Why does nail polish turn my nails yellow?

Sue says… I was wondering why wearing nail polish turns my nails yellow? Also, is there anything we can do to prevent that?

The Right Brain’s polished response:

It’s true, nail polish can turn your nails yellow. Why? There are a couple of reasons:

Color reaction

Some of the darker colored polishes can stain nails due to a chemical reaction between the colorant and the nail plate. This reaction is hard to predict because it doesn’t happen for everybody for every dark color. It can also take a few days to a few weeks to occur.


It’s also possible that formaldehyde (one of the ingredients in many nail polishes) is causing the problem. This chemical can react with the keratin protein in your nails and make it brittle and yellow.

Medical issues

Finally, if your nails are really yellowed and disfigured, you may have a nail infection or a more serious medical condition known as Yellow Nail Syndrome.

So what can you do about it? Read on!

Tips for non-yellowing nails:

  • Don’t try to scrape off the stained area because it will damage and weaken the nail.
  • Stay away from dark colors (which will greatly reduce your fashion options)
  • Wear a base coat to protect your nails from staining (this makes sense to us)
  • Look for nail polishes that don’t have formaldehyde on the ingredient list. (There’s no guarantee that this will work but hey, it beats this next tip we found from one of the nail polish companies from which is…
  • Wear gloves (now there’s a practical idea!)
  • Stop wearing polish and wait for your nails to grow out. (Also not too practical, this could take 4 to 6 months.)
  • Soak your nails in 1/2 cup of water and juice of one lemon for up to 15 minutes, once a week, according to Sally Hanson. (We’re skeptical if this works but you can always add some sugar and just drink it as lemonade.)
  • Buy only yellow shades of polish so you can’t tell if your nails are stained or not. (Sorry, just kidding on that one.)

The Beauty Brains bottom Line:

Nail polish can stain your nails yellow but by choosing the right shades, using a protective base coat, and drinking a lot of lemonade while wearing gloves, you should be able to control the problem.