These days, keeping your finger and toenails polished at all times is common practice. Pedicures are no longer reserved for special occasions or beach vacations—for many women (and some men, too) polishing their nails is a regular part of their weekly routine. While there is nothing wrong with this practice in general, there are some issues that arise with weekly nail polish applications, particularly during the cold winter months in Chicago. Let’s explore why toenail polish is so problematic in colder weather.  

What’s Actually in Nail Polish?
Whether you’re an Essie or OPI fan, most nail polishes share one common bond: they contain formaldehyde, a carcinogenic chemical that used to be reserved for the preservation of dead bodies, but is now popping up in lots of beauty products, from your toenail polish to those keratin treatments that make your hair sleek and shiny! Toenail polish may look great, but it can cause real damage, so it's important to give your feet a break sometimes!

There has been a lot of discussion about what formaldehyde can do to your body when you inhale it during a keratin treatment, prompting many hairdressers to seek out more natural processes. Unfortunately, fewer efforts have been made to create healthier polishes for your toenail, which means you’re left with the strong chemical options. When applied to your toenails, formaldehyde dries out your nail, causing plenty of damage.

And the problems don’t stop there. Nail polish also contains a chemical known as toluene, which helps distribute color evenly throughout the polish. Have you ever noticed that your nails look yellow after you remove your polish? This chemical (which is also found in paint thinners, by the way) may be responsible: as the color distributes over your toenails, some of the dyes remain behind on your nail, altering the natural color. This effect is particularly noticeable when you choose darker shades for your nails.

Sadly, the problems won’t even stop there. When you’re ready to remove your polish, guess what? Your remover contains acetone, a chemical that’s also used for removing adhesives and paint. It’s very damaging to your nail, and can leave you vulnerable to fungal infections.

Why Winter is the Right Time to Go Polish-Free
During the winter months, skin is typically drier than at other times of the year, as dry heat blasts us everywhere we go—from our homes to the mall and even the trains—sapping our skin of its natural moisture. Add in the drying effect formaldehyde has on your nails, and you’ve got a seriously parched situation on the nails. Dry nails are problematic because they invite yeast, mold and bacteria to enter the nail through tiny cracks, developing underneath the upper nail bed and causing you plenty of problems down the road. Too much polish can leave nails dry, cracked and vulnerable to fungus like this--not so pretty, right?

Of course, this can be an issue at any point during the year, but there’s another reason why winter is a great time to give your toenails a bit of a breather.

During the spring and summer, you’re likely to be wearing open toed shoes or sandals, so prettying up your toe nails makes perfect sense. But now, it's winter. We’ve already had some snow!  Our sandals are totally getting pushed to the back of the shoe racks and closets, and we’re starting to pull out our old winter favorites: rain and snow boots! Both of which, obviously, leave no opening to admire your perfectly-polished toe nails!

Given that fact, we’re here to make a bold suggestion: it's time to take a vacation. Just like many of us are less vigilant about leg shaving during the long winter months—what’s the point, really, under all those extra layers—why not skip a couple of pedicures between now and next March?

If you’re heading to the beach for a week (lucky you, we’re jealous!) by all means apply some polish to show off pool side. But other than that? Just skip it altogether. Let your nails recover from a long summer season of adornment, and be sure to remember your nails when you’re moisturizing the rest of your feet (something that should happen every day during the winter if you want to avoid dry, cracked heels.)

Not ready to go cold-turkey when it comes to polish? Let’s explore some safer options.

Better-For-You Nail Polishes to Explore

While we noted that most polishes, especially the ones in nail salons, contain formaldehyde, there are some brands that don’t contain this chemical. Unfortunately, most women aren’t happy with the color and shine delivered by those polishes. If that’s you, there are polishes that actually help your nails a bit: they contain vitamins, oils and proteins that do less damage to your nail and may even help stave off fungal infections. One podiatrist-approved brand of polish is Dr.'s Remedy Enriched Nail Polish, a brand that’s earned a spot on doctors’ Favorite Products list. Even if you’re using this good-for-you nail polish, we’d still love to see you go polish-free for a few weeks. It will deliver the literal breath of fresh air that your nails are likely screaming for after a long summer season.

So join us this winter in swearing off nail polish for a bit. If you like what you see in terms of nail health, tell us about your results. And if going polish free has finally allowed you to notice changes in your nail like cracks, flakes, discoloration or thickening, come in to the office so we can help you restore your nails to their former state of health!

Jordana White
Jordana Rothstein White
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