Nail Polish And Podiatry – Can’t We All Get Along?

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I’ve lost count of the number of times I have had a sheepish smile given to me when someone sits in the chair for their consultation with their nails beautifully polished to a high sheen. “Sorry! You can take it off if you like…” is the usual follow up.  Who doesn’t like to put on a nice polish to match their outfit, especially in the warmer weather or just before a holiday? There’s certainly nothing wrong with wanting to look nice, but the question has to be asked: what is that pretty colour doing to your toes?

Did you know that your nails are porous and they absorb what you put onto them? Quite often when you remove the polish, particularly after an extended period, there is a white chalky residue remaining on the surface of the nail that is very difficult to scrub off. That is usually one of two things; a superficial mycotic fungal nail infection that had been passed on to you through the nail polish or the person applying it, or superficial nail damage from the polish being left on for too long.

Both are preferable to avoid, but both are usually easily and painlessly treated.

Many nail polishes contain ingredients that are listed as a poison or hazardous to your health, particularly if you were to inhale or ingest them, which is likely the main reason people at the salon wear have face masks. Some are listed as carcinogens and others have been linked to birth defects and breathing issues. Before you panic and throw away your collection of bottles and cancel your next appointment, I should point out that there is no reason to suggest in small doses that these ingredients will pose any significant health risk to you – otherwise they wouldn’t be made available for general use. But we certainly have a responsibility to your health and part of that is pointing out things like this you may not have previously been aware of.

For that reason our general advice at Sutherland Podiatry Centre is if you really want to use the polish (and there are plenty of reasons why you shouldn’t – that’s for another blog!) we don’t recommend leaving it there for months and months and having it painted over instead of being removed. This scenario usually finds your nails absorbing the chemicals within the polish but also likely hiding fungal infections in your nail and nail bed, and preventing you from seeing and treating them before they spread.

In relation to shellac and gel polish, it looks great and lasts a long time but getting it off can take a serious toll on your nails – it generally requires heavy acetone and paint thinners which strips your nails of natural oils leaving them thin, brittle and chipped or more susceptible to breaking or splitting.

The solution?

Do we recommend it? No, not really. It has very little benefit to your feet and nail health overall and if we have to remove it, it can damage our equipment and tools. But that doesn’t mean you’ll take our advice! If you are going to insist on wearing it my personal advice is, apply by all means, but set a date to remove it. No more than around 1-2 weeks is best but not more than 4 weeks. Once it is removed, let them breathe for a few days and up to a week before any reapplying. This will let you see if there is any damage done to the nails, expose any potential fungal problems and will give your nails a chance to breathe and recover. You can have your cake and eat it too, and you don’t have to sheepishly explain to your podiatrist at your next visit. Bonus!

See you next time,


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