How to Legally Mail Nail Polish

If you're considering selling nail polish, you may wonder if sending nail polish in the mail is allowed and if it is, what are the rules for shipping it? "You can't mail nail polish," you've been advised by many well-intentioned people, because it's a flammable liquid. While nail polish is indeed highly flammable, the fact is that you can mail nail polish through the United States Postal Service. You simply need to know the USPS shipping restrictions and regulations for sending nail polish in the mail properly.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

It is permissible to mail nail polish through USPS, but it must be packaged according to specific regulations and shipped via surface only, not via air, due to its flammability.

Understanding Prohibited vs. Restricted

The Department of Transportation regulates if and how hazardous materials can be shipped, and USPS follows DOT regulations. The USPS website lists items that are prohibited, meaning they can never be mailed. Examples of such categories for USPS domestic shipping include airbags, ammunition, explosives, gasoline and marijuana (either for medicinal purposes or any other purpose).

Everything that is prohibited domestically is also prohibited internationally, and many times, there are additional bans including some that depend on the country to which you're shipping.

Nail polish is prohibited in international shipping; it may not be shipped from the U.S. to other countries. Restricted items may be mailed if requirements are followed or sometimes under certain conditions only. Many items fall under USPS shipping restrictions, including aerosols, alcohol, paint, perfume, perishable food and yes, nail polish.

Sending Nail Polish in the Mail

It's not that USPS is concerned with shipping liquids; USPS is concerned about the hazardous nature of the liquid being shipped. Nail polish is classified as a hazard because of its flammability. The requirements and restrictions on mailing flammable items depend on the item's flashpoint, or the temperature at which it could catch fire. The regulations for flammable and combustible flashpoint levels of liquids are:

  • Flammable, not mailable: below 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-7 degrees Celsius)

  • Flammable, may be mailed surface only/no air: 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-7 degrees Celsius) up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius)

  • Flammable but may be reclassified combustible: 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) to 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius)

  • Combustible, may be mailed surface and possibly air: 140 degrees Fahrenheit to 200 degrees Fahrenheit (93 degrees Celsius)

  • Not regulated, no restrictions: above 200 degrees Fahrenheit (93 degrees Celsius)

Nail polish from different manufacturers can have slightly varying flashpoints, but all have flashpoints around 25 degrees Fahrenheit and therefore are highly flammable. Note that nail polish doesn't self-ignite, though; it must be exposed to a flame, spark or other igniter to catch fire. In addition to the nail polish liquid, its vapors are highly flammable as well, so it's important to be sure the nail polish bottle caps are secure and don't have cracks or chips that could allow liquid or vapors to seep out or allow the caps to break off.

Packaging Nail Polish for Mailing

The primary receptacle that contains the nail polish bottles cannot exceed the capacity of 1 quart if it is made of metal and 1 pint if it is made of nonmetal material. This receptacle must have a screw cap of at least one and one-half turns or a soldering cap or other secure fastening; friction tops are not acceptable. Multiple smaller receptacles are permitted as long as the total amount per mail piece doesn't exceed the 1 quart for metal and 1 pint for nonmetal restriction.

This primary receptacle must then be placed in a secondary receptacle with enough cushioning material to prevent breakage and enough absorption material to absorb any liquid that might leak. The secondary packaging must be securely sealed and placed in an outer package that is strong enough to firmly hold the primary receptacle and cushioning materials.

On the package, on the side that contains the address, write "SURFACE ONLY" or "SURFACE MAIL ONLY" in indelible ink. Also, write "ORM-D" on the package. This stands for "Other Regulated Material - Domestic," which indicates that the package contains a consumer commodity of hazardous materials. That means it may be sold at retail to consumers who will use limited amounts of the product for their own use. Alternatively, a postal employee may mark the package with the official DOT stamp that means it contains an ORM-D.