What is fingernail polish made of, and how does it get its color?

Regular Fingernail Polish

The first question: What is fingernail polish made of? Fingernail polish is made of different chemicals. The main ingredient is nitrocellulose, a mix of indigestible plant fiber, and the ingredients that are used to make explosive TNT and nitroglycerin. When it's in the bottle, the nitrocellulose dissolves in a chemical solvent called ethyl acetate. When painted on your nail, the solvent eventually evaporates, and the nitrocellulose is left behind, which drys solid instead of liquid on your nail. Sometimes "pearl essence" will be included in the solvent, which will give it a shiny look once it's dry.

Gel Polish

Gel polish is a different story. Unlike regular polish, gel polish will NEVER dry unless it is activated by ultraviolet light. A molecule called a "photo-initiator" takes in the UV energy, breaks it in half, and makes two super-charged molecules. These are called free radicals. In the polish all that extra energy starts a chain reaction that changes the liquid polish to a solid within seconds. The photo-initiator in most polishes is benzoyl peroxide. It's blended with a liquid form of the plastic methacrylate. The free radical from the benzoyl peroxide moves around the electrons in the methacrylate monomers so they create solid polymers.

Crackle Nail Polish

Crackle nail polish is a type of polish that looks as if it your nail polish cracked apart on your nail. It's made out of nitrocellulose, just like regular nail polish, but it's mixed with a fast moving solvent like ethanol. When the solvent dissolves it clumps up the nitrocellulose, which creates the crackle effect.

Acrylic Nails

Acrylic nails are basically fake or press on nails. The word acrylic is short for methacrylate, which is a mix of a monomer liquid and a polymer powder. The polymer powder that is found in fake nails is called poly ethyl methyl methacrylate, or PMMA for short. This chemical gives the nail strength and durability. The chemical units of the monomer liquid mix with the polymer powder, and form long fibers that, when dry, resemble a fingernail.

How does nail polish get its color?

The second question: How does nail polish get its color? Pigments. Pigments give nail polish its color. There are several types of pigments that give the polish its color. Mica is a pigment that gives it a shimmery look. Silica lowers the gloss of the polish. Titanium Dioxide increases the opacity of the polish, and is often used as a white pigment. Bismuth Oxychloride adds a pearlescent shimmer. Citric Acid controls the color of the pigment. All of these different pigments are used for nail polish. They determine whether the polish is going to be shiny, or not very glossy.