top of page

5 Signs of Toenail Damage From Nail Polish and Pedicures

Updated: Jul 8, 2023

toenaill damage from nail polish

Nail polish has long been a popular choice throughout human history, dating back to at least 3000 BCE as a form of fashion, self-expression, adornment, and more. And pedicures are a fun way how many people choose to unwind, pamper themselves, and practice self-care. While many of us love vibrant colors, nail art, and glossy, glittery, holographic, or jelly finishes (myself included) or nail polish, it's important to know about the risk of nail damage happening over time from improper nail prep, nail polish wear, and removal. But no worries, also I will include some tips to help keep your toenails beautiful and healthy while wearing nail polish

Yellow toenails

One of the most common signs of toenail damage from nail polish is yellowing of the toenails. This actually has a name and is also called Yellow Nail Syndrome. Certain pigments and chemicals found in nail polish can cause the toenails to turn yellow, or stain the toenails altogether. Also, some people will keep nail polish on for weeks longer than they should, even months. This can lead to yellow nail syndrome, as well as increase your risk for toenail fungus keeping the same nail polish on for that length of time. To keep this from happening, it's important to use a base coat before applying nail polish to create a barrier between the pigments in the nail polish and your natural nail. Also, be sure to remove your nail polish in a decent time frame.

Brittle or weak toenails

If you see that your toenails are becoming brittle or weak, it's possible that this could be caused by the nail polish that you're wearing, especially if you do your nails regularly. The constant wearing of nail polish, especially without proper nail care, like base coats, nail treatments, or just moisturizing your toenails, can lead to dehydrated or dry toenails, making them more fragile, and increasing the risk of them breaking. Another reason for weak or brittle toenails could possibly not even be the nail polish itself, but the prep to apply certain types of nail polish, especially gel polish, dip power, acrylics, and more. A lot of times with these more advanced services, the toenail has to be "roughed up" by filing either with an electric file or emery board in order for these polymers to stick to the natural nail. This will lead to weak and brittle toenails. To maintain strong and healthy toenails, it's important to allow them to "breathe" by giving them a break, and going polish-free for a few days between applications, or switching from gel, acrylic, and dip powder nails back to your regular nail polish. Also, be sure to use a good cuticle oil regularly. This can help keep your toenails hydrated and strong.

Peeling or Splitting

toenail damage from nail polish

Another sign of toenail damage from nail polish is seeing peeling or splitting on the nail. Constantly using nail polish removers, which often contain harsh, drying, chemicals including acetone, can strip away your toenail's natural oils and make them weak. This can lead to the toenails peeling or splitting., nail prep for acrylics, dip powder, and gel nails by filing the nail bed can lead to peeling or splitting of the toenails. Also, improper removal of nail polish, or polymers by picking, or peeling at your toenails will lead to peeling and splitting of the natural nail. Opt for acetone-free nail polish remover to help prevent your toenails from peeling or splitting. Do not pick at your old nail color in an attempt to remove it. And definitely never pop off acrylics, gel nails, or dip nails. Gently soak them off instead.

Nail Thinning

Nail thinning is a less obvious but significant sign of damage caused by nail polish. Constantly applying multiple coats of nail polish, and again aggressive, improper prep for acrylic, gel nails, or nail tips, can result in the nails becoming thinner over time. Having thin toenails increases your risk of contracting nail fungus, as well as just the toenails also splitting, breaking, or constantly bending back on themselves. To prevent this, it's a good idea to limit the number of coats applied and remove the polish gently using non-acetone removers. Try out other options for getting your nails done as well like natural nail polish without the polymers in gel or acrylic nails.

Allergic Reactions

Some people might actually end up with an allergic reaction to some ingredients that are in nail polish. These ingredients include formaldehyde, toluene, or dibutyl phthalate. Signs of an allergic reaction include redness in fairer skin, darkening of the skin in those with more melanin, swelling, itching, and a rash around the toenail area. Inflammation of the nail bed, and surrounding skin of the nail over time can cause darkening, and thickening of your toenails. If you ever start to experience any of these symptoms, it's important to stop using the nail polish and see your local podiatrist or foot doctor for treatment.


toenail damage from nail polish

Nail polish and pedicures can be a fun way to express your individuality, and practice self-care, but it's also important to know the possible risks with both, and the signs of toenail damage. By having good toenail care practices, using quality products, the having right type of toenail prep for polish/pedicure, and allowing the toenails to breathe between polish sessions or other pedicure services, you can still have healthy and beautiful toenails. You don't have to give up nail polish entirely, but finding the right products and pedicure practices that will allow your toenails to thrive underneath is key.

Looking for a foot dr or podiatrist in the Phoenix area? My name is Dr. Tarr, and I'm the owner of Direct Podiatry Arizona in Tempe, AZ. To book an appointment, click here:

2,834 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page