Published on July 23, 2018

Why You Should Take a Break from Toenail Polish

Take a Break from Toenail Polish

In the spring and summer, ladies break out the strappy sandals and flip flops, and likewise groom their feet with lovely shades of nail polish. When your toenails are on display and looking great in every hue, it can be easy to forget that your toenails need a break from the polish every now and then.

Believe it or not, toenails are not impermeable. They absorb a great deal of chemicals that are found in nail polish. In fact, they are even more permeable than skin. It is for this reason that when toenails are left painted for long periods of time and then the polish is removed, the nails are left with a yellowed, chalky, stained appearance and are brittle and dry. The top layers of the toenail absorb the pigment from the nail polish and dry out the nail itself. While the top of the nail becomes dry, the part of the nail underneath the nail plate can trap yeast, bacteria, and mold. Naturally, these can easily lead to an infection underneath the nail.

If you paint your toenails, it is best to leave the paint on until it’s time for it to be removed (around two to three weeks in most cases), and then allow an equal amount of time for your toenails to be left natural. This includes not putting on a clear top coat of polish. This lets the toenails breathe and allows air to reach the nail bed. During this time, keep the feet as dry as possible, wearing breathable shoes such as sandals or vented sneakers with clean, dry socks.

If the toenails look dry, cracked and brittle from long-term polish use, you can apply a vitamin E oil or lotion, rubbing it gently into the nail and cuticle to moisturize them. Allow it to absorb and dry fully before wearing shoes. In some cases, discolored toenails that are dry and cracked could be a sign of a toenail fungus, so if you aren’t sure, it’s best to see a physician or podiatrist for an evaluation.

Discoloration from polish use will usually grow out over time. A gentle filing may buff off the top layer of nail and lessen discoloration, but it will not remove severe discoloration or an underlying toenail condition.

It can be tempting to cover up discolored or unsightly toenails with nail polish so the feet look more attractive, but by allowing the toenails to be oxygenated and leaving them periodically unpainted, they receive the crucial air exposure they need to stay healthy.

Matthew Wagoner, DPMMatthew Wagoner, DPM, FACFAS is a Podiatrist with Triad Foot and Ankle Center