This is a common complaint that I hear from many of my patients. There are two possible causes. The most likely reason is a colour reaction. Darker coloured polishes in particular can stain nails due to a chemical reaction between the colorant and the nail plate. It can also take a few days to a few weeks to occur.
A second cause is from formaldehyde, a common polish ingredient. This chemical can react with the keratin protein in your nails making them brittle and yellow.
Formaldehyde is a colourless, flammable gas often used in cosmetics. Also, best known as a preservative in morgues and laboratories. In Australia, formaldehyde is permitted to be used in cosmetics such as nail polish/hardener, make up, baby shampoo and hair straighteners in small amounts as a preservative to prevent bacterial growth.
The common side effects of formaldehyde are dermatitis, irritation of the skin, eyes, nose and respiratory tract.
Formaldehyde is also classified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the World Health Organisation International Agency for Research on Cancer as a chemical known to cause cancer in humans in circumstances where there is chronic high exposure.
According to the Department of Health and Ageing, the low levels of formaldehyde in cosmetic and personal care products are well within the safe permissible levels. The problem is that many other products that you may come in contact with on a daily basis such as common household cleaning products, make up, soap or shampoo may contain formaldehyde, increasing your daily exposure.
How Do I Know if My Nail Polish Contains Formaldehyde?
Cosmetic products in Australia must be labelled with ingredients so consumers can check for allergens or other ingredients they may react to. However, this can be tricky. Many companies use ingredients that release or “act” like formaldehyde and the ingredients listed will not state formaldehyde. Look for these ingredients listed below that release formaldehyde:
• Methylene glycol
• Methylene oxide
• Methyl aldehyde
• Dimethyl-dimethyl (DMDM) hydantoin
• Imidazolidinyl urea
• Diazolidinyl urea
• Polyoxymethylene urea
• Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate
• 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol (bromopol)
• Formic Aldehyde
• Phenol Formaldehyde
How Do I Avoid Yellow Staining from Nail Polish?
Simply put, stop wearing nail polish and wait for the nails to grow out. If it’s too late for this, don’t try to scrape off the stained area as it will damage and weaken the nail.
If you can’t live without nail polish:
• Stick to lighter coloured polish (dark colours are more likely to stain).
• Wear a base coat to protect your nails from staining.
• Look for nail polishes that do not contain formaldehyde such as Butter London, 100% Pure, Scotch, Zoya, RGB and Deborah Lippmann.
• Don’t use expired cosmetic products or store cosmetic products in the sun because this can cause more formaldehyde to be released.