Can Nurses Wear Nail Polish? – Here Is What You Should Know

can nurses wear nail polish

It can be quite tricky for some nurses to let go of their manicured nails when entering the nursing field. Knowing the possible effects of nail polish in the healthcare settings, but seeing nurses with glossy nails can be somewhat misleading. So what’s the deal? Can nurses wear nail polish?

Policies might vary, but most medical institutions will ban nail polish. However, hospitals might not always strictly enforce these rules. Despite recommendations from the CDC and The Joint Commission, it is entirely up to each health facility to allow nail polish for nurses.

What Kind of Nail Polish can Nurses Wear? 

The question should be: should nurses wear nail polish at all? 

As mentioned above, some facilities might be more lenient in their dress code policies and allow some form of self-expression with nail polish. Yet, most healthcare facilities have policies in place that ban nail polish and artificial nails altogether. 

The reason for that is the possibility of introducing germs to the patient and causing an infection. But more on that a little later. 

Some facilities might only allow you to wear clear nail polish or colors with a more natural appearance. Others might allow any color as long as you groom your nails. That means there cannot be any chipping of the nail polish – that can be difficult to control in a hectic and hands-on environment. 

Just be aware that simply because a facility allows nail polish or artificial nails or variations of that, does not mean that it is safe for the patient. Hospital policies can be very vague about distinguishing between nail polish and artificial nails. Some might even allow all these types of nails as long as you keep them short. 

Either way, there is a strong argument by official sources of why you should let go of these beautiful accessories – at least while you work. 

Why Nurses Should Not Wear Nail Polish 

Nail polish can look great for sure and make your nails look well-groomed, but if you take a closer look, nail polish and artificial nails can do more harm than good  

According to the CDC, studies show an increased number of pathogens on hands with fake nails before and after hand hygiene. 

They also mention that there is no evidence that nails with nail polish that are intact carry more bacteria than natural nails. However, they say chipped nails can have more bacteria on them than natural nails, even after hand hygiene. 

The point is that as you work with a patient, you can’t control every move. Therefore, chipping a nail and polish can happen very quickly. This can be risky because you might not notice this right away and put several patients at risk. It’s essential to be mindful that the patient is at an increased risk of infection due to an already weakened immune system. 

Related Reading: Why Do Nurses Wear Scrubs? (Interesting Facts)

Chipped particles might come in contact with wounds or other vulnerable areas and cause an infection. For very sick patients, this can be deadly. 

Aside from the infection risk, some patients might find artificial nails unprofessional. Regardless of the length of your nails, nail polish can take away from your professional appearance—most people associate hospitals and nurses with a sense of cleanliness and purity. 

Patients expect a clean and neutral appearance that shows that patient care is your priority. The patient might judge you even before you have gotten a chance to care for him or her. 

Of course, your appearance has nothing to do with your work performance as a nurse. Nevertheless, there will always be the first impression that we all know too well is tough to change. 

Now you might think, if chipping of nail polish is the problem, what about artificial nails. Artificial nails might not break as easily, but they indeed come with their own set of challenges. 

Can Nurses Wear Gel Nails, Acrylic Nails, or Dip Powder Nails?

There is not much research that distinguishes between the different types of artificial nails.

So how will you know which one is safe to wear? 

The concept of how artificial nails affect patients in the healthcare setting stays pretty much the same.

The nature of artificial nails can lead to similar problems in the healthcare setting, as does nail polish. 

All types are less likely to chip compared to nail polish. They also last longer than regular nail polish.

Artificial nails are much more durable than natural nails, but even with the intent to last longer than regular nail polish, fake nails can still break. Breakage of nails – natural or artificial- can happen quickly in a job that involves patient care. 

Since gel nails are less likely to chip or break, you might think that they are less likely to cause bacteria to stay on the nails. Gel nails, however, might lift as they get older. As the gel part lifts from the nail, germs can settle between your natural nail and the artificial tip. Bacteria get stuck in this space even after thorough hand washing. 

Frequent hand washing can weaken the artificial nail layers and make them lift faster. This process facilitates bacteria settling on the nail more quickly 

Can Nurses Wear Dip Powder Nails? 

Dip powder is very similar to acrylic. The process is very different, but that doesn’t change the fact that you apply foreign material to your nails that could potentially break or lift. 

Every time that is possible, there is also a possibility you might harbor germs that might find their way into the patient’s system and cause infection. 

Still not convinced? There is another problem with the process of dip powder nails. A client’s fingernails are dipped into a little container of powder several times throughout the process. The nail artist will reuse this same container and powder on the next client. 

Therefore, you could have germs embedded on your nails before even leaving the nail salon. 

If you are more interested in this method specifically, here is an article about wearing dip powder nails in nursing.

GOOD TO KNOW: Consider your role at the bedside. How involved are you in the patient’s care? Are you in close contact with the patient? Or do you have a more distant role that doesn’t require any direct patient care?

The Best Type of Nails for Nurses

It’s difficult to ignore the number of studies that suggest the same thing: modifying your nails in any way could lead to an increased risk for infection. So why risk it? After all, you became a nurse to help patients. 

Think about yourself too. You expose yourself to more germs as well, and you could take these home with you.

Many healthcare facilities might not be as attentive as they should be and lack to enforce their rules about nail polish and artificial nails. 

Regardless, the safest way for you and your patient is to go natural on the nails. 

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