Exactly How to Whiten Your Nails, According to Experts

RIP nail stains. You won't be missed.

painted nails holding yellow louis vuitton bag
(Image credit: Getty)

There’s no better feeling than freshly painted nails. But the removal process? Well, that can be irritating. Sometimes, no matter how much nail polish remover or scrubbing is employed, a yellow tint is left behind. Thankfully, whitening yellow nails is a pretty easy process—and can be done using items you probably already have in your home.

Removing the stain on your nails is only half the battle, though. It’s equally as important to make sure it doesn’t happen again. To get the full breakdown, we tapped Dr. Dana Stern, a board-certified dermatologist specializing in nail health

Why are my nails yellow?

The first step in whitening your nails is to figure out why they’re turning yellow in the first place. “You want to get a proper diagnosis and treatment if you're constantly battling stained nails,” says Dr. Stern. 

While more often than not it’s going to be from your nail polish, it's possible that the change in color could be indicative of an underlying health issue, like poor liver or lung function. What’s more, if your nails have a thickened and super-curved shape, consider making an appointment with your doctor. It could be a sign of Yellow Nail Syndrome, an uncommon but serious disorder.

How can I whiten stained nails?

Good news: Removing yellow stains is no biggie. If your stains are pretty mild, try scrubbing them off with a blob of whitening toothpaste and a damp nail brush for a few minutes. If that doesn't work, or the stains are more severe, Stern says "they can be lightened by using a dilution of hydrogen peroxide.” 

To whip up a stain removing concoction, all you have to do is mix three to four tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide with a half-cup of warm water in a bowl. Soak your nails for two minutes and then use a soft, clean toothbrush to gently scrub and buff the surface of your nails. Then rinse your hands, apply some lotion, and you’re good to go. 

For maximum results, Stern recommends repeating this process two to three times per week.

How can I prevent stained nails?

Yellowing is both common and unavoidable with regular nail polish use, but there are a few steps that can lessen the chance of your nails turning yellow. Stern recommends getting into the habit of using a base coat every time you paint your nails. This will create a stain-proof barrier between your nail and your polish. 

It’s also important to pay attention to the dye content of your nail polish. While all shades, brands, and formulas can stain your nails, it’s a more common side effect with darker hues like purples, blues, deep reds, and black.

Best Base Coats to Avoid Nail Staining

Beauty Editor

Samantha Holender is the Beauty Editor at Marie Claire, where she reports on the best new launches, dives into the science behind skincare, and shares the breakdown on the latest and greatest trends in the beauty space. She's studied up on every ingredient you'll find on INCI list and is constantly in search of the world's glowiest makeup products. Prior to joining the team, she worked as Us Weekly’s Beauty and Style Editor, where she stayed on the pulse of pop culture and broke down celebrity beauty routines, hair transformations, and red carpet looks. Her words have also appeared on Popsugar, Makeup.com, Skincare.com, Delish.com, and Philadelphia Wedding. Samantha also serves as a board member for the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME). She first joined the organization in 2018, when she worked as an editorial intern at Food Network Magazine and Pioneer Woman Magazine. Samantha has a degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from The George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs. While at GWU, she was a founding member of the school’s HerCampus chapter and served as its President for four years. When she’s not deep in the beauty closet or swatching eyeshadows, you can find her obsessing over Real Housewives and all things Bravo. Keep up with her on Instagram @samholender.

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