Damn You Stained Nails! Pt 1: How to prevent staining

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How to cite: Wong M. Damn You Stained Nails! Pt 1: How to prevent staining. Lab Muffin Beauty Science. September 11, 2013. Accessed June 21, 2024. https://labmuffin.com/damn-you-stained-nails-pt-1-how-to-prevent-staining/

I’ve always heard that teal polishes stain nails really bad, but I never really appreciated it until I wore the gorgeous Orly Teal Unreal and ended up with weird patchy stains on my nails, which you may have seen me post on Instagram:

Naturally this weird observation made me want to investigate further!

First up, here’s the breakdown of what I had on my nails to end up with this weird stain effect:

1. DIY PVA base coat
2. Nails Inc Kensington Caviar base coat
3. Orly Teal Unreal (2 coats)
4. Emily de Molly Copper Field (an Australian indie brand which uses suspension base from Beauty World, 1 coat)
5. Essence Gel Look top coat (1 coat)
6. Seche Vite top coat
7. OPI Matte top coat

Quite a lot of possibilities as to what happened, huh? So… I began purposely staining my nails. For Science.

I tried wearing Orly Teal Unreal with Seche Vite top coat, with no base coat, and… negligible additional staining! Huh. So clearly one of the other components had to be causing the terrible staining.

Method and results

Round 1 of the experiment: changing the layers on each nail. I applied the following combinations on the appropriate nail (I tried to keep the left hand quite similar for my stain removal experiment, which I’ll talk about on Friday!). Some of the nails were already patchily stained from the first couple of times I wore Teal Unreal.

Green = applied, red = not applied, period = 2 days:

And the results?

Quite clearly, the right index finger combo (PVA base, no additional base coat) is the worst for staining! On the contrary, simply adding one coat of base prevents staining significantly (compare it with the nails on the left hand), and two coats of regular base coat almost completely prevents staining (compare it with the middle finger on the right hand)!

Essence Gel Look top coat doesn’t seem to make a big difference to staining (compare the thumb with the rest of the fingers on the left hand – unfortunately the ring finger on my right hand was already stained in patches).

Round 2: The next thing I wanted to find out – do any of the other layers make the staining with the PVA base/no regular base combo worse?

Green = applied, red = not applied, period = 4 days:

The results this time:

Total stainage! You can see that the right index finger (which only suffered the 2 day exposure from the last round, but was protected with base coat this time) is slightly less stained than the rest, so time is definitely a factor. None of the other components (Aussie indie suspension base from Beauty World, Seche Vite, Matte top coat) seemed to make a difference to the staining.

Why is PVA so bad?

Like most polish companies, Orly’s ingredients list has the generic base components, plus a heap of pigments and glitters that the different polishes “may contain”, so there’s a bit of guesswork in working out which pigments are actually in each shade. My guess is that it’s CI 77288 (chromium oxide green), properly known as chromium(III) oxide – my experiments with stain removal made me more certain (I’ll talk about this in my stain removal post), plus a comparison of the colour with this franken by Dr Frankenpolish. Additionally, since the stain is the exact same colour as Teal Unreal, it’s probably one ingredient responsible, and not a combination of blue and yellow, like some other brands use (thanks to Tara of Loki’s Lacquer for her input on this!).

Chromium(III) oxide is a teal green, ionic (polar) compound which dissolves in acidic, watery/polar things, but not non-polar things like nail polish (as I’ve mentioned before, polar things dissolve other polar things, and non-polar things dissolve other non-polar things). As you might’ve guessed, PVA is acidic (mine is pH 2-3), and very watery! So my best guess is that over a period of a few days, the bright teal chromium(III) oxide seeps through the watery, acidic PVA and embeds itself into the watery, slightly less acidic nail surface.

On the other hand, base coat is non-watery and non-polar, plus quite non-permeable and not very acidic – the chromium(III) oxide simply can’t get through!

What’s the best way to minimise teals staining?

My conclusion: wear multiple coats of base coat when you’re wearing a stainy-looking teal, or one that you know contains CI 77288. Base coat can prevent staining, even with PVA base!

I hope you enjoyed this post, and it wasn’t too technical or confusing! On Friday, I’ll be sharing my results from my nail unstaining experiment, which I’m sure is the bit you’re all hankering after! Look out for that post 🙂

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50 thoughts on “Damn You Stained Nails! Pt 1: How to prevent staining”

  1. I’ve had my suspicions about PVA base coats letting pigments seep through – thanks for confirming them! Now I know for sure that all I’d need is an extra base coat, and I’m not imagining things. =)

    • I think so, yes! How porous the nail is should make a difference, but I’m guessing that what base coats they use and how heavy-handed they are would make a bigger difference…

  2. I just recently found your blog, and the experimentation approach to finding things that work (and don’t work) is really impressive and helpful! Love it.

    • Interesting! It could perhaps contain a more dilute amount of this pigment, or it could be a different pigment (or blend of pigments) altogether. I know a few people have gotten blue staining from polishes which don’t contain chromium(III) oxide!

  3. This is one of the best blog posts I’ve read anywhere for ages! So informative and really interesting, I had fun reading this and learned a lot 🙂

    • I actually really liked wearing Teal Unreal, despite the staining – it’s gorgeous! It was a pretty good excuse to wear the crap out of it. It’s a great base for a lot of glitters too!

  4. Very interessting and thank you for this report!!

    I found out that my Peel Off Base Coat and a selfmade PVA Coat weren’t exactly the same. I only tried Peel Off Base Coat by Essence. So I can only report about this. First, the drying time was lot of longer with the same thik coat of PVA Glue than using the Base Coat by Essence. And the next, probably more important thing was that my nails looked so terrible after removing the DIY Peel Off Base Coat instead of the bought one. On my nails a had a lot areas where the single layers of one nail detached. On every single nail! It looked so horrible, I decided never ever using PVA glue. I only tried it 2 times. With my Peel Off Base Coat I didn’t have this experience.

    But now I read your report I will look more carefully for differences in staining using this Peel Off Base Coat.

    Thank you!

    • I think it depends a lot on the formula of the PVA you use – I and many people I’ve talked to dilute the PVA with water until it’s as runny as Essence Peel Off Base. I’ve found that my DIY PVA base smells a bit more sour than the Essence stuff, so it’s possible that it’s more acidic than the Essence formula and hence causes more teal staining, but unfortunately I haven’t got any more Essence left for a comparison.

  5. Great post Michelle. Thank you for enduring that horrid staining for our benefit. I’ve been stained using DIY PVA and no base coat with plushes that never normally stain when even worn alone, so I’m in total support of your conclusions. Looking forward to Fridays installment.

  6. So strange! I’ve never had chromium oxide (or hydrated chromium oxide) stain on me, and it’s always been a mixture of lakes (yellow+blue) that stained (makes sense as they have a dye % in them that is not fixed). You can always test this by buying a small amount of hydrated chromium as well as chromium oxide and test them in polish or straight on your nails to see if they are responsible?

    • During the removal process, I accidentally get the chromium(III) to react in a characteriatically chromium way – it’ll all be explained in tomorrow’s post, and it was a bit unnerving, so you’ll see why I won’t be rushing out to buy any chromium compounds 😉

  7. Also, great find about PVA! Maybe it’s worth repeating it with neutralized PVA? (If it’s possible to neutralize it).

    Love this blog. *waves science wand*

  8. Wow! Thanks so much for doing this 🙂 I don’t normally wear pva cause it adheres a bit too well on my nails, but as with most I have found teal polish to be terribly stain-y. I look forward to your removal methods!! Also, most of the Sally Hansen Xtreme Wear polishes seem to be prone to stainage in other shades too if you ever decide to expand the experiment 😉

  9. Great post! I have really learned a lot here. Now I know what to do with staining. Thanks for sharing this info to us. It really helped a lot especially for nail polish addicts like me =)

  10. Wow! This is a perfect post, except that it will make PVA manufacturers all the more unhappy as far as I’m concerned – I don’t like the idea and the feel of PVA onto my porous nails.
    If I owned a cosmetic company (which I don’t), I would hire you as a formulating chemist <3
    Can’t wait for part II!

  11. Thanks for your experiment! We can say that base coat actually works 😀
    But now I’m in kind of a bind, since I’ve used only glue (PVA) as base coat to Essie Naughty Nautical to prevent staining and it worked. I already looked for CI 77288 in its composition and couldn’t find it. This is weird.

    • It might be another pigment rather than CI77288 in Naughty Nautical that gives it the blue-green colour – there are lots out there! I would guess that PVA makes some pigments stain worse (the more acid- and water-soluble ones), and some less (the less acid- and water-soluble ones).

  12. This is a really interesting post Michelle – such great conclusions you came too! Can’t wait to read part 2!

    Do you use PVA glue as a base even when wearing normal nail polish? (I know you used glitter in this experiment but wanted to know if you still use PVA when wearing plain cremes) Wouldn’t it be better to just not wear PVA glue when you’re going to wear teal/green/blue colours to avoid excess stainage?

    • It’s hard to say, because some pigments probably stain worse with PVA, but I’ve also heard that some stain less! Probably due to different interactions of the pigment with the polar and acidic PVA.

      I tend to wear PVA under everything – I often wear a plain creme for a couple days, then add glitter on top for a couple extra days of wear!

  13. Love the experimental procedure, can definitely tell you’re a scientist! The worst staining I’ve had was with OPI ‘Fly’, which strangely enough is teal. Nice to know there’s a reason why the teal polishes stain so bad!

    • Thank you for sharing it, I love doing these sorts of posts but it’s hard to find something where I can control the experiment as much as I’d like, to make a comfortable conclusion – lucky I have ten fingers 🙂


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