Is nail polish flammable?

Nail polish is a form of nail enamel or lacquer used to decorate nails. lt consists of a polymer and a solvent in which it is dissolved. The most commonly used polymer is nitrocellulose which is dissolved in butyl acetate or ethyl acetate as a solvent.

A most common and frequently asked question is –

Is nail polish flammable?

Yes, nail polish is flammable and can catch fire, especially when it is freshly applied and is wet. This is due to the presence of nitro-cellulose as the main ingredient in it which is a flammable chemical. There are almost rare chances of nail polish being flammable when it is dried.

What are the ingredients used in nail polish which can make it flammable?

The ingredients of nail polish depend from type to type and region to region. They may be acrylic, gel, basic, dip powder, or shellac. But the basic ingredients used in all nail polishes are the same. These include film-forming agents, resins and plasticizers, solvents, and coloring agents.

The primary ingredient used in Nail Polish- FILM FORMING AGENTS

Film-forming agents are polymers that form a hard coat on the exposed surface of the nail after the solvent evaporates on drying.

Nitrocellulose is used as a primary ingredient in nail polish. It is a liquid mixture composed of cotton fibers as monomers. The cotton fibers provide the desired viscosity to nitrocellulose and hence are made into to find elements in the process of manufacturing. It forms a hard film on the surface of the nail by acting as a film-forming agent.

Nitrocellulose is a highly flammable and explosive chemical as it is formed by the reaction of cellulose and strongly reactive nitric acid.


Resins and plasticizers are artificially made which are added by the manufacturers to improve the quality of the nail polish. The most commonly used resins and plasticizers are castor oil, amyl stearate, butyl stearate, mixtures of glycerol, fatty acids, and also acetic acids.

All these chemicals provide heat and water resistance to the nail polish along with increasing their flexibility. The plasticizers such as dibutyl phthalate, camphor, and triphenyl phosphate prevent the nail polish from being sticky and chipping and cracking easily.

We all know that camphor is highly flammable and catches fire even in a dry state which is one of the main plasticizers used. Castor oil used for the durability of nail polish is also a flammable substance.


The most commonly used solvents for dissolving the polymer nitrocellulose are ethyl acetate, butyl acetate, and alcohol. The solvents are capable of holding all the ingredients of the nail polish together.

They allow even mixing of the ingredients and themselves evaporates when the nail polish dries. Ethyl acetate is a highly flammable liquid used as a solvent in most nail polishes. Butyl alcohol is also flammable. Alcohol, used as an additional solvent also shows flammable properties.

When the nail polish is freshly applied and in a wet state, it begins the process of evaporation. The vapors of these chemicals used as solvents can catch flames or fire. The chances of catching flames become very rare when the nail polish is dried.


These are the pigmentation chemicals used to give specific or more colors to the nail polish. They can be either organic or inorganic which can either be thermochromic or photochromic.

The commonly used inorganic pigments are chromium oxide which gives a green color, iron oxide which gives a red color, and ferric or ferrocyanide for giving a blue color to the nail polish.
Cyanides are usually flammable substances used in nail polishes.

Chromium is also a flammable substance even in its dry form. Iron Oxide is highly flammable and explosive, especially in its ferrous form.

Titanium dioxide is usually used in nail polishes to give it a glittery or shiny appearance. Titanium is a highly flammable element that can catch fire and flames very easily.


Why is nail polish in a wet state flammable than in a dried state?

When nail polish is freshly applied, both the solvent as well as the nitrocellulose polymer are present.

The solvent begins to spread evenly over the nail while mixing all the ingredients. The nail feels wet. After a few seconds of application, the solvent begins to evaporate. Ethyl alcohol and butyl alcohol are the commonly used solvents that are both highly flammable substances. Also, they are highly volatile.

They form vapors very easily. When the immediate vapors formed to come in contact with a hot substance or a fire-emitting body, they can catch flames due to their reactive nature. It is therefore advised to stay away from heat-producing substances for a few minutes to an hour till the nail polish is completely dried and is unable to produce vapors.

When the nail polish becomes dried, the solvent has already been evaporated. So, no vapors would be produced by the flammable solvents used. The risk of catching flames of fire is therefore reduced.

But, it doesn’t mean that the risk is eliminated. As written above, the ingredients other than solvents used in the nail polish are also flammable such as castor oil, cyanides, iron oxides, etc. They can catch fire if the nails come in direct contact with a very hot body above the boiling temperature. The chances of such happenings are very low as the hands cannot withstand such high temperatures.

Also, after drying, these chemicals attain a stable and inactive state.

They rarely react after that. Also, the reflex system of the body reacts immediately as soon as a hot sensation is felt by any of the sense organs including hands. People would themselves move their hands away from the hot body before something major happens.

One should always take care of the safety precautions associated with the use of nail polish. Stay away from things that can cause hazardous situations such as a gas stove, furnace, heater, bonfire, etc. Try to stay in a well-ventilated place till the nail polish is completely dried.

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