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Why Are My Gel Nails Turning Brown? [And How To Remove It]

If you have just spoilt yourself with a gel manicure, it can be disheartening to later notice them turning brown. Sometimes this can happen soon after, at other times it can progress as the weeks go on. Either way, its not good and you likely want to know the causes, what you can do and how to prevent it from occurring going forward. I decided to document my recommended approach to all these things and would love to share it with you here today.

So to begin, why are my gel nails turning brown? Discoloration or the appearance of brown spots on gel nails can occur due to a number of reasons. The most likely reason is either under or over exposure to UV light during the drying process. Sometimes they might even turn yellow due to over-curing at UV light. Other reasons are due to your nail coming into contact with strong chemicals such as cleaning agents, make up products, spices such as turmeric. Smoking can also be a reason. Other causes may be exposure to hair dye or skin care products.

Loss of color in gel nails is common with anyone who uses beauty products; whether they be for the hair, hands, face or other parts of the body. Often, these contain chemicals that land on the hand and come into contact with the nails.

Knowing how frustrating this is, let’s look at some potential causes for brown nail discoloration, methods for removal and potential tips and tricks for prevention.

Potential Causes For Brown Nail Discoloration

There are several potential causes for brown nail discoloration:

  1. Over or under exposure to UV light during curing.
  2. Smoking.
  3. Contact with strong and harmful chemicals.
    1. Cleaning agents
    2. Make up products
    3. Skin care products
    4. Poor quality gel
    5. Self-tanning products
  4. Sun light
  5. Spices
  6. Poor Quality Products
  7. Fungal infections.
  8. Medical conditions that cause discoloration.

Let us know look at these one by one:


Curing is the process of drying the gel nails right after application. The UV light hardens the gel and thanks to it the manicure stays for so long.

However, if curing is overdone or the opposite – underdone, meaning you left your nails under the lamp for too short – the material can start turning brown after a few days or a week later.

It is no coincidence that UV lamps at the salons have a timer and after the minutes are up, the machine switches itself off.


The next reason is smoking. This unhealthy habit does not only make your teeth yellow, your skin dry and your clothes smell but it can cause your gel polish to turn brown or yellow-ish in colour.

The nicotine and tar found in cigarettes (the toxic chemical particles left behind by burning tobacco) leave stains on your nail beds and even the skin around.

Also, smoking blocks oxygen suuply to the fingernails, which can result in yellow shading.


Moving on with possible causes, another one can be contact with strong chemicals.

Cleaning supplies are made of aggressive substances. When mixed with gel nail polish a reaction occurs that causes brown stains. Make up products, too, contain chemicals.

If you stain your nails with make up by accident, when applying it, it may be very difficult to wipe the spots out. Therefore, brown marks can develop and remain.

Certain chemicals in skin care products can also cause a reaction and lead to discoloration.

For example, hydroquinone is widely used topical depigmenting agent for treating pigmentation.

It has been reported that when in contact with nails, discoloration can be observed as well as brown pigmentation.

Tretinoin (a medication substance used for treating acne and sun-damaged skin) has also been reported to cause browning of nails.

Speaking of sun-damaged skin, using tan products or self-tanners is able to lead to problems with the gel polish.


Overexposure to sunlight is harmful for the skin and the nails, as well as fake tanning products due to their stain-leaving nature.

Also, everyone reacts differently to tanning and people observe different issues with their skin and nails after exposing to sunlight or obtaining a tan at a solarium.

Poor Quality Products

Finally, a potential cause for discoloration can always be applying poor quality gels.

Unlike acrylic nails, gel nail polishes are non-porous. It means that they do soak up liquids or get stained when coming into contact with other chemicals or dirt.

Not all salons use the best quality gels and that is why they charge differently. It is better to pay more than having a ruined manicure only after a couple of days.


There are a few more reasons that might lead to brown spots and/or discoloration.

Although, they are not so directly connected with gels, if not treated, they can damage the nails permanently.

One is fungal infection: it is caused by bacteria that lead to thickening of the nail, rough edges and yellow coloring.

If you notice any suspicious spots on your gel, this might be a concern for the appearance of fungus.

Medical Conditions

There are also some medical conditions that lead to discoloration.  

Liver conditions, diabetes, thyroid conditions and a general lack of nutrients in your diet can all result in discoloring. 

How Do You Remove Brown Stains From Gel Nails?

Fortunately, there are ways to remove brown or yellow stains successfully at home!

Nail Polish Remover Or Alcohol

Now you are probably thinking that the remover will peel off the gel. No, it won’t, unless you put excessive quantities over your nail plate.

Take a nose swab and dip the cotton tip into the nail polish remover. Try to not completely soak the cotton with remover and dip for a second or two.

Then, start scrubbing the stain with the tip of the nose swab until the stain disappears. If you feel like the remover is not enough, dip again.

A very little amount of acetone won’t damage your gel and it will remove the stains. The same applies when using alcohol.

This all natural nail polish remover is my go to, and you can get it at an excellent price over at Amazon.

Its also ideal to have for all your nail polish removal needs!

Soak In Lemon And Baking Soda

Both are natural bleaching agents. Squeeze a whole lemon into a bowl of water and add one tablespoon of baking soda.

Dip your fingers for 10-15 minutes. After that, rinse your fingers with water without soap, gently scrubbing your nails.

Both ingredients are natural and do not contain chemicals, so you are not risking any gel polish damage. Apple cider vinegar also does the trick!

Grab Your Hairspray

Surprisingly enough, hair spray can come to rescue to remove brown stains.

Place your hand on a towel and spray hairspray on your nails until they become wet.

Then, use a cotton bud and gently start scrubbing off the spots. Wash your hands with water and soap.

Tea Tree Oil

Another natural agent that is helpful. You can also use it in case you are suffering from nail fungus. It is a natural stain remover.

Soak your nails in a bowl full of water and two tablespoons of tea tree oil. Let the nails soak and remove after 10-15 minutes.

Rinse with water without soap. You can do the same trick with coconut or castor oil. Castor oil is a multi-purpose vegetable oil that people have used for thousands of years.

If you are looking to get some Tee Tree Oil, which also has a range of other health benefits and uses, check out this high quality pharmaceutical grade Tea Tree Oil on Amazon.

Shaving Cream

Shaving cream contains hydrogen peroxide which is a bleaching agent.

Cover a cotton ball with cream and scrub the stain until it comes off.

Get A New Set Of Gel Nails

If all suggestions fail, consider getting your nails redone.

Sometimes, if the stains are too dark or have been left for a long time, without attempting to clean them, all remedies listed above may be helpless.

How Can You Prevent Your Gel Nails From Discoloring?

All and all, prevention of your gel nails from discolouring includes avoiding contact with chemicals, harmful products and applying poor quality gels.

When using cleaning agents, put rubber gloves on. Be careful not to spill any detergents while opening bottles. Quit smoking and eat healthily for a general well-being of your nails.

Go only to trusted salons that know the ideal duration of UV curing, apply top coat to your nails; keep your nails and cuticles moisturized.

Maintain good hygiene and disinfect any nail tools in advance before using.

If you decide to apply regular nail polish over your gel base, don’t worry. Ordinary nail polish does not lead to discoloration.  

There is nothing that lasts forever, but if you regularly use natural remedies such as tea tree oil, lemon and soda, vitamin E, vinegar you can prevent your nails from turning brown for a long time.

Apart from being harmless, these ingredients also have nutrients that supply your skin around the nails with vitamins and naturally moisturize them.


To sum up, following some simple steps can prevent you from getting your gel nails brown for a long time.

The stains usually occur when your nails come into contact with strong chemicals such as those contained in cleaning agents, make up products; spices such as turmeric, skin care creams, poor quality gels, over exposure to sunlight and self-tanners.

Bad habits such as smoking can also lead to brown nails and unhealthy and dry skin around the nails.

Methods that are useful for cleaning spots from your gel nails include using nail polish remover or alcohol, soaking in lemon and baking soda, using your hairspray, applying tea tree oil, scrubbing with shaving spray or finally getting a new set of gel nails altogether, if the stains are too persistent.