Meet the Woman Hand-Mixing Vegan Nail Polishes Inspired by Her Afro-Boricua Identity
Regina Bultrón Bengoa isn’t vegan, but her nail polishes are — so her entire community has access to a more ethical option
Regina Bultrón Bengoa’s passion for nails is genetic: Her grandmother, Selenia, never left the house with a chipped nail or without a file in her purse. Last year, Bultrón decided to go into business, hand-mixing vegan nail polishes in her home of New York City, and it was a no-brainer to name her business Selenia, after her influential abuela.
Bultrón was inspired to go the entrepreneurial route by the lack of representation of women of color in the beauty industry, where “nude” often means a very specific shade, and there aren’t many options that don’t include sometimes harmful ingredients. In the year since, she’s been building her brand through Etsy and Instagram.
Here, I talked to Bultrón about how she began the business, why she runs a vegan business despite not being vegan, and what constitutes a vegan nail polish.
When did you start Selenia Beauty and what inspired you?
Regina Bultrón Bengoa: I started Selenia Beauty a year ago. I officially launched as my birthday present to myself. I’ve always loved nail polishes. When I was a little girl I remember giving myself a mani during Spanish class using whiteout! My mom says that I inherited this obsession with nail polishes from my grandmother, her mother, Selenia. Her nails were always neat! No chip nails and she always carried a nail file with her. So understandably when the time came to name my line I had to name it after my Abuela.
Once I decided I wanted to add nail polish maker to my résumé, I started doing some research and found that the representation of womxn of color in the indie nail polish makers community was almost nonexistent. Inevitably, I also came across very problematic marketing campaigns that would classify all nude shades under a very pale color that was supposed to represent us all. The beauty industry is very problematic for many reasons… So, all the dots connected very organically and I decided to come up with a nail polish line that was healthier, more ethical and politicized.
Are you vegan? If you’re not vegan, why was it important to you to keep your nail polish vegan and cruelty-free? If you are, what inspired that choice?
I’m not vegan, however, I was raised by a mother who has been in between vegetarianism and carnivorism diet all her life. She even had a vegetarian restaurant once, but at the time vegetarianism and healthier eating habits were not so common in Puerto Rico, so I remember she had to start serving fish in order for the restaurant to survive.
So no, I’m not a vegan, but I try to eat and consume as ethically as my budget allows me to. And that’s why it is important for me to keep my nail polish vegan and cruelty-free: Access. Our people are constantly denied access to healthier options in this country. We see it all the time when our communities are systematically deprived of healthy and nutritious foods. Imagine beauty products. One of my main goals with Selenia Beauty products is to make healthier and more ethical nail care products accessible, especially to all the communities that have inspired me since day one.
What are some non-vegan things about traditional nail polish?
Most nail polishes still include animal-derived ingredients. Some of them are used as a colorant, like for example shellac that is made from the secretions of the lac beetle. Others are supposed to strengthen your nails, but in reality, they can be replaced with vegan ingredients without compromising on the quality of the nail polish.
Can you tell us a bit about the process of “hand mixing” your nail polishes? Why is it important to you to use that process and also use as little chemicals as possible?
So the first step to come up with each color is to formulate them, create these color recipes. This is the most difficult part of the entire production process. Like sometimes you are envisioning a specific shade and it will take you a few rounds of mixing and testing to get there. This process can be frustrating, but it can also be very fun as you will sometimes surprise yourself with colors that you were not even imagining. That’s how for example Bachata Rosa is formulated. Once you have your color formula, I hand mix with the base. For me, the hand mixing is very important because it allows me to take care of the consistency very closely, and as a nail polish lover consistency is a very important part of a perfect brushstroke. The base and pigments I use are all 10-Free, which means that they do not contain the most harmful chemicals that you will regularly find in nail polishes. Some of these chemicals can cause chronic health problems, such as asthma, convulsions, nausea, and miscarriages. One thing to remember is that the beauty industry in the USA is not regulated as it is in countries like Japan and Sweden, so they get away with using very horrible ingredients. These ingredients could not only affect the consumer but could also impact me since I’m handling them in a purer form. All of these very harmful ingredients can be replaced with vegan ingredients without compromising the quality of the nail polish.
How does your Afro-Boricua identity influence your business practices, if at all?
OMG! My identity, not only as an Afro-Boricua woman, totally influences my brand and business practices. As a Black Puerto Rican, I always feel the urge to not only tell my own personal story but my people’s story through this nail polish brand, specifically through the color names. And this is why I made sure not to censor my identity, not only as an Afro-Boricua but as an unshameable and non-conformist woman when I created this nail polish line. If I’m not standing by my people, if I’m not being influenced by who I am and those who paved my way here, there’s a disconnect. There would be something very off.