Real talk: There are few things I despise more than taking off my nail polish (aside from, like, economic strife, global poverty, etc.). Because no matter how much remover I douse my fingers with, it seems like I always inevitably end up with weird, dingy-yellow stains that no amount of cotton balls and scrubbing can get rid of.
But since quitting nail polish will never be a part of my agenda, I set out to find the easiest, fastest ways to bring yellowed nails back to life. Here, three steps to whiten yellow nails and make your relationship with nail polish a whole hell of a lot stronger.
Find out what's going on
Before you touch any DIY concoctions, it’s a good idea to figure out why your nails are yellowing—because, according to New York City dermatologist Dana Stern, nail polish isn’t the only root cause.
“You want to get a proper diagnosis and treatment if you're constantly battling stained nails,” says Stern, who specializes in nail health. You should also take note of thickened, yellow, and super-curved nails, which could be sign of yellow nail syndrome—an uncommon but serious disorder that can signal a host of other health issues. But don't freak; if your nail texture hasn’t really changed, your polish is likely to blame.
Remember: Prep to prevent
Yellowing is both common and unavoidable with regular nail polish use (yaaaay), but Stern recommends getting into the habit of using a base coat every time you paint your nails, since it creates a stain-proof barrier between you and your polish. Yeah, it sounds obvious, but be honest—how often do you really use a base coat every single time you paint? If you don't have one from this decade, try one of my favorites, like Orly's Bonder Rubberized Nail Base Coat or Essie's First Base Base Coat.
It’s also important to pay attention to the dye content of your 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.
Fix the damage with a soak
If you didn't heed my advice on the base-coat thing, then you're going to need a proper scrub or soak. If the 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, "they can be lightened by using a dilution of hydrogen peroxide,” says Stern. Here's how:
1. Mix 3-4 tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide with one-half cup of warm water in a bowl, stirring well.
2. Grab a seat, get comfortable, and soak your nails for two minutes.
3. Using a soft, clean toothbrush, gently scrub and buff the surface of your nails, re-dipping the brush in the bowl.
4. Rinse your hands, slather on some lotion, and voilà—your nails should be clean as hell (or, at the very least, well on their way). For maximum results, Stern recommends repeating this process two to three times per week, especially if you're into black polish and zero base coats.