Why Does Sunscreen Ruin Nail Polish?

Sunscreen can wreak havoc on manicures if you don’t protect the polish

It’s a sad reality, but sunscreen can ruin your manicure. The chemicals in sunscreen can interact with the polish and cause it fade or become dull.

So, if you’re planning on spending a day in the sun, be sure to take extra care of your nails!

Why Does Sunscreen Break Down Nail Polish?

The issue behind nail polish being affected by sunscreen is largely due to sunscreens’ chemical composition.

Some ingredients used to dissolve sunscreen are also found in acetone free nail polish removers, so its no surprise that some sunscreen can start removing your nail polish.

And, as higher SPF sunscreens become increasingly more popular, cosmetic engineers will have to add even more dissolving agents to help thick, potent sunscreens loosen up to spread out on the skin better.

How Do I Stop Sunscreen From Ruining My Nail Polish?

Lucky for you, there are a number of ways you can keep your nails looking fabulous while still getting plenty of essential sun protection.

Here are some tips to help keep your polish looking its best:

1. Avoid pink nail polish colors

pink nail polish

Nail colors such as pink shades fade quicker in sunlight because of the UV rays. The pigments used to create these colors are sensitive to light, and over time they will start to fade and lose their vibrancy.

So, if you’re getting your nails done before a beach trip or any other outdoor activity, make sure to choose a color that won’t fade in the sun.

2. Apply a top coat

top coat nail polish

If you want to keep your nail polish from fading, applying a top coat is the way to go. A top coat provides an additional barrier and added protection to your nail’s color.

3. Avoid the pool


Nail polish can fade quite quickly when exposed to pools and salt water. The chemicals in the water can cause the polish to chip and peel, and the sun will make it fade more quickly.

4. Remove yellow stains on white nail polish

light polish

While all nail polishes will eventually fade to some degree when exposed to the sun, white shades are especially prone to yellowing. We’ve all seen how sunscreen can stain white clothes an orangey yellow color – the same thing can happen to your nails!

Sunscreen can speed up this process, causing the polish to become stained and look unsightly.

Nail polish remover or rubbing alcohol can be used to remove stains from your white nails – but only apply a tiny amount using a q-tip do that you don’t take off the polish entirely!

5. Use gel nails for the win

nails at the beach

Good news – gel manicures are the exception, as they are not affected by sunscreen! Sunscreen can be applied to hands with gel nails without any problems. The gel

Why is this?

Well, nitrocellulose is the main ingredient in standard nail polish – it’s a colorless, odorless and flammable compound that is made up of plant matter (aka cellulose) and nitroglycerin. Gel polish is quite different – it’s formulated instead primarily with methacrylate.

Well, the UV curing process involved with gel manicures sets off a chemical reaction that causes the methacrylate in the gel polish to harden into plastic. That hard surface is tough enough to protect your nails from anything, even sunscreen.

While gel manicures are your best bet to avoid fading nails, make sure not to neglect sunscreen when you get your nails done.

Dermatologists recommend wearing sunscreen when you get a gel nail manicure because the UV lamps used to cure the polish can increase your risk for skin cancer.

It may not seem like something to worry about, but repeated exposure to UVA radiation from gel manicures can age hands more quickly.

How to Avoid Getting Sunscreen On Your Nails

If you want to to stick with normal, non-gel nail polish, you’ll want to avoid getting sunscreen on your nails. Here’s how that’s done:

  • Have someone else apply the sunscreen. Ask a friend or companion to apply sunscreen onto your body for you, so that your nails are not directly in contact with sunscreen.
  • Use a physical sunscreen. Some nail polish fares much better with physical sunscreens. Physical sunscreens contain minerals like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which sit on top of the skin to reflect UV rays. Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, are designed to absorb into the skin, making them more likely to have a reaction with nail polish. Learn more about the differences between physical mineral vs chemical sunscreens here!
  • Use spray sunscreen. Spray sunscreens will allow you to apply sunscreen to your body without getting the sunscreen itself all over your nails. You may still get some on your hands, but not nearly as much as you would if you were to use sun lotion.
  • Reapply a top coat to add back some shine. If your nail polish becomes dull from sunscreen, you can always add a top coat to add back some extra shine.
  • Wear a mitt or gloves. If you are worried about getting sunscreen on your nails, you can always put on a pair of gloves to apply sunscreen (like the kind used for applying self-tanners). This way, your nails will not come into contact with the sunscreen at all.
  • Make sure your nails are completely dry before applying sunscreen. If your nails have not fully dried, the sunscreen will be more likely to cause the polish to fade and break down.

How to Tell Which Sunscreens Will Ruin Your Nails

  • Step 1. Apply Nail Polish to Glass. Start by applying a small amount of nail polish to a piece of glass and let it dry.
  • Step 2. Add Sunscreen. Once the nail polish is dry, add a pea-sized amount of sunscreen to the glass and spread it around with your finger.
  • Step 3. Check for Changes. Observe the nail polish for any changes. If the polish becomes sticky and softens or becomes opaque, this typically means you’ll want to avoid getting that sunscreen on your nails.

While gel manicures are your best bet to avoid fading nails, there are plenty of other strategies you can employ to keep even a classic manicure from being affected by sunscreen. Whatever you choose to do, don’t skimp on sunscreen – perfect nails aren’t worth damaging your skin for!

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