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Why Do Nails Turn Yellow

Why Do Nails Turn Yellow

By: Edd Staton

Americans spend billions of dollars each year on their nails, both for products and services. With that much money changing hands, it is apparent that attractive nails are considered an important part of our hygiene and appearance.

Nail anatomy

The nails on our fingers and toes protect us when we’re walking or grasping objects. They are thickly packed epidermis cells, the same ones that make up our skin. But since they are dead cells that are filled with a protein called keratin, we feel no pain when they are trimmed. It takes a full six months for each nail to grow in completely, although men’s nails grow more quickly than women’s. Since they are made up of epidermis cells, nails need oxygen to stay healthy, and therein lies one of the main reason that nails can turn yellow.

The problem with polish

When your nails are always covered with polish, they can become yellow from lack of exposure to oxygen. A bigger potential problem is your choice of color. Because nails absorb not only oxygen but also liquid, the pigment from your nail polish can cause staining.

Shades of red are by far the most popular nail polish color. Many manufacturers use iron oxide to produce the shades of red in their polish. Perhaps you have noticed stains in the porcelain sink of an old house that is plumbed with iron pipes. This is due to rust in the water running through those old pipes that is absorbed by the porcelain material. The same thing might happen with your nails. The keratin can absorb the iron oxide from your polish and cause discoloration. The deeper the shade of red, the greater the possibility of staining.

Formaldehyde is a common ingredient in nail polish of all colors. Sometimes this chemical can react with the keratin in your nails to produce yellowing.

Will a base coat help?

The main reason for using a clear base coat on your nails is to create a perfectly smooth surface before applying the polish. However, if this first coat is applied thickly enough it can serve as protection against absorption of pigment.

What about nail polish remover?

The solvent in nail polish remover can damage the skin around your nails but will not by itself cause nails to yellow. Your best practice is to frequently change cotton balls while using polish remover.

Medical reasons for yellowing nails

Although medical problems are not the most common causes of yellow nails, there are several underlying medical issues that may be the culprit. A nail fungal infection will cause discoloration, and over time the nail thickens and even has an unpleasant odor. Both oral and topical medications can eliminate this problem, but it takes months for the nail to look normal again. Smoking, psoriasis, diabetes, peripheral edema and nutritional deficiencies are other potential medical reasons for yellowing nails.

Bottom line

If you are in good health, yellowing nails will likely be caused by your nail polish. Consider switching to a lighter shade, use a base coat and remove your polish regularly.

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