agent for glitters (which are PET polyethylene terephthalate) .


  • Lauren 03/23/2012, 5:23 am

    Good day,
    I have a training and distribution company in Capetown. I am looking to expand with different products, namely, nail polish, spray tan and spray-on makeup. Can you suggest any chemist who as to contact to assist in this?

    • Rajat Narang 03/23/2012, 8:54 am

      Yes, no worries, yes there are chemists. But exactly what kind of assistance are you looking for. Email me on rajatvnarang@gmail.com with specific description for what you are looking for.

  • Nad 03/10/2012, 12:18 am

    Hi Perry,

    Just wondering if there’s anything else we can use besides stearalkonium hectorite that would act as a suspension agent to hold the micas or glitters that we might want to add to the polish?

    Thank you.

    • Rajat Narang 03/11/2012, 8:44 am

      Hi Nad,

      Stearalkonium hectorite is the main antisettling agent………….In certain cases, you can use a combination of stearalkonium bentonite and hydrofumed silica…………..Also there is a combination of alkyd resin with MPA which can be used to hold the base well which won’t allow glitter partices to settle down..



      • Nad 03/12/2012, 10:00 am

        Hi Rajat,

        thanks for the info..i will do research for those materials.
        I’ve got another question again. Do you know if Magnesium Carbonate will work for this purpose as well?

        Thanks again.

        • Rajat Narang 03/12/2012, 10:13 am

          Hi Nad,

          Magnesium carbonate , though hydrphobic, am not sure about it’s influence, as it has the tendency to release carbon dioxide and water on reacting. I haven’t tried it myself, but it is a good idea to check. Have you ever worked on with it for antisettling?


      • Eli 08/20/2015, 7:06 am

        Hi Rajat
        You said MPA.
        What is MPA?
        Is it resin?
        Could you write full name?

    • Bev Spears 03/20/2013, 12:48 pm

      Try using fumed silica or silicates. You can buy this at any fiberglass retail outlet for building boats. Try: System Three Resins website.

  • Rajat Narang 03/09/2012, 3:04 am

    Hey Perry,

    THe formulation you have mentioned above is too old, now there is almost a ban on usage of toluene, DBT and camphor is highlighted too. Is any new information available?

    • Perry 03/09/2012, 10:44 am

      Hello Rajat,

      Thanks for the information. I’ll see if I can find a newer formula to post.

  • Rish 01/25/2012, 3:03 am

    Hello, I was wondering how much it would be to formulate your own collection of nailpolish of let’s say 20 different colours? If I wanted to make 30 bottles of each colour, how much would that be? Thank you!

    • Perry 01/25/2012, 5:51 am

      If you were making them for yourself you might be able to get clear nail polish and add color. This would cost you however much ~100 bottles of nail polish plus the colors would cost.

    • Rajat Narang 03/09/2012, 3:02 am

      Hi Riah, what colors of nail polish are you looking for?

      • rish 10/29/2012, 8:50 am

        I was thinking of starting my collection, renting out a shop and everything. So 20 colours-the usuals,mattes, some sparkly, some with effects x

      • navid eghbali 07/31/2013, 5:36 am

        hi rajat
        how can i find tosylamide/formaldehyde resin

        • Rajat 08/28/2014, 5:35 am

          Hi Navid,

          I advice not to use Tosylamide/Formaldehyde resin as masses are again the use of this resin, it would be better without it.



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