The next time you go #makeupfree, consider giving your nails a polish time-out as well. Your obsession with getting gel nail-art looks at the salon or rocking a vampy lacquer look is great for the ‘gram, but it also may be compromising the health of your nails. For the most part, wearing nail polish is safe — especially if you pick a nontoxic, five-free formula. But if you notice your tips looking yellow, you need a break.
Jin Soon Choi — a nail pro, a salon owner, and the creator of one of our favorite polish brands — says not to initially panic. “Using nail polish with dark color pigments for an extended time can stain nails yellow,” she said.
Choi also explained why the yellowing happens: “When you have nail polish on for too long, it deprives your nails of oxygen, which exacerbates the yellowing, so make sure to avoid overusing polish and moisturize your nails even while wearing polish.” Your skin gets to take a makeup break while you sleep, but if you always have polish on, your tips don’t get that same benefit. Choi also noted smoking as a cause of yellowing nails.
“To remedy this, simply forgo polish for a while until the nail color returns to normal, or apply a whitening product like baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, or lemon,” she said. “From my experience, it’s best and easiest to use toothpaste that contains a whitening agent.”
To DIY Choi’s lemon hack, soak your fingertips in lemon juice for the citric acid. Then scrub them with a nail brush or an old toothbrush. Other options: saturate cotton balls in lemon juice and place them on your nails, or massage your nails with a lemon slice.
If you haven’t been wearing dark colors or nail polish in general, then your yellow nails could also be a sign of something else. “Yellow nails are the result of a variety of conditions, from topical to internal,” Choi explained. “If the yellowing is a result of overuse of dark nail polish, there is no need to worry. Nails can also turn yellow from fungal infections, or worse, from diabetes, in which case you should seek a doctor’s advice.”
You can blame unsanitary salons for these infections. Choi notes to be sure your technician uses only sterilized tools in a gentle manner. Some salons use sterilizing machines, while others open up a brand-new pack of nail tools for each guest. The safest bet is always to bring your own tools, and then clean them at home.
Blame also falls on your shoulders if you’re a nail picker (you know who you are!). “Do not pull out your hangnails, which can cause infections,” Choi advised.
To fix these very yellow nails, Choi has some easy remedies. “Try to nip it in the bud by applying tea tree oil. Or buff you nails very gently and either soak them in a liquid whitening (bleach) agent like hydrogen peroxide or denture tablets for about three to five minutes and repeat as needed.”
At the end, your nails are telling you something — they need a polish vacation! “The first line of defense is to go polish-free until your nails return to normal color, but this can take a frustratingly long time,” Choi said. “If these natural solutions aren’t effective, it’s best to see a dermatologist.”