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Yellow Nails: Cause, cure and prevention

By Brid McNulty, August 8 2022

Just as it sounds, yellow nails syndrome is a condition whereby your nails become a pale yellow colour. This can signify many underlying issues – from something as simple as nail polish staining to more serious health conditions. We’ll outline some of the main causes and cures of yellow nails syndrome in this article. Of course, it’d be best if we never got yellow nails in the first place, so we’ll go through some prevention tips too.

Bacterial infection or fungus

Yellowing nails is commonly due to a nail infection or fungus. Nasty, we know, but it happens! Other symptoms of a fungal infection can include flaking of the nail and an unpleasant odour. If left untreated, the nail bed could retract, causing it to thicken and crumble.

Curing Yellow Nails of Infection or Fungus

The best idea is to get yourself to a dermatologist – not urgently but if after 10-14 days of at-home remedies, you haven’t seen any improvement then make an appointment. Not only will they properly diagnose you and treat your needs better, but prescriptions are far more effective than OTC treatments for yellow nails. Be aware that prescriptions will take weeks to months to fully bring your nails back to full health. Your healthy nail needs time to grow and replace the old yellowed nails.

Before you run to the dermatologist, try some of these at-home remedies:

Preventing Bacterial or Fungal Infections on Nails

There are nail hygiene steps you can take to prevent nail infections.

Stained from Nail Polish

Removing weeks or months worth of polish can often result in an unsightly yellowish stain on your nails. Darker polishes tend to do the most harm, leaving nails stained with leftover dyes. Not the end of the world though!

cure yellow nails with lemon juice soak

Curing Stained Nails

Probably the best home remedy in the book: lemon juice. Soak your nails for 10-15 minutes daily in lemon juice until the stains have disappeared. Or, if you think your polish stains are just immediate, e.g. you’ve just removed yellow polish and see superficial stains, try whitening toothpaste. Scrub your nails with toothpaste using a nail brush. This should do the trick.

Another at-home hack is baking soda and peroxide. Simply mix 2.5 tablespoons of baking soda and 1 tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide in a bowl. It’ll come to a pasty consistency. Using a cotton ball, cover your entire fingernail with the paste. Rinse after it’s been on for about 3 minutes. Repeat this treatment every 6-8 weeks. And do make sure to rinse thoroughly and rehydrate your hands and nails with lotion and cuticle oil afterwards.

In most cases from staining, the discolouration is only on the top layer of the nail bed. The solution can be as simple as a few rounds of buffing. Sometimes, the yellowing can make its way to your cuticles too. At this point, it’s probably best just to get a professional manicure – they’ll know how to get your nails back in tip-top shape.

buffing nails

Prevent Stained Nails

Prevent stained nails by investing in a clear base coat. It will protect your nails from staining, plus it extends the lifespan of your pretty mani/pedi. Nailberry’s Strengthen and Breathe Base Coat is a firm favourite of ours. A dual-action, vegan and non-toxic base coat that doesn’t break the bank!


Another anti-yellowing tip – apply a high-quality nail oil containing jojoba or squalene on a daily basis. For a cruelty-free, high quality oil, try Cliganic Jojoba Oil. It may be that your nail beds are very porous, and easily absorb the dyes from nail polishes – unlucky! In this case, we’d recommend not leaving your polish on for too long (no more than a week), and opting for lighter colours. Or, stick with acrylics – they don’t stain your nails.

Smoking Yellows Your Nails

As if smoking doesn’t come with a large enough list of negative health effects, well, here’s another: yellow nails. The tar and nicotine from cigarettes is the culprit. The cure? Stop smoking. Prevention? Don’t start smoking. We know it’s harsh, but it’s just the truth on this one.

More Serious Health Issues

A change in the colour of your nails can also be a sign of something more serious. Thyroid, liver and lung diseases, amongst other conditions like diabetes, can all lead to yellowing nails. If after 10-14 days of at-home treatments, you don’t see any improvement go see your doctor. They will be able to test whether the yellow nails are due to fungus, yeast, bacteria, or something more serious.

Vitamin E to cure AND prevent yellow nails

Taking a healthy dose of Vitamin E will help cells retain moisture and look healthier. This affects not just your nails but your skin and hair too. More importantly, Vitamin E is clinically proven to be an effective treatment for yellow nails. One more tip – Vitamin E stimulates nail growth. Speed up healthy nail growth with either a topical or oral application of Vitamin E – so you can grow out your yellowed nails with healthy, vital nails.


If you are in the market for a great, affordable vitamin E cuticle oil, we recommend Sally Hansen Vitamin E Nail & Cuticle Oil.

Overall, yellow nails are always an unwanted visitor and for the most part, they’re due to bacterial or fungal infections, or simply stained from nail polish. Rest assured that our nail technicians always use sanitised tools using barbicide – we do everything we can to prevent any infections from treatments. We also use high-quality base coats to protect your nail from staining. Book an at-home mani-pedi with us if you need some nail help, and if you need any more nail-related or beauty information, explore our blog a little. 

Brid McNulty

Brid McNulty

Brid graduated from King's College London and has since gone on to manage and produce various content pieces within the beauty industry. She now uses her skills in her new role as Data Scientist.


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