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The Real Causes of Nail Plate Yellowing

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Unveiling the Mystery of Nail Plate Yellowing

We often receive questions about nail care issues that both perplex and frustrate professionals and clients alike. One recurring topic that sparks a lot of curiosity and concern revolves around nail plate yellowing. Many believe that this discoloration is primarily caused by the pigments in nail polish. However, recent inquiries and expert insights suggest that other elements, such as nitrocellulose and various colorants, might play a significant role.

This article delves into the intricacies of what really causes nail plate yellowing, backed by expert analysis and industry knowledge, to shed light on this common but misunderstood issue.

Understanding Nail Discoloration: Colorants and Their Impact

Pigments are not likely to stain the nail plate. They are too large to penetrate. Dyes and Lakes are other types of colorants that are often used, and many can and DO stain the nail plate. There are three different reds and one yellow colorant that have been reported as the most likely to stain the nail plate. The reds colorants are listed on product ingredient label as Red no. 6, Red no. 7, or Red no. 34.  In the European Union, all three of these red colorants would be sold under their color index number “15850”. The yellow that is reported to cause a lot of staining is Yellow #5 Lake, which in the European Union is labelled as “19140”.

The Role of Nitrocellulose in Nail Yellowing: Quality Matters

It is true that some grades of nitrocellulose can stain as well.  But the more expensive, higher quality grades are much less likely to discolor. Smaller companies that don’t sell much nail polish often use these inferior grades, since the best grades are too expensive when purchased in low quantities and the larger companies buy up all the high-quality nitrocellulose. When it does stain, nitrocellulose tends to be a more brownish-yellow stain, while discoloration caused by colorants tend to be the light yellowish tones or other odd shades, such as green.

Examining Base Coats: Nitrocellulose and Nail Plate Vulnerability

If this base coat contained nitrocellulose and no colorants, the nitrocellulose is a possible suspect. However, a high-quality base coat should not stain the nail plate, unless its surface is damaged. Damaged nail plates are much more likely to pick up stains, even from some foods stains or clothing. Damaged nail plates will absorb stains more easily than healthy nail plates. To say the nitrocellulose is responsible for nail yellowing is an over simplification. Marketers tend to oversimplify things for three reasons,

  • They don’t understand the issues, so instead of giving the facts they just keep it simple to hide their lack of understanding.
  • Many nail techs often don’t understand these issues, so the message must be kept simple.
  • Marketers focus on only what helps them sell their products and often exaggerate the information.

It is definitely an over simplification to say that nitrocellulose is what stains the nail plate. More likely the causes are “dyes” and “lakes”.

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