I Tried a Nail Brightener To Revive My Dull, Yellow Nails—Now I’m a Convert

sheer manicure


Dull, yellow nails are a common concern, especially after a manicure. But luckily, nail discoloration can often be addressed with the proper treatments. Using nail brighteners, specifically, can help improve dullness and yellowing. Ahead, nail experts break down the benefits of nail brighteners and how to use them.

Meet the Expert

What Does a Nail Brightener Do?

"A nail brightener is a nail treatment designed to help reduce the yellow discoloration that commonly results from wearing nail polish and/or using products that contain formaldehyde or acetone," explains Dr. King. "Oxidizing agents like citric acid can serve as a natural bleach. Gentle exfoliation from chemical exfoliants such as malic, glycolic, and lactic acids can help facilitate the lightening process. Ingredients that offer UV protection and antioxidant properties can help protect the nails from UV radiation, which can contribute to yellowing." 

Essentially, you can think of nail brighteners as filters for your tips, almost like concealer. Not only do they serve as a quick fix, but they can also ensure bright nails in the future. "The Olive & June Nail Brightener instantly brightens stained and discolored nails," Van Iderstine says. "It also ensures new nail growth isn't stained by protecting from new polish or environmental stains. In addition, its pearlescent shimmer finish illuminates and conceals imperfections."

How Do You Use a Nail Brightener?

The application process is easy. Start by prepping your nails, then apply a thin coat of nail brightener. Once the product dries, you can apply a second coat if desired. To finish, apply a top coat.

If you want to add more color, you can wear regular nail polish over a nail brightener. “Nail brighteners can be used as a base coat under polish to prevent staining of the nail plate,” Guerrero says. 

How often you should apply nail brighteners varies based on the formula. “It depends on the nail brightener being used,” Guerrero says. “Some products are designed to be used once a week, while Dermelect Luminous Nail Brightener + Perfector can be used as needed.” 

My Review

After back-to-back gel manis and sporting nail wraps, my nails needed a little TLC. So I painted on Olive & June The Nail Brightener ($14) and instantly adored its opalescent effect. If you want more of that, do two coats as I did. The slight tint gives nails a purplish, pinky, blue glow—consider it between a clear and shimmer polish. That also means it’s good for hiding damage if you’ve picked off a gel mani (even though we know you know better). 

the author wearing Olive & June The Nail Brightener

Celia Shatzman

“Our Nail Brightener works by instantly brightening stained and discolored nails with a pearly shimmer finish and UV filters that absorb and reflect blue light, concealing the appearance of stained yellow nails,” Van Iderstine explains. “Nail Brightener contains lemon peel and extract that can help brighten and conceal stains.” 

I also tried the Butter London Mellow The Yellow Nail Brightening Treatment ($18), which dried super-fast and had that “your nails but better” effect. It made my nails appear more even-toned and canceled out the yellow in the whites of the nails. It has a subtle sheen, like a low-key clear nail polish, that’s very natural looking. It has the slightest hint of shimmer but is almost imperceptible when it dries, so it looks natural. One coat was enough for me to get the glow I desired, but if you want to up the shimmer, apply more coats. 

the author wearing Butter London Mellow The Yellow Nail Brightening Treatment

Celia Shatzman

"Butter London's Mellow the Yellow contains lemon fruit extract, which contains citric acid that can act as a natural bleach or oxidizing agent," Dr. King says. "Titanium dioxide and zinc sulfate offer physical sun protection, and etocrylene is a UV absorber. And vitamin E offers antioxidant protection. The gentle exfoliation it provides from malic acid, glycolic acid, and lactic acid can also help facilitate the lightening process." 

As someone who is rarely without bare nails, these nail brighteners are a game-changer for me. Whenever I feel like skipping polish, I know these brightening treatments will help keep my nails look shiny, healthy, and new.

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