Makeup Monday: Up, Up in the Air

Whew! Somehow I let the entire month of February rush by me without posting once, for which I apologize. There was a terrible flu/cold that made its way through our house, as well as the beginning of the academic semester, which means work takes on a whole new dimension of busy. I’ve also been counting my pennies this month in preparation for some upcoming travel, so I haven’t been doing any (!) shopping.

But I made an exception not long ago, as I was looking through my nail polish collection and somehow, astonishingly, just not finding anything catching my interest.

Nail polish is kind of a big deal for me. I’m obsessed with color, and polish is an easy place to get very colorful. My partner has had to take my arm and gently pull me out of the nail polish section of Target or Walgreens on multiple occasions. I can stand transfixed in front of a display of Essie or OPI for a surprisingly long time. I love the colors, the subtle differences in shades and tones, the cutesy names. I’m a habitual nail polish impulse-buyer, and am always open to experimenting with new shades.

But the nail polish industry, like the rest of the beauty industry, has some skeletons in its closet.

For one thing, many polish companies test their products on animals before releasing them to the market. A scan of PETA’s list of companies that test on animals reveals a ton of big beauty (and polish names), including M.A.C., Benefit, Mary Kay, Maybelline, L’Oreal (which makes Essie), Estée Lauder, Revlon (which makes Sinful Colors), Stila, L’Occitane, Clinique, Bobbi Brown and more. (That list is huge, by the way, and a lot of the names on there are surprising. I highly recommend looking through it.) Animal testing is a cruel and unnecessary practice that has already been banned in the European Union, Norway, Israel and India, with the U.S., Australia and New Zealand considering bans.

As if that weren’t terrible enough, commercial nail polishes often include a lot of freaky industrial ingredients that can be harmful to your skin and body:

  • Formaldehyde is typically used in products like nail strengtheners, while formaldehyde resin, a by-product, often shows up in polishes. Formaldehyde resin, if inhaled, is a major carcinogen (ever wonder why manicurists often wear face masks when doing fills or full sets?). On the skin, it can cause irritation and abrasions.
  • Toulene, used to thin the polish and keep it liquid, is derived from benzene (i.e., petroleum). If sniffed, it can be highly intoxicating—but it can also cause liver damage, skin irritation and, if you’re pregnant, fetal damage. So don’t sniff it. And maybe don’t put it on your nails.
  • Dibutyl phtalate, or DBP, is a hard plastic that can stain and damage your nails. It’s also a carcinogen that has been banned for cosmetic use since 1976 and for use in children’s toys since 1999…in the EU. Still legal in America, though!
  • Camphor is a plasticizer commercially derived from turpentine that is toxic and, in addition to its career in nail polish, also used for embalming. It can cause seizures when ingested in large amounts, and irritation when used on your nails.

Formaldehyde, toulene and DBP are known as the “big three,” and in recent years, a growth industry has sprouted of smaller nail polish companies that designate themselves “3-free.” For a nail polish geek who also cries whenever she sees stories about animals on the news (even if they’re happy stories), it’s super encouraging to have more conscientious options out there.

So for my first Makeup Monday in way too long, I decided to highlight Elevation Polish, an indie nail polish company based in Minnesota that produces cruelty-free, 3-free (and camphor free!) small-batch polishes. The owner describes her “two passions” as “mountain climbing and nail polish,” and many of her polishes are named after mountains (presumably ones she’s climbed? If so, she is a rockstar!). The colors on offer are beautiful and nuanced, from eye-catching duochromes and shimmers to calmer solids and jellies. Elevation Polish is actually one of those websites that I look at all the time, composing my dream order. The website is also frequently updated, with new polishes making their way in and old polishes being put on “last call” sale.


And oh, did I mention that most of their polishes are cheaper than a bottle of OPI? With indie options like this, my drugstore polish days are behind me.

The package is lovely and, as it reminds you on the back, reusable, and my order arrived in under a week. Although shipping nail polish is a concept that makes me nervous, everything was completely intact and the polishes had not done that icky thing that they sometimes do where all the color is on the bottom and the rest of the bottle is just pale. The packaging is also made of recycled paper; it’s clear that Elevation’s “love for nature” is not just an act to sell polish, but a defining characteristic of the company.

Onto the photos! Each polish is shown with two coats on the nail. One note: I am one of those nail painters who is super messy with my non-dominant hand. Forgive me.

The full order: Grotte et Cascade, Darkness of the Arctic 2, and Mount Venoux.

The full order: Grotte et Cascade, Darkness of the Arctic 2, and Mount Venoux.

Darkness of the Arctic 2 is a deep, deep almost-black brown with a coppery-gold shimmer that is damnably hard to photograph (but I did my best!). It goes on smoothly, and the shimmer is a lot more visible once you see it on the nail. The coppery shimmer is more like a shift, but it’s stunning.


Darkness of the Arctic 2


Grotte et Cascade is a more chocolatey brown with a lovely blue-purple-pink shift. The shift is more subtle on the nail, very different from the more overt shimmer of Darkness of the Arctic 2. I’ll confess right now: I’m not a huge glitter person except for parties and holidays, but I love a subtle gleam. This one is a fantastic fall/winter color.


Grotte et Cascade


Then, because I was feeling depressed about how cold it is here, I also picked up something lighter: Mount Venoux, a cheerful pastel yellow that makes me feel like spring may be a little closer (and the high today is almost 30°, which is at least 30° higher than the last several days!). I like bright nails as a pick-me-up, and this color is so bright and happy. In the past, I’ve found that pastels take several coats to show up at all, but this one was bright from the first coat.

Mount Venoux

Mount Venoux


If it were just for the unique colors, I’d already be a huge fan. The duochromes are distinctive and exceptional, and the solids have a smoothness and pigmentation that one can only wish for from a drugstore polish. Add to that the alternative, safe and healthy ingredients and cruelty-free practices—not to mention the eco-friendly vibe—and I couldn’t be happier with my purchase. In fact, I’ve already started composing my next order. (I’m thinking Lake of the IslesWai’anapanapaAguja St. Exupery, and maybe Theo Wirth Parkway?)

I wish I had a million more fingers to polish with this stuff. Except that might look a little scary, so maybe not. Either way, though, I’m super excited about Elevation Polish. I can’t recommend them highly enough.

You can also check out their blog for more updates and information. Vive la polish!

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