The Worlds Biggest (and Best!) Nail Knowledge Centre

How can we help?

Search for answers you are looking for.

Nail polish stains on nails

You are here:



Some of my clients experience nail polish stains on their nails. Why does this happen and what can I do to prevent this?


Wearing a basecoat underneath nail polish does more than improving adhesion and wearability. They can also protect the nail plate from staining, especially on nails with cracks, pits, or other types of surface damage. Any type of damaged area on the surface of the nail is more likely to allow certain colorants in nail polish to absorb into the upper layers. When this occurs, the colorants can become trapped and will concentrate to create a visible stain. Of course, nail polish colorants are safe to wear, but some may be more likely to stain than others. 

There are three different reds and one yellow colorant that have been reported as the most likely to stain the nail plate. The red colorants are listed on the product ingredient label as Red no. 6, 7, or 34.  In the European Union, all three of these red colorants would be sold under their “color index” or CI number, which is 15850. Usually, “CI” is not listed before the number and only the color index number appears on the label. The yellow that is reported to cause a lot of staining is Yellow #5 Lake. This is listed on European ingredient labels as CI 19140.   

These may appear in your client’s favorite shade. If they do, what should you do to avoid staining? The best ways to prevent stains are to always wear basecoats under the nail polish and to keep the surface of the nail plate healthy and damage-free.  A good way to keep the nail plate damage-free is to avoid overfiling the nail plate. Remember: “Less is More” when it comes to filing.  Never force or scrape tightly bonded residual pieces of nail coatings from the surface. Doing so can cause small pits or microscopic cracks that increase the chance of staining. (Image shows damaged nail cells where the color might deposit).

Image shows damaged nail cells where the nail polish color might deposit
Shopping Cart