nontoxic nail polish jaclyn ferber

When she’s not running the newly opened Culver City tenoverten salon, Jaclyn Ferber, the brand’s cofounder and Creative Director is mixing colors, working with the brand’s chemists developing new nail care products, and figuring out how to bring nail products to market with the ethos – less toxic chemicals, more focus on long-term nail health. Jaclyn sits down with us in this interview to shed light on how tenoverten is eliminating toxic chemicals making their salons safe for children and pregnant women; what you should look for in a nontoxic nail polish; what you can do for a safer, nontoxic nail experience, if there isn’t a tenoverten in your city (yet); why you should never cut your cuticles; and how she juggles motherhood, marriage, and entrepreneurship. (Warning: You may never look at your local nail salon the same way again.)

In our salon we carry a minimum of 5-free nail polishes, but our own tenoverten brand polishes are 8-free, which means they’re free of – formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), toluene, formaldehyde resin, camphor, ethyl tosylamide, xylene, and paragons.

Originally most nail polishes were 3-free, which means they did not contain the three main toxic ingredients: formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), and toluene. No one touched those ingredients because they’re known endocrine disruptors. Then as time passed there were other ingredients that came up as causing alarm, like formedahyde resin and camphor, so certain brands started to eliminate them. But because it’s an unregulated industry, it wasn’t required and for many brands and customers it wasn’t top of mind. Many brands were already making products that were successful on the market and people liked them because they would last a long time, so they figured why change them. The good news is that now there are alternative adhesives and ingredients we can use to replace some of the more toxic ingredients.

Our polishes are 8-free, but the most important thing to look for in nail polish is at least 5-free. Brands, like Essie, Chanel, who doesn’t market based on wellness, and Nars, which we carry in the salon, are all 5-free.

Firstly, we don’t offer gel-manicures or acrylics. When it comes to gels you not only have an issue with the toxic chemicals in the polish formulations, but the application and removal can be dangerous: the process of sitting in UV lights for removal, stripping the nail with a metal tool and pushing it back and soaking the nail in acetone, which is really harsh and irritating on the skin, are all detrimental to long-term nail health. The same goes for acrylics. And even if you’re not getting acrylics done, just being in an environment that does acrylics is dangerous since you’re breathing in the dust and powder that’s in the air.

When it comes to table top items, a lot of places you go into don’t label things like lotions, so you don’t know what is in them. Our lotions are paraben free.

We also don’t cut cuticles here. We just push them back and use a cuticle tool to buff them. We cut hangnails or do mild trimming, but really it’s about long term nail health for us. When you cut your cuticles you are cutting back the barrier that is protecting your nail bed. It is something that is meant to be there for a reason. The more you cut it back the more dry it gets, the more apt to infection it gets, and you start to get a peel back reaction of the skin, so we really encourage people to push back the cuticles.

For our remover we use an odorless solvent base, which is not as common because it’s more expensive. It’s nontoxic and doesn’t have a harsh smell. It’s a solvent, so it works the same as traditional solvents, but instead of using a traditional non-acetone, that is again a little less expensive and has a really strong smell, we use a propylene carbonate, which is an odorless nontoxic solvent that allows us to then add essential oils to also make it hydrating at the same time. Whereas if you have a regular acetone, you’re not going to add fragrance unless you are masking it with something really strong and fruity to mask the harsh scent. We start with a really nice odorless base which allows us to add treatment ingredients at the same time. Everything we make gets formulated with these intentions and sometimes the challenge for us can be working with the factories and getting them to understand our mission, that we are willing to invest a little more to make sure we end up with a better quality product.

Initially when I was meeting with factories back in 2012, when we began the process of formulation, they were like, ‘Well, yes, we can do that but you’re going to pay a little bit more, so you don’t want to do that’ and I was like, ‘No, we want to do that. We want to do that because that’s important to us.’

We want children to be able to come with their moms to get manicures and we want pregnant women to come here and feel safe, which was a big force in making sure we are a safer source for beauty not only in our nail services but in the retail products we carry. I think once people have been to a tenoverten salon they understand what we’re trying to do, what the experience is all about and see it’s not your everyday nail salon.

If you don’t have access to a tenoverten salon, I would say make sure to pick a salon that’s clean and sterilizes their tools. Look for 5-free nail polishes and no acrylics. You could always bring in your own polishes, but I think the foremost thing to bring in would be a base coat. The base coat protects and seals the nail. It gives you a level of protection. And base coats are notoriously the ones that are not 5-free or even 3-free because they formulate so that the polish can stick to them. If you’re going into a salon and bringing in your own base coat, which is 3-free or 5-free, that’s a huge step in the right direction. You could even bring in your own files. Lotion is hard to carry around for service, but I would just bring in my own base coat and polish and have them push back the cuticle.

Adair and and my sister, Nadine, used to go to nail salons in New York City and would sort of have this running list of things they wanted to improve, and one day they were, like, well, let’s just try this.

The first salon opened up in Tribeca a little over six years ago and a little after the first year Adair and Nadine came to me and said, ‘Do you want to be a part of this?’ I was doing some product consulting for companies and they asked if I wanted to come on board to do the product development. Our first collection we launched six colors and we did it as just a fun thing to support the salons. We really weren’t sure where it would go, but I think having the connection to the salons and the lifestyle it was just really successful from the inception. People responded to the colors because they were a little more sophisticated, they felt like our salon, and they wanted to have a way to take that experience home.

nontoxic nail polish tenoverten

I get inspiration from paint. I love to paint. I have a fine arts background. I was a fine artist and then in fashion, so when we first started the company I used to just sit with a palette knife and mix colors, and I would take swatches to the factory. Or I would see a magazine and see a color that pops and just pull the page out. It comes from all around. We don’t really go based on trends. We go based on what we feel our customers are asking for.

There’s always the classics: the beautiful bordeauxs and neutrals. We did a rust color with desert vibes and sand colors. It’s a very fashion color, but not fashion in a trendy way. It’s more fashion in a classic way and it by far has been a runaway hit for us. Just because we are doing natural, nontoxic products it doesn’t mean we still can’t be chic and sophisticated.

It’s an amazing partnership between us three and it’s been so easy. We all have really specific strengths so there has never been an overlap. I’m the creative direction and do product development and look at the brand as a whole, Nadine deals with the strategic partnerships, growing the salons and wholesaling, and Adair deals with the finances. Everybody brings something to the table. It was just serendipitous the way it worked out, and it has been great. We all had kids around the same time, which has also brought the idea of wellness more to the forefront for us.

I’ve always been a really active person and really into fitness, but growing up I wasn’t concerned with what I was putting into my body. When you are young you have this idea that it’s never ending youth, but I think what happens is you get to a stage in your life where you hit an age and you start to think about wellness and health more consciously. I danced when I was younger and when I was in my twenties I started to have back pain and inflammation, so I became more conscious about eating anti-inflammatory foods, like plant based foods and berries. I drink hot water with lemon and try to eat as clean as I can.

Living in California it’s very easy to jump onto a healthy farm-to-table way of eating and there is so much available in the way of eating good food. I’ve been in LA for seven years. I came out before we started the brand. I lived in New York City on and off for a while and then just always wanted to be in California. I love New York but I love being outside, so this just felt like the right place and thankfully I am here because the labs are amazing out here for formulation.

I met my husband out here.We met out here at a nightclub, which just goes to show any single ladies out there that you never know where you’ll find love, just show up because you never know. We met at a nightclub on a Monday night. He tours with a rock band. He is a director and visual creator for a band called Muse; a rock band. A wonderful group of small town guys. He grew up in Devon, which is the countryside in England, so he loves gardening. We recently planted a garden at our house where we have our own herbs. In America we say ‘HER-bs,’ but he says ‘ER-bs’ because he’s english. We grow our own herbs and change our vegetables seasonally. We have a son now and we try to not bring a lot of processed foods into the house.

I was answering emails when I was in the hospital for sure. It eventually got slower because of course people understand you have a newborn, but it was hard. I think as a woman we should be able to do it all, but it doesn’t mean you can do it all 100% of the time. You hear the question a lot when you’re an entrepreneurial woman with kids – how do you find balance? I think it’s an ongoing challenge of figuring out how do I prioritize things, like – when do I get to see my friends? Well, I’m probably not going to get to see them the way I used to and instead of seeing that as an identity crisis see it as a new chapter. It doesn’t mean you don’t get to be who you were, it just means you have to reframe how you approach your experiences and make them really quality. But it’s challenging. There are days you want to be selfish on a Sunday and you wonder – what did I used to do on my Sundays? Probably lay in bed, watch tv and go to brunch for three hours, which is like a far off land now. But then I see my son jumping on the bouncy house at the farmers market and it’s like the best thing ever.

It was really hard in the beginning to figure out how to do it all and I don’t think I have it figured out, but I think I’m kind to myself when I’m not getting it right and I give myself permission to make mistakes. I just try to acknowledge when it happens and grow. It’s one big growing journey. Whether it’s business and we make mistakes or we only have limited time with our child and we aren’t the best we can be, you have the next day to try and do better.

nontoxic nail polish tenoverten jaclyn ferber

For me the biggest thing is to not get paralyzed. I think when we think about it in the scale of what we hope to accomplish we can get stuck. You wonder – how am I going to do this? how am I going to find the time?  – and don’t move forward in any direction and beat yourself up about it.

Even before I was doing tenoverten I was doing some consulting and I wondered what is it that I want to do and that will become mine where I’m not just doing things for other people. I wasn’t honing in on it and I was fortunate that an opportunity presented itself, but I think it’s all about patience and keeping your eyes open because sometimes opportunities appear that may not be exactly what you were planning on. I never thought that I would be in the beauty world. I was an artist and then I was in fashion. And to be honest, I wouldn’t have ever imagined being in beauty, but now I can’t think of a better place to be.

Women in beauty are super supportive and uplifting; it’s a really amazing community. It’s lovely. It’s all inclusive. I think fashion is amazing, but it can be limiting and noninclusive, but with beauty you can always feel better if you get a manicure. It doesn’t matter how old you are, how young you are, if you are tall or skinny or whatever.   

It’s going to sound odd because she’s younger than me, but its my baby sister, Nadine. I feel like seeing her start this salon a year before they approached me, or when she had a retail store and was working for herself – just seeing her take those risks inspired me and motivated me. She’s a natural leader with grace and elegance. She’s my baby sister, but I always laugh because she’s the more mature, sophisticated sister. She’s the east coast version of me and I’m the LA boho version, but I feel like she’s really been a huge inspiration to me.

nontoxic nail polish tenoverten jaclyn ferber

My morning routine is so not glamourous. I stopped tying my hair back in rubber bands because I felt like it was pulling my hair out, so I went into Muji recently and bought a thick soft band to put on my forehead when I wash up. I use Biologique to wash my face and I use the Herbivore face oil. Sometimes I’ll do a clay mask but that’s not my daily routine. I like the Herbivore Pink Clay Exfoliating Mask, but I also use one from Future which is an Israeli brand.

I really try to drink as much water in the morning as I can because I’m so busy and I know throughout the day I neglect it. And I take a prenatal, not because I’m trying to get pregnant, but I just feel like if it’s good for you when you’re trying to get pregnant, it should be really good for you when you’re not. I take something for adrenal support since I’m running on fumes a lot of the time having a toddler and running the salon here. Sometimes I’ll use the Moon Juice Beauty Dust, even though I’m not super consistent, and I’ll put a lot of spirulina in it. But most mornings, between getting my two year old son and my husband sorted out, I feel like if I can wash my face, use a good moisturizer and put SPF on, I’m good to go. I don’t wear  lot of makeup. I wear a tinted moisturizer, a brow pencil and a lip gloss. I’m also a big sleeper. People who can function on 5-6 hours of sleep are shocking to me. I feel my best when I’ve had eight hours of sleep and am hydrated.


-as told to BOND EN AVANT; Photographed by Amy Chang, founder + editor


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