Sunday, June 5, 2011

Learned and Lacquered: Solvents

Note: I edited my previous post to include a list of other film forming agents.

If you don't want to read the whole post, scroll to the end for a few essential points (in bold).

Today I'll be talking about a very important kind of nail polish ingredient. There are solvents in every nail polish and top/base coat I own - without solvents, you wouldn't have nail polish as we know it today. Solvents are also the essential ingredients in nail polish remover and nail polish thinner.

Butyl Acetate
from Orchid Chemie
So what are solvents? Solvents are substances that are used to dissolve other substances. In the case of nail polish, solvents are also helpful not only for that reason, but because they (including butyl acetate, pictured above in drums) evaporate quickly, which naturally means that the polish dries more quickly as well. The two most common solvents in nail polish are ethyl acetate and butyl acetate - if you grab the nearest bottle of polish and look at the ingredient label (you may have to squint), you are almost guaranteed to find at least one of those two solvents.

Solvents are also used to remove nail polish. When you remove nail polish, there is no chemical change that occurs - a solvent is merely being applied so that it returns to liquid form. If the solvents in nail polish never evaporated, nail polish would remain in liquid form. Similarly, if there was some way to take nail polish off of a cotton pad (without taking cotton bits along), you could conceivably put it back in the bottle, add a little ethyl or butyl acetate, and go on like that forever. you think you can guess how nail polish thinner works? That's right - solvents! As polish is exposed to the air, the solvents gradually disappear because of their fast-drying quality. To get it back to its original consistency, you therefore must add more solvents. Beauty Secrets Nail Polish Thinner contains ethyl acetate, butyl acetate, and heptane, all three of which are solvents. When you add a few drops to a goopy bottle of polish, the solvents further dissolve the polish, making it become thinner. However, as many of you know, adding acetone, which is also a solvent, to a bottle of polish to thin it won't work - the polish will become thick and gooey. I'm not sure why that is, but I've heard it from many different people.

Here's a list of solvents found in nail polish, nail polish remover, and nail polish thinner: Benzyl Alcohol, Butyl Acetate, Butylene Glycol, Diacetone Alcohol, Dibutyl Phthalate, Ethyl Acetate, Heptane, Isobutyl Acetate, Isopropyl Alcohol, n-Butyl Acetate, n-Butyl Alcohol, Butyl Alcohol, PPG-2 Methyl Ether, Propyl Acetate, SD Alcohol 40-B/Alcohol Denat., Toluene, Trimethyl Hydroxypentyl Isobutyrate, Zea Mays (Corn) Oil

And finally, here's your recap:
  • Solvents are substances used to dissolve other substances.
  • The two most common solvents in nail polish are ethyl acetate and butyl acetate.
  • Solvents are essential to nail polish remover and nail polish thinner.
I hope you enjoyed today's "lesson," and are looking forward to next week's!


  1. It's funny how you can know something about two topics but the thought never occurs to link them together.  Very informative post. :]