Yellow Nails - Is There a Basecoat that Prevents Staining?

Posted by Ana on Mar 20th 2013 Yellow-nails-How to remove and prevent stainingIt's horrifying to remove a dark polish and discover yellow nails.

Even worse is removing green and having green nails (true story).

By the end of this article you'll understand all the causes of yellow nails and color staining. You'll also understand what you can do to remove the staining as well, although in most cases I don't recommend it.


What is the best basecoat that prevents staining from dark polishes and yellowing from wearing polish all the time? ~Nicole


There are several different causes contributing to yellow nails and staining. The most common is using dark pigmented nail polishes. But it can also be because of other unhealthy causes. Let's take a look.

Causes of Yellow Nails


If you have yellow nails and don't wear dark nail polishes, then the yellowing can be caused by a serious condition.

In rare cases, yellow nails can indicate a more serious health issue such as diabetes, severe thyroid disease, lung disease or psoriasis. You will want to notify your doctor as soon as possible.


Nail fungus occurs more frequently in toe nails, but can appear in fingernails as well. It starts as yellowing and leads to the nail plate separating from the nail bed. This is usually quite painful.

When nail fungus has been present for a long time and left untreated, the nail begins to get thicker, peels or crumbles and there is a foul odor.


Smoking can cause yellow nails as well. Nicotine and tar are sticky substances that grab on to the smoker's hands while holding a cigarette. Often tar is responsible for the brown stains and nicotine for the yellow nails.

The most ideal solution is to quit smoking. But since it is difficult to quit, smokers will see the stains continue to build up as the years pass.

Nail Polish

"Certain dyes can deeply stain the nail plate. Early nail color formulations used high concentrations of staining dyes. Today, high-quality, professional nail polishes use low levels of dye and use only those that don't permanently stain the nail plate. However, some inexpensive brands cut corners and use large amounts of dyes to reduce the cost, making them more likely to discolor the plate.

In general, nail discoloration is caused by dyes, damage, drugs, disease, injury, or illness. Some topcoats can cause yellow or light brown stains when applied directly to the bare natural nail. Base coats do more than improve nail polish adhesion—they help seal and protect the plate from staining." ~Doug Schoon, Nail Structure and Product Chemistry.

Solutions to Yellow Nails

Why Do You Want the Stains Gone?

My first question to you before I get into the solutions is, "Why Do You Want Your Nails Unstained?"

If you need to do a photo shoot of your bare nails or a French Manicure, then it's a great idea. But if you're just going to turn around and do another colored manicure, then you'll be covering the stains.

Removing the stains will just waste your time. It will weaken your nails by leaving them more dried out than when you started.

Yellow Nails Using basecoat to prevent stainingPrevention is Key

Base coats are formulated with certain ingredients to improve the bond to the bare nail.

Nail polish is formulated to bond to base coats—not the bare nail. Base coats help extend nail polish wear. They also protect the nail from the staining dyes in nail polishes.

I did a quick search online to see if there were good basecoat comparison articles that prevents yellow nails.

What I discovered is that there is no outstanding winner. Everyone has their favorite base coat based on their personal chemistry and lifestyle.

My suggestion would be to use two coats of your favorite basecoat if using a dark colored or inexpensive polish—otherwise 1 coat should be enough.

A great example of the power of using a basecoat to prevent staining can be seen at Kae's website, She shows what her nails looked like stained yellow and then how they look after 3 months of using basecoat with her manicures. It's startling!

Nail Whitening Techniques

Realize that soaking your nails in any liquid solution for 15 minutes dries out and weakens your nails.

You will need to rehydrate your nails with a high quality, jojoba based nail oil over several hours. I don't recommend any of these nail whitening techniques for long term staining unless you are going to photograph a French Manicure.

These are the suggested solutions I found on the net. Some look like they may be successful, one is very dangerous and the other is a lie.

Peroxide/Baking Soda

Yellow nails before using lemon juice to remove stains Marina FTYD

Several tricks can be used to remove the yellow stains from nails. The author of Beautiful Hands and Nails Naturally, nail expert Fran Manos recommends bleaching nails in a solution of 1 tablespoon of 3% hydrogen peroxide mixed with 2 1/2 tablespoons of baking soda in a small plastic bowl.

Use a cotton swab to press some of the mixture, with a pastelike consistency, firmly under the tip of each nail as well as over the top of the nail. Cover all the nails on one hand. Wait about three minutes before rinsing with warm water. Repeat on the other hand. Fran suggests trying this treatment every six to eight weeks. Yellow nails before using lemon juice to remove stains

Lemon Juice

Many people swear by lemon juice and there are several techniques. You can soak your nails for 15 minutes in fresh or reconstituted lemon juice. Some people just rub the lemon juice into their nails and hands and let it dry.

Marina at has graciously allowed me to show her before and after photos using lemon juice combined with a commercial whitening product. You can see by the photos to the right, she had great results!

Denture Tablets

Several people have had great results with soaking your fingers in warm water with 4 denture tablets, for 15 minutes. Diana of gives a detailed review of her process and experience.

Whitening ToothpasteYellow Nails Using Whitening toothpaste

Some people have results with scrubbing your nails for two minutes with a whitening toothpaste and a nail brush. According to Anutka at, this technique is best for immediate staining. As in, you remove red polish and your nails are pink. She says it won't work on long term staining.

Hector at has an interesting case study. He's an talented young nail artist who prefers to create art on his left hand. As you can see in the photos to the right, his right hand tends to remain unpolished.

Yellow Nails Using Whitening toothpaste

Hector attempted to use the whitening toothpaste on deeper stains and found it to be minimally effective. His results are in alignment with Anutka's opinion from WackyLaki.

Light Buffing

This is a bad solution. I do not recommend this technique.

Yes, it will work because it's probably only the top few layers of keratin that are stained.

The problem is that most of us only have about 100 layers of keratin. If you sand a few off each time your nails are stained, over time your nails will become very weak and brittle.

Letting Your Nails Breathe

This is an old wives tale that just won't die! I explain how it came about in a previous Ask Ana article:

In Conclusion

Since I haven't purchased and tested every basecoat on the market, I am not able to hold up one saying "this is it!"

I've read too many reports from nail artists over the years, how they love brand X over brand Y, and then another artist with say she prefers brand Y over brand X. Why? Perhaps it's her personal chemistry, or perhaps it's her belief in marketing claims—perhaps it's something else.

I believe that two coats of your favorite basecoat before colored lacquer will reduce staining. A lot of staining is often caused when you've re-wet the lacquer while you're removing it and are scrubbing to get it off—are you scrubbing the pigments into your nails?

Basecoats are formulated to bond to the nail plate. They help your polish bond better too so you will experience less chipping and longer lasting manicures.

Try different basecoats to find your favorite and should a polish stain upon removal with acetone. The whitening toothpaste technique is very effective. For long term staining, it's best to start using basecoat with every manicure and just let the stained nail grow out.

What Do You Think?

Did this article change your thoughts in any way?