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Why You Should Give your Toenails a Break from Polish This Summer

Updated: Jun 28, 2020


With summer quickly approaching, you may be craving a pedicure in preparation for sandal-wearing weather. I can understand wanting your nails to look their best while they are on display, but whether you give yourself a pedicure at home or go to the nail salon, it is a good idea to give your nails a break in between applications of nail polish.


Nails are technically dead skin cells and therefore don’t “breathe”. They do, however, receive nutrients and oxygen through the bloodstream via tiny capillaries, which are small blood vessels that run underneath the nail plate. Nails are made of the protein keratin which is the same protein found in your hair and skin. It may be surprising to you that the nail you see consists of dead cells, which is why it doesn’t hurt to cut your nails. However, nails start growing underneath the skin in the nail matrix which contains the “living” keratin cells. As new cells grow, they push the old cells outward through your skin, forming the nail plate that you do see.


The Damaging Effects of Keeping Nail Polish on Too Long


While your nails appear hard and firm, they are far from impermeable. In fact, your nails are more permeable than your skin. The top layers of the toenail will absorb the pigment and chemicals from the nail polish that can dry out the nail itself. When this happens, the nail plate becomes more susceptible to infection by fungus, yeast, bacteria and mold which can get trapped underneath the nail plate, leading to long-term problems.


I always recommend to my patients that while it’s okay to have your toenails painted (nail salon cleanliness aside- that’s a different subject for a different day), it is best to remove the polish after 2-3 weeks and go without polish for the same amount of time. You might want to think twice about the pedicure that lasts for weeks on end.


If you remove the toenail polish, and your nails appear stained, yellowed, or have a white chalky appearance, you can take steps to improve your nail health.


How to Care for Your Nails


If your toenails appear brittle, dry, or cracked from long-term nail polish use, you may try rubbing Vitamin E oil or Coconut oil into the bare nail and cuticles to moisturize them. Allow it to absorb and dry fully before wearing socks or shoes. Do not apply nail polish during this time. In some cases, nails that are discolored, thickened or cracked may be signs of a fungal infection. If you are not sure what the cause of your nail discoloration is, it is best to see a podiatrist for an evaluation. Taking biotin supplements can also help to strengthen nails and hair, and promote growth, but it does take time. Fingernails grow a lot faster than toenails; toenails grow about 1mm each month, and can take up to a year to fully grow out.


Aside from the chemicals in the nail polish itself, the main ingredient in many nail polish removers- acetone- can be extremely harsh and damaging to the nail plate. This is another reason to avoid having your nails painted too frequently. It is best to use acetone-free nail polish removers.


Discoloration caused by long-term polish use will generally resolve with time if the nails are left in its natural state. You can use a nail file to gently buff off the top layer of nail to lessen discoloration, but it will not remove severe discoloration or an underlying toenail condition. Steer clear of aggressive buffing techniques and avoiding picking or peeling off nail polish which can damage the nail plate further.


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