Hold Up—Is Nail Polish Turning My Toenails Yellow?

Close up of a woman getting a pedicure

Javier Díez / Stocksy

Between soaking our feet, filing calluses, trimming nails and cuticles, scrubbing away any rough spots, and finally finishing with a coat of nail polish, a lot goes into a pedicure (and keeping our feet clean and happy in general).

Though most people won’t turn down a soothing foot massage, some aren’t as enthusiastic about that nail polish step. That’s because, although nail polish is often considered the perfect final touch, some people are worried about its not-so-pretty consequences: specifically whether or not it can cause yellow toenails. So we went to board-certified dermatologists Kim Nichols, MD, FAAD, and Anar Mikailov, MD, FAAD, for the definitive answer.

Read on to learn whether nail polish can indeed cause yellow toenails and how to keep your toenails fresh and healthy.

Meet the Expert

  • Kim Nichols, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of NicholsMD.
  • Anar Mikailov, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of Skintensive.

Can Nail Polish Cause Yellow Toenails?

Unfortunately yes, nail polish can cause yellow toenails. “In fact, excessive nail polish use and fungal infections are the most likely causes of yellow toenails,” says Nichols. “In addition, changes to the color and thickness of toenails may also be a result of the natural aging process.” 

Darker nail polish colors like red, orange, black, and blue are more likely to stain nails and leave behind a yellow hue, according to Mikailov. “The pigments sometimes react with the top layer of the nail plate, creating a yellow stain,” he says. “It should go away by itself after a few days if your nails are kept bare.”

Why Does Nail Polish Cause Yellow Toenails?

Some nail polishes are formulated with harsh chemicals that can react with the keratin proteins in nails, causing them to appear yellow, Nichols explains. But don’t panic: “Although these yellow nails can be unsightly to look at, they are generally harmless and not a cause for concern,” she adds. 

Are There Other Causes For Yellow Toenails?

According to Mikailov, the most common causes of yellow toenails are:

  • Nail polish
  • Fungal infections

He tells us there are other causes, however, including:

  • Aging
  • Thyroid conditions
  • Diabetes
  • Conditions associated with jaundice

Yellow toenails can also signal a more serious medical condition like rheumatoid arthritis, liver problems, or psoriasis. If your nails remain yellow without polish use, Mikailov recommends seeing a medical professional. 

How to Prevent Yellow Toenails

If nail polish is causing your yellow toenails, no longer using it should solve the problem. “If yellow toenails are related to a fungal infection, the use of antifungals (either topical or oral) can help to prevent and reduce discoloration overall,” Nichols adds. 

How to Get Rid of Yellow Toenails

  • Focus on prevention: “Focusing on the source of color change is key to treating yellow toenails overall,” Nichols says. “For example, if yellow toenails are secondary to a medical condition, it is important to treat the medical condition. Otherwise, taking a break from nail polish on the toes may prevent further discoloration.” 
  • Switch up your nail routine: Using a base coat may help reduce the staining from nail polish. Another option is to choose a lighter nail polish color that isn’t as prone to staining the nails. If your yellow nails are only due to staining from nail polish, try a nail stain remover, such as ORLY's Cutique ($13), or scrub them with a whitening toothpaste that contains peroxide.  
  • Try an at-home remedy: A few at-home remedies can help mellow out that yellow. Try a topical application of vinegar, incorporating plenty of vitamin E into your diet, and a warm baking soda soak, to name a few, advises Nichols. 
  • See your doctor: In the case of yellow toenails caused by a fungal infection, Mikailov advises seeing a medical professional for an anti-fungal treatment and prevention tips. “You can get fungal infections at nail salons that aren’t properly sterilizing their equipment,” he cautions. 

The Final Takeaway

Try the remedies mentioned above and stick to lighter nail polish colors until that yellow fades. If you’ve tried all of the above options, but your toenails still have a yellow hue, it’s time to seek out the pros. “See a medical professional to treat the underlying condition first,” Mikailov advises.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Yellow nail syndrome: what it is, causes & treatment. Cleveland Clinic.

  2. What can you do about yellow nails?

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