Q&A: Why does nail polish stain your nails yellow?

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Q: Why does nail polish stain your nails yellow?

A: As you might’ve guessed, it’s the coloured pigments in the nail polish! Generally, the pattern is that the staining is darker at the tip and fades towards the cuticle. It’s a bigger problem when the dyes are dissolved rather than suspended in the polish (e.g. with stearalkonium hectorite).

If you’ve worn polish only for a week (snort), the colour should fade in two weeks after you remove your polish. If you’re more impatient, you can try scraping the top of your nail off, since the colour sinks in from the top, but be careful as this will weaken your nail! There are also a bunch of whitening products on the market, but for most of us die-hard polish addicts, the only real solution once your nail is stained is to wait for it to grow out (or cover it up!).

To prevent staining, you should use a base coat, and try to avoid polishes containing the dyes that tend to penetrate your nail the worst. Have you noticed that your nails always end up yellow-orange, and never blue or green? The reason is that certain dyes sink into your nails more. Common culprits are D&C Red Nos 6, 7 and 34, and FD&C Yellow No 5 Lake.

Have you got any tips for unyellowing your nails? Share them in the comments! πŸ™‚

References

P D Samman, Nail disorders caused by external influences. J Soc Cosmet Chem 1977, 28, 351.
R Baran and J AndrΓ©, Side effects of nail cosmetics. J Cosmet Dermatol 2005, 4, 204.

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34 thoughts on “Q&A: Why does nail polish stain your nails yellow?”

  1. I always thought a good base coat was what stopped yellowing. Thanks for confirming! I’ve wondered though, why do brands sell anti-yellow topcoat though? Am I misunderstanding and is there a different type of yellowing? Just curious!

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  2. Thanks, interesting post, especially about which colours are the worse. My favourtie way to un-yellow my nails is to have a quick little scrub on top of my nails with an old toothbursh, and a paste make using bicarb soda and some peroxide.

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  3. Because of ridges I alway use ridge filler base coats, and I found that those that have a bit of “flesh” color often make the staining worse. At the moment I’m using Nail Tek Ridge-Filling Base Coat Foundation I, and I have the less stained nails for a long while…

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    • Mmm yes, I bet they often use some of those reds and yellows to make that “flesh” colour! I wonder if it’s possible to incorporate peroxide into a base coat without it bleaching the polish on top…

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  4. I always use a base coat and don’t often get staining. If I know (from blog reviews) that a polish is a stainer I use 2 coats of base coat πŸ™‚ I’ve been using Sally Hansen Double Duty but lately I’m getting bubbling in all my polishes so I’m going to try a different base coat.
    When I do get staining I find brushing my nails with whitening toothpaste works really well.

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  5. Good post…I especially like your sad yellow fingers picture πŸ™‚ I just started noticing my nails are getting a lil bit of yellow stain, but its good to know that my favorite shades, purples and silver/gunmetal dont really stain as much πŸ™‚

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    • Yay! πŸ™‚ Unfortunately green will always be my favourite… maybe they should invent a blue polish that stains, so that the yellow will be neutralised, like in laundry detergents? πŸ˜›

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    • Funny story. I recently purchased Nicole by OPI’s Iceberg Lotus (it’s a greenish teal color) and I wore it for about 3 days without basecoat. After I removed it I was shocked to find my nails stained a greenish blue color. My mom noticed them and thought my fingers under my nails weren’t getting blood flow. So I have officially found you a polish that noticeably dyes you nails blue.

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    • earlier this week I used a fairly cheep blue nail polish, it was New York Colors- Skin tight Denim. It stained my nails a blueish purple color. I’ve noticed most cheep polishes stain your nails no matter what color they are.

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  6. I must just be weird, because the only polish that has ever stained my nails was OPI Russian Navy! I’ve never had any problems with yellow nails, although I don’t wear polish very often.

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    • I think Russian Navy has a bit of yellow pigment in it, since it’s such a warm blue colour! My nails have improved a lot since I started using basecoat πŸ™‚

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  7. hi! I use hydrogen peroxide at 6% (20-vol), just use a cottom swab to coat your nails on it and leave it there for 2-3 min, but don’t overstay it ’cause it can “burn” your skin after too long, once I even got burn blisters in my cuticles!!
    I do this everytime I use red polish and works very well! =)

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  8. I used a dark green from Wet and Wild and ended up with yellow nails. On a friend’s advice I tried soaking my nails in warm water with a couple of denture quick-cleaning tablets. After about ten minutes the stains were significantly reduced.

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  9. My nails are still yellow green after a matte nail polish and its been 3 weeks… it looks like I’m a heavy smoker or something

    Reply

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