There’s really nothing better than getting a pedicure after a long day of commuting through rain/snow/sleet. The combo of essential oil-infused hot water, a hydrating foot massage, and brightly-colored nail polish help elevate your mood all year-round, but winter is the season that you should hold off on that final pampering step. Your toes are covered by thick socks and heavy winter boots in those cold months, so give your toes a break from polish to boost nail health in the long run. (Photo via Sven Hagolani/ Getty)

The Damaging side of nail polish

Two things can happen when you leave polish on your toenails for too long. First, rough, white patches called keratin granulations could develop. “If you picture the nail under the microscope as looking like tiles on a roof, you can imagine how its delicate cells can easily be damaged and stripped off when the polish is removed,” says Dana Stern, an NYC-based board-certified dermatologist and nail health expert at Nu Skin. (Photo via GregorBister/ Getty)

The other unsightly problem that may develop is yellowing. The darker the shade of polish, the more yellowing that can occur. Polish remover can also contribute to discoloration. “As it dissolves the polish, it makes the pigments migrate and leach,” says Stern. “This is why more yellowing happens with the no-chip or gel manicures, which require 10-minute soaks in acetone for removal.”

While nail polish and polish remover can cause yellowing, sometimes it might be more than just a stain. “Consumers need to be more worried about having a fungal infection, since yellowing in this case is due to fungus eating away at your nails,” says Robb Akridge, co-founder and former president of clinical research of Clarisonic. “Most nail polishes do not allow the nail to breathe and could potentially lock in water, [allowing a fungal infection to grow].” Always consult your dermatologist if you think you might have a fungal infection.

WHAT YOU NEED TO GIVE YOUR NAILS A BREAK

If you have rough, white patches on your nails and aren’t patient enough to let them grow out on their own, try using the Dr. Dana Nail Renewal System ($53), which contains glycolic acid to chemically exfoliate the nail bed. If yellowing stains are severe, Stern suggests lightening them with a dilution of four tablespoons hydrogen peroxide to a half cup of water. Soak fingertips for two minutes, and then gently scrub the surface of the nails with a soft toothbrush. “Alternatively, you can also use a whitening toothpaste on your nails, as these are formulated with hydrogen peroxide as well,” says Stern.

To prevent further yellowing, Akridge suggests applying some sort of clear barrier primer, like a base coat. Look for nourishing and strengthening products including Zoya Anchor Base Coat ($10) or Londontown USA Kur Nail Hardener and Base Coat ($18). “And of course, use more natural nail colors [which have less staining potential],” says Akridge.

Give nail Polish a break… but don’t skip out on pedicures

As much as you love a pedi with paint, foregoing color during the colder months of the year can revive nail health. “Giving your toenails a polish holiday will give you the opportunity to more effectively hydrate them, because there won’t be a polish barrier,” says Stern. “Plus, you won’t be exposing them to polish remover either.” She explains that nails often dry out from polish remover, rather than the polish itself, and suggests looking for hand creams and cuticle oils that are rich in phospholipids (like sunflower oil), which have been shown to increase nail flexibility and decrease brittleness. (Photo via Holger Winkler/ Getty)

There’s an upside to all this negative nail talk though: Just because it’s advised to pass on color doesn’t mean you have to skip out on pedicures altogether. Stern advises sticking to your regular pampering schedule so that your toenails can be properly shaped and trimmed and calluses can be buffed away.

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