It happens to the best of us. You take your nail polish off, only to reveal yellow-orange stains underneath. What's going on?! The good news is that your nails are probably totally fine. But if you want to remedy the situation now and prevent staining in the future, there are a few things you can do.
Shop TODAY consulted a few pros to find out what causes nail staining, how to prevent it and what you can do to restore your nails to their unblemished glory. I also sprinkled in a few of my favorite products as a nail polish enthusiast who owns hundreds of polishes, has tried dozens of nail care products and paints their nails multiple times a week.
How to avoid nail staining, according to experts
Use a base coat
One of the easiest ways to prevent stains from wearing nail polish is to apply a protective base coat. “It’s always best to start with a base coat, as it creates a barrier between the polish and your natural nail bed,” says Rachel Apfel Glass, founder of GLOSSLAB, a membership-based nail studio.
For particularly pigmented polishes, consider applying two layers of base coat for added protection.
I have three unopened backup bottles of this base coat on hand at all times because it is my all-time favorite. Not only does it help my manicures last longer and protect my nails from staining, it also has a wide flat brush that makes application a breeze.
Bonus: according to the brand, all of their polishes are cruelty-free and made with non-toxic ingredients.
Choose lighter, less pigmented shades
If your nails are prone to staining, you'll want to avoid highly pigmented shades. “You can avoid staining by choosing lighter, more neutral polishes or sheer polishes,” says Olivia Van Iderstine, vice president of content and creative at nail brand Olive & June. “Shades like red, orange and brown are more likely to cause stains, as well as super dark shades with a lot of pigment in them.”
This sheer ballet pink polish is beautiful worn on its own for a soft, your-nails-but-better look. It also makes a lovely base for nail art.
Moisturize before removing nail polish
If you’ve removed red nail polish at home, you already know that if you’re not careful, you can stain your fingers and cuticles pink — not ideal.
To help prevent this from happening, moisturize your hands and cuticles before removal. “Applying some hydration around your nails with [a] cuticle balm creates a balmy barrier around the skin and can help prevent your cuticles from getting stained when removing nail polish,” Van Iderstine says. “Bonus — it’s a great nourishing treatment! Keeping your cuticles hydrated will also prevent staining, as dry skin is more porous and more likely to trap stains.”
This soothing, hydrating cuticle serum can help prevent staining if applied before polish removal. I also apply it several times a day to keep my manicure looking fresh and my nails healthy and hydrated. I keep one at my desk and one in my purse, plus extras on standby.
Editor's note: This recommendation was made based on personal experience and is independent of Van Iderstine's relationship to the brand.
When removing polish, pull it away from your cuticles
Always pull your nail polish remover-soaked cotton ball or cotton pad away from your cuticles and toward the end of your finger. Rubbing in circular motions may be a more efficient method for removal, but for pigmented shades, this can increase the likelihood of polish getting on your skin and cause staining.
If you’re using a remover pot (where you dip your finger into a sponge soaked with nail polish remover), Van Iderstine recommends holding your nail in there for several seconds to let the removal liquid work its magic.
“When you remove the nail from the sponge pot, you’ll find the polish comes off easier and won’t require so many dips and turns, [the act] which makes staining more likely,” she explains.
This award-winning remover is the only one I use (other than straight acetone for cleaning up my cuticle line), and it’s a cult favorite for a reason. The three-in-one formula removes polish, conditions the nail and preps it for polish application. It’s gentle but effective and even has a nice scent.
Meet the experts
- Rachel Apfel Glass is the founder of GLOSSLAB, a subscription-based nail studio with locations in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Florida, Texas, Washington, D.C. and Maryland.
- Olivia Van Iderstine is the vice president of content and creative for nail brand, Olive & June.
- Dr. Kiran Mian, DO, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist at Hudson Dermatology & Laser Surgery in New York City.