How Nail Polish Affects Nails + 15 Steps to Healthy Nails!

Pretty feet and toenails | 15 Steps to Beautiful, Healthy Nails! | Masterpiece Skin Restoration

Nail Polish Affects Nails!

Oh, how I love nail polish! When my little girls and I go to Sephora, they apply a different color polish to each finger. It’s VERY colorful!

I especially love how long enamel looks good on my toes. But I noticed my toenails were turning yellow with white spots. They looked awful! All I wanted to do was cover them with more polish. It made me wonder how nail polish affects nails. I did some research and here's what I found.

Our nails are made from hardened, laminated layers of a protein called keratin. The keratin, which is also found in skin and hair, allows water to pass through.

Your nails grow from the matrix, at base of the nail underneath the cuticle. As new cells are formed, older cells get pushed out and compacted. Eventually they become your flattened, hardened nail.

Nails are a Window to Your Health

  • Healthy fingernails and toenails are smooth and uniform in color and consistency.
  • It takes about 6 months for a fingernail to grow in completely. Men’s grow more quickly than women’s.
  • Some fingernails get vertical ridges that run from the cuticle to the tip of the nail. They're harmless, but become more noticeable with age.
  • Nails can also get temporary white lines or spots from an injury. Typically they grow out as your nail grows.
Changes in your fingernails or toenails can mean something is wrong with your nails – or your health.
  • Yellow can indicate a fungal infection or diabetes.
  • Pitting is common in people with psoriasis.
  • Clubbing (when the tips of the fingers enlarge and nails curve around the fingertips) can be the result of lung disease.
  • In yellow nail syndrome, nails thicken, yellow and new growth slows. It can be a sign of a lung disease, like chronic bronchitis, or lymphedema (or a swelling of the hands).

Most nail discoloration is caused by nail polish. Red polishes cause the most yellowing. People with porous nails get more yellowing because the pigment in polish easily penetrates the nail. Even more pigments leach into the nail when nail polish remover dissolves polish. Fortunately, taking a break from polish will let your nails return to their natural color.

Chemicals Damage Nails

Nail cells are damaged with frequent or prolonged exposure to some chemicals.

  • The solvents in polish remover - and acetone especially - dry out nails and cuticles.
  • If you use polish remover frequently, it can create an uneven surface, making your nail more prone to peeling, splitting, and breaking.
  • The alcohol in hand sanitizers causes nail weakness and dryness.
  • Your nail cells absorb water. They're forced into a constant state of contraction and expansion as the water content in them changes. Therefore, frequent exposure to water weakens your nails and eventually leads to breaks.
spilled nail polish, pinks, blues and reds | 15 Steps to Beautiful, Healthy Nails! | Masterpiece Skin Restoration

When you leave polish on for a long time, (like I did with my toes) the polish and remover strip away the superficial layers of your nail. It leaves white patches called keratin granulation, which are surface irregularities. With time, they do grow out and fade - but it takes a long time. Gel manicures are famous for causing nail thinning.

Did you know that nail polish was adapted from the automobile industry?  High gloss car paint was created in 1920. Michelle Manard, a French make up artist, adapted the car paint formula into something similar to the nail polish we use today. Then Charles Revson, the founder of Revlon, saw an opportunity to make money and worked hard to perfect the formula. Using Manard’s idea, he was able to create an opaque, non-streaking, pigment based nail polish.

woman's hands with blue polish holding a coffee mug | 15 Steps to Beautiful, Healthy Nails! | Masterpiece Skin Restoration

Because resin coats the nail using the same technology as automobile paint, water and oxygen cannot get through traditional nail polish. Now newer “breathable” formulas have been created using resins similar to the ones used in contact lenses. They may be a healthier alternative to traditional nail polish because they allow oxygen and water to permeate through to your nail.

Some Nail Care Products Contain Toxic Ingredients

Nail polish affects nails and your health. Many polishes contain formaldehyde, toluene and dibutyl phthalate. These ingredients have been linked to miscarriages, birth defects, cancer and lung disease.

One study conducted by Duke University and the Environmental Working Group found that triphenyl phosphate can be absorbed by the body. This ingredient, which is commonly used in polish, is thought to disrupt hormones and has been tied to early onset puberty and obesity.

Of all the chemicals used in personal care products, only 11% have been checked for safety. FDA regulations essentially say that proof of harm must be shown before regulations are put into place.

How Does the FDA Regulate Personal Care & Nail Products?

This excerpt from an article by Elizabeth Grossman on explains it really well:

“Reliance on voluntary measures is a hallmark of the U.S. approach to chemical regulation. In many cases, when it comes to eliminating toxic chemicals from U.S. consumer products, manufacturers’ and retailers’ own policies — often driven by consumer demand or by regulations outside the U.S. or at the state and local level — are moving faster than U.S. federal policy. On June 3, the California-based health-care company Kaiser Permanente announced that all its new furniture purchases — worth $30 million annually — would be free of chemical flame retardants. The same day, Panera Bread announced that the food served in its 1,800 bakery-cafés would be free of artificial additives by the end of 2016. Any number of large manufacturing companies and retailers — Nike, Walmart, Target, Walgreens, Apple and HP to name but a few — have policies barring chemicals from their products that U.S. federal law does not restrict.”

“This is also true of a number of cosmetic ingredients — for example, chemicals used in nail polish. After the EU banned a plasticizer called dibutyl phthalate from nail polish due to concerns over potential endocrine-disrupting and other adverse health effects in 2004, many global brands changed their ingredients. So while the FDA has not issued a regulation on its use, DBP is now found in fewer nail cosmetics sold in the U.S. In fact, the FDA actually bars only a specific handful of ingredients from cosmetics due to their toxicity.”

closeup of woman's hand with french manicure | 15 Steps to Beautiful, Healthy Nails! | Masterpiece Skin Restoration
Some polish manufacturers have started making water based polishes.

In response to people's health concerns, some - but not all - polish manufacturers have started making water based polishes. They're free of petrochemical solvents. Sally Hansen, OPI and Orly recently phased out many of the dangerous ingredients in their formulas.

Unfortunately, some products still contain harmful ingredients so it's important for you as a consumer to check product labels for these ingredients. You can also check or the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database.

10 Best Practices to Keep You & Your Nails Healthy:

1. Keep your nails clean and dry to prevent bacterial growth beneath the nail.

2. Use gloves when washing dishes, cleaning or using harsh chemicals.

3. When trimming, use sharp scissors or a clipper to trim your nails straight across. Then round the edges into a gentle curve.

4. Care for your cuticles daily. Massage a moisturizing oil #ad or cream into the cuticle then gently push it back. DO NOT cut your cuticles! They protect your nail from yeast, bacteria, and fungus. Damage to the cuticle can affect nail growth and cause ridges, depressions and discoloration. Caring for your cuticles also minimizes hangnails. I've been using an Argan oil #ad on my cuticles for a couple of years now. It's made a BIG difference!

5. Use a moisturizing hand cream with SPF 30 or more daily. Rub it into your hands AND nails and cuticles too.

6. Drink plenty of water to keep your skin and nails well hydrated.

7. Ask your doctor about taking a biotin supplement. Taking biotin will help to strengthen nails and promote growth, but it’s no quick fix.

“Since fingernails grow out every 4-6 months (toes every 12 months), biotin should be taken for at least that length of time to see any results.”

- Dr. Dana Stern, Dermatologist and Nail Specialist.

8. Consider skipping polish altogether. A buffer can give you a high gloss finish. Then top with cuticle oil to seal in moisture and get a beautiful, natural look. The FAB Nails Glass File & Buff #ad gets great reviews on Amazon.

9. Avoid nail biting. It can damage your nail bed.

10. Avoid pulling off hangnails. Instead use a sterilized cuticle scissor or clipper to cut the hangnail off. Ripping off hangnails can lead to an infection called paronychia.

bare legs running through blue surf | 15 Steps to Beautiful, Healthy Nails! | Masterpiece Skin Restoration

6 Tips if You're Not Ready to Give Up Polish:

1. Choose products made by companies known for their focus on health.

2. Avoid products that contain formaldehyde, toluene and phthalates.

3. Limit use of polish removers. Stick with acetone-free formulas.

4. Avoid peeling off polish. Peeling your polish causes white patches and an uneven nail surface.

5. Consider giving your nails a 3 week break from polish – a break each winter would be even better! Peeling, dryness, discoloration, and ridging mean your nails need polish free time to repair and regenerate nail cells.

6. DO NOT IGNORE PROBLEMS. If you notice a problem that doesn’t go away on its own OR that has additional signs and symptoms, please see a doctor. Changes in color, shape, separation of the nail from the skin, bleeding around the nail and swelling or pain around the nail can indicate a problem.

You might also like this post, How to Get Longer Stronger Nails! I wish you beautiful skin & nails! Thanks for reading!

Head shot, Amy Takken, RN & Founder, Masterpiece Skin Restoration

Amy Takken, RN

Amy Takken is a registered nurse with 20+ years of experience helping people improve their health. Her in-depth skincare articles have been featured on Nazarian Plastic Surgery and The Palm Beach Center for Facial Plastic & Laser Surgery. She's also been quoted on

Amy loves research and constantly watches for new products and treatments to help you improve your skin’s health – because healthy skin is beautiful! To reach Amy, visit our contact page.

Masterpiece Skin Restoration is your online resource for all things medical aesthetics, skincare, beauty, and wellness. We keep you up to date on leading edge technology and the services available to help you restore your natural beauty.

We have all the information you need to restore your skin.

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References:  What Are Fingernails?


The Information provided on our website is not medical advice and should not be viewed as such. By law, only a medical doctor can diagnose or give medical advice. As a registered nurse, my goal is to educate, so I provide information on skin care, skin care products, and skin care treatments. If you have any condition that concerns you, please see a medical doctor. While most skin conditions are benign, some – like melanoma – can be deadly. If there is any doubt, please, please consult your physician. Thank you!

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