We've all been there: you're taking off your nail extensions after an extended period of time and you find yourself asking: why are my nails yellow? Whether you have dealt with this issue in the past or are currently experiencing yellow nails for the first time, there are a few things that you should know about the meaning of yellow nails, what causes them, and how to treat them.
What Are Yellow Nails?
For background, not all discolorated nails have a yellow hue, but it is one of the more common colours due to the variety of circumstances that can cause it. "Yellowing of the nail, also known as nail discoloration or pigmentation, is a condition that alters the normal transparent appearance of the nail itself," Dr. Henry tells POPSUGAR. "It can result from environmental or medical conditions, or even from long-term nail polish staining from powerful dyes and pigments."
Kandalec agreed, adding that where the colour is seen matters as well. "If it is from polish, it's [usually at] the nail plate. If it is health-related, it can also be [seen at] the nail bed — the skin under the nail," she says.
What Causes Yellow Nails?
If you found yourself wondering: why are my nails yellow at the tips? The pros have answers for you. There are a host of reasons that yellow nails occur — one of them being the frequent use of nail polish. "Stained nails can occur from the pigments of polish burrowing into the layers of the nail plate," Kandalec says. So, if you often go long periods of time with painted nails, you may want to consider taking breaks in between sets.
Yellow nails can also point to larger health issues. "More common causes of yellow nails are bacterial or fungal infections," Dr. Henry says. "Rarely, yellow nails can be the result of vitamin deficiencies, poor circulation, or even genetics." Fungi also thrive in moist environments, such as pools, public showers, and gyms, so ensuring that you're fully dry after bathing or swimming can go a long way in ensuring your nails stay healthy.
Do Environmental Factors Cause Yellow Nails?
There is no obvious "tell" as to whether or not you will develop yellow nails, nor is there any data that shows a correlation between nail discoloration and certain skin types or tones. However, certain environmental factors can cause the yellowing of the nail. "Cigarette smoking and using dark nail polish have all been linked to nail discoloration," Dr. Henry says. "Some sunscreens can cause this," Kandalec adds. "Alongside heavy pollution."
Additionally, if you start to see any other nail abnormalities, they may be warning signs that nail discoloration is on the way. "Fungal nail infections may also manifest as brittle, hard, and raised nails," Dr. Henry says. These are all symptoms that you should address as soon as you see them in order to get ahead of any discoloration that may occur as a result of the fungus worsening.
How to Treat Yellow Nails
Treatment for yellow nails depends on the root cause of the issue. In some cases, they can be treated at home. "Fungal infections may only require topical anti-fungal treatments or white vinegar soaks, while nail discoloration from polish staining can go away on its own," Dr. Henry says. Kandalec's recipe for the vinegar soak includes mixing regular bicarbonate of soda with hydrogen peroxide into a thick paste. "It should be left on the nail for a minute at a time to reduce yellowing," she says.
Kandalec also recommends using tools to help with removing stains. "Gentle buffing with a fine-grit padded buffer, like the Maryton Finishing Block ($5), is one of the best ways to lift stains gently."
Yellow nails can feel embarrassing or make you want to hide out for a few days, but the important thing to know is you have options when it comes to addressing them. For non-health-related nail discoloration, always try to practice good personal hygiene: showering after the gym, wearing flip-flops in the shower, and properly cleaning the skin around the nails are just a few small steps that you can take to ensure optimal nail health. As per usual, if any discoloration or changes in the nail persists, be sure to go to a trusted medical professional who can help diagnose the issue and come up with an effective treatment plan.