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Can nail polish spread fungus?

polishing toe nail
Lately, I have had clients coming and telling me that their podiatrist says nail polish can't be shared due to the possibility of it being contaminated with toe nail fungus. And, their own nail polish must be thrown away if they themselves used it while they had a nail fungus.

I've been doing nails for more than 30 years. It has always been my understanding that nail polish does not provide a friendly environment for fungus to live or multiply. But, since a doctor is telling my clients to throw away polish and not share polish, I've decided to revisit my view. 

I've done a bit of research looking for the facts on the topic of can fungus live in nail polish and spread fungal infection. Just the facts, ma'am! Let's start by knowing the enemy and what it needs to survive and spread.

A Little Info About Fungus

Fungus, yeast and mold require food, water and oxygen to survive. They also like darkness and warmth.

Plants have chlorophyll and can make their own food from sunlight. Fungi cannot. They need food.

Food for toe nail fungus is the keratin that the skin and nails are made of.

Fungi reproduce by spores. The spores are a dormant form of the fungus that grow in favorable conditions.

Fungus can be on your skin even though you are not experiencing an infection.

Toe nail fungus enters through a tiny break in the skin and any separation between the nail bed and the nail. The break in the skin can be from a trauma to the toe nail such as stubbing your toe, dropping something on your toe, your foot sliding in your shoe while playing a sport or even from tight shoes.

Toe nail fungi are called Dermatophytes.

Fungi and fungi spores can live in spas, locker rooms, around pools, showers, warm puddles, on a towel, on your sheets, on your socks and in your shoes.

Athlete's foot is a fungal infection that can become a toe nail fungal infection.

A family member with athlete's foot can easily spread it to the rest of the family by dropping spores around the house. ewwww!!!

Is there food, water and oxygen for the fungus in nail polish?

No, there isn't. Traditional nail polish or nail lacquer is a hostile chemical environment for microorganisms. 

Here are ingredient lists for a few nail polish brands:

OPI: acetyl tributyl citrate, butyl acetate, ethly acetate, epoxy resin, nitrocellulose, isopropyl alcohol, silica, polyvinyl butyral, trimethylpentanediyl dibenzoate, stearalkonium bentonite, and benzophenone-1.

Zoya: Butyl Acetate, Ethyl Acetate, Nitrocellulose, Acetyl Tributyl Citrate, Isopropyl Alcohol, Sterikonium Hectroite, Acrylates Copolymer, Styene/Acrylates Copolymer.

Orly: Ethyl Acetate, Butyl Acetate, Nitrocellulose, Adipic Acid/Neopentyl Glycol/Trimellitic Anhydride Copolymer, Isopropyl Alcohol, Tosylamide/Epoxy Resin, Triphenyl Phosphate, Polyethylene Terephthalate, Propyl Acetate, Trimethyl Pentanyl Diisobutyrate, Styrene/Acrylates Copolymer, Acetyl Tributyl Citrate, Synthetic Fluorphlogopite, N-Butyl Alcohol, Stearalkonium Hectorite, Stearalkonium Bentonite, Mica, Tin Oxide, Alumina, Silica, Trimethylpentanediyl Dibenzoate, Benzophenone-1, Polyvinyl Butyral, Citric Acid, Dimethicone, Trimethylsiloxysilicate, Calcium Aluminum Borosilicate.

It could be possible for fungus to grow in a water based nail polish, however.
What does the scientific community say about the matter?

Dr. Chris Adigun, a dermatologist who has an academic specialty in nail disorders and was assistant professor of dermatology at the New York University Department of Dermatology told refinery29: “In general, sharing nail polish does not present a health or infection risk.” “This is because the solvents in nail polish are chemically toxic to microorganisms by degrading their cell walls within seconds of contact. In fact, there have been studies that show that microbes cannot survive in nail lacquer, whether they are in a salon or deliberately contaminated with microorganisms for laboratory studies.”

According to the Textbook of Cosmetic Dermatology, edited by Robert Baran, MD and Howard I. Maibach, MD, "Microbiological studies commissioned in 2009 by the NMC (Nail Manufacturers Council) show that traditional solvent-based nail polishes will quickly kill common pathogens without additional preservation and do not create the potential for transmitting pathogenic organisms." (page 253)

My favorite scientist Doug Schoon says in his book, Nail Structure and Product Chemistry, "Pathogens cannot grow in acrylic monomer liquids, UV gels, primers, nail polish, nail dehydrators, and other solvent based products, either. These products have several things in common. None of them contains significant amounts of water. Pathogens need water to live and grow. Pathogens also need food. None of these products can act as food for pathogens." (page 225)

After looking at the facts, it's safe to say that nail polish cannot spread fungus. You will not get a fungal infection from nail polish at the nail salon or from your own polish that you used while you had a toe nail fungus. You could possibly get a fungal infection from an unclean salon, though. Be sure to go to salon that follows proper sanitation procedures, uses disposable items such as files, orangewood sticks & foot bath liners and properly cleans their metal nail tools.

Get a super clean pedicure at Styling Point in Media, PA!

Have no fear, use shared nail polish with confidence!

Thanks for stopping by!
Have a Beautiful, Fungus Free Day😉
Licensed Cosmetologist, Esthetician, Makeup Artist

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orly purple crush


  1. I had a nail fungus in september where I'd used UV gel polish. Assumed it was from the tools I'd used. Treated the fungus, it went away. About a month ago, i used the gel polish again but WITHOUT the metal tools I'd used previously. I used a nail prep-dehydrator and a nail primer before putting on the base coat, etc. Within 24 hours, the fungus had come back. I am absolutely convinced that the fungus is still somehow living in my nail polish. What else could it be? I didn't use any of the metal tools I'd used before. I didn't even use a cuticle pusher at all. The ONLY thing I used was an emery board I'd had - maybe that was it then??? I'm TERRIFIED to use my polish again. :(


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