How To Get Rid of Yellow Nails So You Can Actually Go Polish-Free

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As nail polish addicts, we can sometimes forget what our nails really look like underneath our perfectly polished manicures. If you’ve ever immediately freaked out after removing your nail polish and finding yellow nails, you’re not alone. It happens to a lot of us. In fact, darker colors or constantly wearing nail polish in general, can lead to yellow nails. Fortunately, it’s nothing you really have to worry about. Your nails might simply need some TLC.

From aggressively rubbing off nail polish to color staining, several factors play a role in why your nails may be damaged – and it’s completely normal! Yellow nails are a common issue and we’ve found plenty of tricks to treat it. SheKnows talked to dermatologists, Dr. Dana Stern and Dr. Joel Schlessinger, along with nail educator Holly L. Schippers, on why yellow nails occur and how to treat them. So, take a look below to see how to start getting your nails back in shape.

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What Causes Yellow Nails?

Dark Nail Polish

Yellow nails are most commonly caused by our beloved nail polish. Darker polishes, in particular, take a toll on your nails, leaving them stained with leftover dyes. The easiest way to prevent this from happening is by always using a clear base coat. Not only does a base coat increase the life of your nail polish, but it also seals and protects the nail plates from staining. We love Essie’s Smooth-e Base Coat for that.

Smooth-E Base Coat$11on Amazon.comBuy now

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Nail Polish Remover

Dr. Dana Stern, a dermatologist who specializes in nails, told SheKnows that polish remover is another common cause of yellow nails. “Polish remover dissolves polish which can result in the migration of pigments that then can leach into the nail plate and result in a yellow discoloration of the nails.”

Smoking Habits

Another big cause of yellow nails is the tar and nicotine from cigarettes. If you are a smoker, the best way to stop the yellowing of your nails is to stop smoking! OK, we know quitting is difficult, but trying is the first step.

Underlying Health Condition

If none of these shoes fit, there could be a medical factor at play, meaning that you may need to get yourself to a dermatologist ASAP. As RealSelf Contributor Dr. Joel Schlessinger said, “Fungal infection is one of the most common causes of yellow nails. Other symptoms include flaking and peeling of the nail, along with an unpleasant odor. As the infection worsens, the nail bed could retract, causing nails to thicken and crumble.” A change in the color of your nails can also be a sign of something more “serious” such as thyroid, liver and lung diseases, as well as nutritional deficiencies like low iron or zinc.

While there are over-the-counter treatments for yellow nails caused by fungal infection, Dr. Schlessinger recommends visiting your dermatologist first. According to him, prescriptions are far more effective than OTC. Plus, if you go to a medical professional, you’ll get a proper diagnosis and the best treatment for your needs.

How to Remove Yellow Nail Stains

Besides ditching cigarettes and using a base coat, use these tricks & tips to get rid of yellow nails:

Lemon juice

Believe it or not, soaking your nails in lemon juice can get rid of yellow stains. All you have to do is keep your nails in water for about 10 to 15 minutes each day until you are happy with the results.

Peroxide and baking soda

Mix 1 tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide with 2-1/2 tablespoons of baking soda in a small bowl. Using a cotton swab, cover your entire fingernail with the paste. Leave this mixture on for three minutes, then rinse. This treatment should be repeated every six to eight weeks.

If you don’t have baking soda on hand, Dr. Schlessinger says water can work just as well: “You can try mixing one part hydrogen peroxide in three parts water to whiten nails. Place the mixture in a small bowl and soak your nails for 10 minutes. Be sure to rinse your nails really well afterward and apply hand cream or cuticle oil.”

Light buffing

The top layer of your nails is where the yellow stains are. By buffing your nails you’ll be able to get rid of the top layers, removing some of the stains. While this method may work, it’s not recommended to constantly buff them because it can lead to weaker nails. “This removes layers of the nail plate and can lead to splitting and peeling,” says Schippers. If you choose to buff your nails, try using a clear strengthening polish after. We recommend OPI’s Nail Envy Nail Strengthener.

OPI Nail Envy Nail Strengthener Original Formula$17.99on Amazon.comBuy now

Take a break

Give your nails a break from polish use. Avoid applying it for two to four weeks so your nails can fully heal.

Best Nail Treatments for Yellow Nails

If you’re looking to conceal yellow nails, try nail whiteners or natural-looking polishes. Dr. Stern specifically recommends nude pink shades that are able to hide the nail yellowing. She adds, “They often have other ingredients that claim to brighten and improve the underlying nail health.”

Courtesy of Barielle.

Courtesy of Butter London.

For the overall health of nails, a water permeable nail polish is the way to go. Also known as breathable nail polish, this type of formula allows water and oxygen to pass through. This allows your nails to stay hydrated and strong.

Courtesy of Orly.

Holly L. Schippers, CND Education Ambassador and Empower Nail Art Lead Educator at FingerNailFixer®, agreed that the best anti-yellowing tip by far is prevention. As she says, “Using a base coat with polishes that need them and the daily application of a high-quality nail oil containing jojoba or squalene will protect the nails from staining.” Although it doesn’t totally stop it, a base coat still adds a layer of protection against the pigmented polish.

Courtesy of Dermelect.

And when all else fails and you can’t get those yellow stains to budge, consider this the perfect excuse to get a professional salon manicure (as if you needed a reason to treat yo’ self). Schippers says, “Usually, there’s a thin film of transparent tissue covering the nail plate, this is the cuticle. Most times, simply having a great salon manicure in which the tech knows the difference between cuticle and eponychium can solve the problem, as when they remove the cuticle the stain goes with it.” She advises, “For at home, a soft manicure brush or old worn toothbrush with some soap and water can lighten the stain.”

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