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Busted – The Worst Nail Advice I’ve Ever Heard

By on February 18, 2014
in Tips and Tricks

Bad Nail Advice and Myths Debunked

Last week I went out to dinner with a friend who told me about the ridiculous advice a “nail professional” gave her during a recent manicure. It was so unbelievable that it got me thinking about the other bad nail tips, tricks and facts I’ve heard over the years, from pros, beauty insiders and consumers alike. To be honest, some of them have been debunked so many times, it amazes me they’re still being told.

The Worst Nail Advice I’ve EVER Heard

Bad Nail Advice - Washing Hands Removes Polish

The Backstory: My friend, Katrina, has horrible luck wearing regular nail polish. It chips on her within days whether she gets a professional manicure or does it herself. After trying numerous base/polish/top coat combos she now relies on gel polish, which gives her a week of wear, tops. I chalk it up to her nail chemistry.

The Bad Advice: So, she relays this info to her manicurist who proceeds to tell her that washing your hands removes layers of nail polish so you need to apply a top coat EVERY DAY! Seriously? Washing your hands removes polish? I’d love to see the book where that nugget of wisdom exists. Is this not the craziest nail myth yet?

The Truth: Repeated water exposure does wreck havoc on a manicure but it’s not removing layers of polish. As your polish naturally wears at the edges, water can seep in and promote chipping.

The Good Advice: Re-applying top coat will help extend a manicure’s life and restore shine. However, if you apply it every day, your polish will get so thick, it will start chipping. To reduce damage due to water exposure, wear gloves when cleaning and cap your free edge.

The Oldies But Goodies of Bad Nail Advice

The Bad Advice: Your nails need to breathe so take breaks from wearing polish.

The Truth: When will people stop purporting this nonsense?? Once the nail grows out past your cuticle, it is dead. Just like hair. So, no, nails do not need to breathe.

The Good Advice: If your nails are dry and brittle (like mine), wearing polish will help protect them from breakage. Can we put this one to bed now?

Fact or Myth? - Store Nail Polish in the Refrigerator

The Bad Advice: Store nail polish in the fridge to extend its life.

The Truth: This is such an unnecessary storage solution. Extreme temps, cold or hot, can damage nail polish. The refrigerator is way too cold to be an ideal environment. In fact, I recently tried using a bottle that was left in my car, on an above freezing day, and it was too gooopy to work with.

The Good Advice: The best way to store your polish is in a cool, not cold, dark place. UV exposure does way more damage, breaking down pigments over time and causing separation.


The Bad Advice: Use nail polish remover to thin out thickened, dried-up nail polish bottles. Just last week, a fellow blogger saw this gem being handed out on social media.

The Truth: Nail polish remover breaks down nail polish, so adding it to your bottle will only ruin it.

The Good Advice: Buy a nail polish thinner, not paint thinner (I’ve seen that recommended as well), at a beauty supply store. It’s so cheap and a giant bottle will last forever. Just use it in small doses. We’re talking drops. Though the best way to avoid even needing it is to tightly cap your bottles. Air exposure thickens polish.

Myth - Dry Nails In An Ice Bath

The Bad Advice: Plunging your nails into an ice bath dries them faster.

The Truth: The solvents in nail polish are what determine the dry time. Air exposure helps the solvents evaporate, drying your polish. Plunging nails in an ice bath just slows down the process.

The Good Advice: Quick dry top coats and drying sprays/drops contain ingredients to accelerate the evaporation rate. Outside of a heat lamp, they are your best bet to increasing dry time.

Okay, now it’s your turn. Share your bad advice stories with us. Have you read some inaccurate tips or tricks in a magazine? Been told some downright wrong info by a pro? Been the receiver of a nail falsehood from a friend?

Or, is there a tip/trick/technique you want debunked?

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There Are 91 Brilliant Comments

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  1. max says:

    Here’s some advice I once got from an esthetician. I wouldn’t call it bad necessarily because it does work for me, but I get lots of crazy looks from people when I repeat it so I think it qualifies.
    Anyway, here it is.
    When one or two of your nails break so that they are a lot shorter than the rest, do not cut the good nails to match the bad. That will only make it take longer for them all to grow out. Instead you “shame” the stubby ones by leaving them short in the midst of all your other long beautiful nails so they will be motivated to grow faster.
    Sounds insane, right? She believed that nails have feelings and personality just like people do.
    Crazy or not, like I said it works for me!

    • Michelle Mismas says:

      Hey, if it works for you, keep at it. It does sound a bit odd but if it doesn’t hurt anyone, why not?

    • Kellie says:

      Wait, why would it take longer?? Your nails all grow at the same rate lol. Dunno bout the shaming part cuz nails are dead but m’kay LOL. Thanks for the giggle anyways LOL.

      • Chakalacquer says:

        I actually think it makes some sense :) Meaning, yes, the nails are dead. But when they get longer they don’t grow as fast as when they’re short, right? So keeping the long ones longer might make the body give the short ones more attention – okay, I’m foreign, so I don’t know how to explain it properly, but what I mean is that the resources might go to the shorter rather than the longer. Does that make sense? ;)

      • Connie says:

        The nails on my right hand grow faster than the nails on my left. The nails on my thumbs and index fingers grow the quickest on each hand.

    • Lynyrd says:

      I agree. I never file my longer nails to match the short. I only file a little each mani and before long they are all the same length again. And I have done wonders with tea bags and nail glue lol it really does work!!!

    • Kate Anchant says:

      I think not cutting the other nails to match the broken nail makes the broken nail looks like it is growing faster because you can compare it to the longer nails. It sounds like it is only an illusion.

    • Susana says:

      No, I regularly chop them all off to the edge of the finger. Filing nails make mine weaker, so if one breaks, they all go.

  2. Beauty By Krystal says:

    LOVE this post! I’m going to share the hell out of it!
    I want to add another bad tip I used to get at nail salons (which is why I stopped going), clean cuticles are clipped cuticles – don’t ever let anyone tell you that you HAVE to cut your cuticles, you do have the freedom to say no.

  3. KD says:

    How about throwing out any nail polish over a year old because that’s when it “expires”? I seen that just a few weeks ago. SMH

    • Michelle Mismas says:

      I think that’s due more to labeling than anything else. A lot of cosmetics have a little expiration date symbol that says 3M, 6M, 24M, etc. Nail polish typically has 24M (or 24 months) on it. I know some brands used to have 12M on it. Of course nail polish doesn’t really expire. Unlike lipgloss or mascara, bacteria can’t grow in polish, with all those chemicals. The marking is more about how many months the brand suggests the polish will be good for when stored properly.

      • Kellie says:

        But if you don’t remember when you purchased it how would you know when the 3M, 6M, etc is up?? LOL. I have polish that is about 20+ years old, no lie. I have 2 Sally Hansen Nail Prisms that I bought in the early 90′s lol.

        • Amy says:

          Ditto Kelly! I have some of the Sally Hansen’s from the 90′s as well. Including the Magical collection. I have never even had to add thinner to them and they still paint beautifully.

      • People often mistake a “best before” date with an “expiration date” too. I always have to explain to my friends that they only need to keep their bottles clean and sealed tight.

  4. Lisa N. says:

    Very interesting post to read!!

  5. Sabine says:

    Recently someone on Twitter recommended to use clear polish to remove your manicure when you don’t have nail polish remover handy. Just apply a layer of clear polish and whipe off the whole manicure. Uhm… what?!

    • Michelle Mismas says:

      Now that actually is somewhat true. When you apply a new layer of polish, it softens the layers beneath so you can just wipe it off. I’ve applied clear over glitters before removing to make it easier. It does work but won’t remove everything the same way remover will.

      • Birdie says:

        I know this is an old post but I just want to add that if you left to dry two coats of clear varnish, the entire nail varnish will simply lift off with a slight manipulation of the edge. I have done this a few times at a pinch, when I’ve run out of remover. It’s less hassle and cleaner than wiping off the wet stuff.

    • Candy says:

      This totally works. I used to buy cheapie topcoat and use it as remover when I was a kid.

    • Lindsey Garber says:

      I use a cheapie clear polish EVERY TIME I remove my polish. I apply the clear, let is sit about two or three minutes, then wipe off. This takes at least 3/4 of all of my polish off( unless I have something crazy, like five or six coats on). Then, I dip my Q-tip into acetone/polish remover and proceed to wipe off the remaining polish! It is so much easier and, in my opinion, neater. It doesn’t smear the color all over the nail and fingertip! Plus, I don’t have to drench my nail with the harsh acetone this way!Sometimes I use the end of rubber cuticle pusher to GENTLY scrape the polish off after applying the clear, also. This makes it soooo easy.

      • Lara says:

        Love this! I’m thinking with that navy blue polish that ends up everywhere…even when I put oil on my cuticles before removing – this could be great!

    • Lena says:

      yeah, i’ve done this, when i forgot to bring a polish remover. the new polish over the old one basically breaks down the old one. however in my experience it takes more than one layer to get them all off.

  6. Shattered-Earth says:

    Here’s one, shaking the bottle causing bubbles in your manicure. Any bubbles shaking creates pop almost instantly and would be instantly visible on your nails. What causes bubbles is uneven drying due to too thick coats. As the polish dries it gives off gases, if your polish coat is too thick the top surface will dry first creating a barrier for the gases below it, causing small air bubbles to form. If you don’t shake your polish well you could end up with uneven application instead!

    • Michelle Mismas says:

      Interesting, thanks for sharing. I’ve always heard that shaking causes bubbles and never an opposing theory like yours. It’s good to hear another perspective on it.

      • Bronwyn says:

        I always get hella bubbles if I do my nails where there’s a breeze- by a window or in front of a fan, so I think the non-bottle-shaking explanation makes a lot of sense.

    • Lexie says:

      I’ve actually heard the same thing, as a rule, I don’t shake my polish but gently roll it between my hands. I’m not sure where the actual proof is from shaking it though. Thanks.

    • Josie says:

      I always thought the “shaking causes bubbles” was strange. I do get bubbles sometimes, but only in two situations – Revlon polishes, and putting on thick layers (or using thick polish that needs to be thinned) and not waiting long enough between them. But I always, always shake my polish – so if it were the shaking, shouldn’t I be getting bubbles all the time? I have some polishes where the pigment seems to separate faster than others and rolling the bottle would take way too long to reincorporate them. I’m sticking with shaking. :)

  7. Kaitlyn says:

    a heat lamp helps dry nails? i thought hot air slowed the drying process and you should use cool air to dry polish. is that wrong?

  8. I’ve heard about some of these. I hate when people file their actual nail beds as opposed to the tips. Who came up with that and why are people doing it?

    • Michelle Mismas says:

      File their nail beds? I don’t even know what that means.

      • Meghan says:

        I’ve heard about buffing nail beds, and I’ve also heard both good and bad things about this. Maybe this is what she’s referring to? I’ve heard it can make nail polish stick but at the same time it can weaken nails.

    • Tara says:

      Eww, that actually made me cringe! A bit of buffing I can understand, but filing! :O

      • Robin says:

        When you buff, you’re taking off the top layer of nail which weakens them and causes splitting, tearing and breaking. I never do it nor allow any tech to do that to me.

    • Susana says:

      I have to do that in my toenails due to fungus in them. But to one purpose only, to help the medication penetrate deeper. As to buffing, I’ve never had problems with it. My favorite mani is putting some white wet watercolor pencil underneath and buffing nails shiny. A french mani of sorts!

  9. Christine says:

    I told a customer (I’m a movie theater manager) that I liked her nails. She thanked me, and went on to tell her friend about a Polish she has that got thick, so she ADDED WATER to it and *surprise* it ruined it. I interrupted to tell her about a magical product called thinner. I blew her mind with my information.

    • Michelle Mismas says:

      I just hope it wasn’t an expensive or rare polish. That would be sad. Good for you for giving her the right info.

  10. Lexie says:

    I’ve actually heard that you should use top coat to thin your old polishes. This way it doesn’t ruin them but I’m not sure that’s exactly right either. I’ve had people tell me about the ice bath, I think it’s kind of funny.

    • Michelle Mismas says:

      Hmm, I could see using clear polish but, if it’s a quick dry top coat, I wonder how the chemicals would play when mixed together.

    • Mandy K says:

      I’ve actually done something similar before. I love Seche Vite, but about half way through the bottle it always turns in to a thick gloopy mess. So the last time the bottle got to that point, I decided to concoct a mixture in attempt to savage it. So I added some Nailtiques Formula 2, Essie All in One topcoat, Sally Hansen Triple Shine topcoat, and Sally Hansen Quick Dry Drops (hopefully to rebalance the drying time). It seems to be working pretty great so far.

      • JDV says:

        I’m late to the party but Seche Vite has a large refill bottle. When my working bottle gets about halfway down and starts to get thick I just top it off from the refill bottle and it’s like new again.

    • Shana says:

      These days there are so many amazing quick dry tops coats like Seche and Sally Hansen Mega Shine that the need for other drying techniques aren’t really necessary, but the cold thing totally works for me. I don’t go so far as to prepare an ice bath, but call me crazy, I have been known to run my nails under super cold, gently running water when still tacky and I swear it does the trick!

  11. Melissa says:

    This is such an awesome post! Most of these I was already aware of but it’s good for someone that is new to the nail polish world. This isn’t advice per say but one of my family members is always giving me grief for how much polish I buy. Mainly because they’re convinced that it will expire and harden up, forcing me to have to throw all of it away. The thing is I have many bottles in my collection that are several years old and are still as good as the day that I bought them.

    • Michelle Mismas says:

      I have some from the late 90′s early 00′s that are still in fabulous shape. As long as they’re capped tightly and stored well, they should last.

  12. Alicia says:

    How about the one where spraying your nails with Pam Cooking Spray will cause them to instantly dry? Sounds like a load of bull to me! haha!

    • Michelle Mismas says:

      I’ve heard about using it to avoid smudges. It creates a slick surface so, hopefully, whatever you bump into will slide off and not dent your polish.

      • whitelace says:

        I remember a ‘flash dry’ product a few years back, maybe Revlon? I swear it was like brushing on oil, and I hated it. Now I just allow enough dry time in between coats when I’m watching tv or something. Thinner and nail glue are items I have in my nail toolkit. I’ve tried nail strengtheners but my nails peel and break without having polish on. I use nail glue on weak areas then I use base coat and go from there. I’ve now changed to non-acetone remover, which has his ihelped strengthen my nails a lot. No scrubbing necessary to remove, even glitters. Just let the remover do its job. Hope some of this info helps!

  13. Victoria says:

    Your nails don’t need to breathe but cuticles sometimes need a break from all the acetone! I’ve taken a polish break before because I didn’t want to just watch my polish chip away for a couple weeks but my skin was cracking and ragged and needed lots of love. Cuticle oil fixed it right up. Once my skin healed, it could tolerate frequent acetone use again as long as I kept it well moisturized. I haven’t lapsed in my nightly cuticle oil ritual since. :)

  14. Danielle says:

    Thank you for posting this! I am a sort of newbie and appreciate any tips I can get

  15. Helen says:

    I was waiting for my nails to dry at a salon once and the woman next to me told me the “trick” she swears by to see if her polish is dry… Licking her nails! She then proceeded to show me… “If you lick it and can still taste nail polish, they’re not dry yet!”

    • Michelle Mismas says:

      Wow, unsanitary and potentially harmful. Great advice ;)

    • whitelace says:

      Good grief! I use the back of a finger or thumb to very gently touch the polish. It’s very easy to feel if it’s tacky still. If so, just leave it a few more minutes and check again.

  16. Michelle S. says:

    I’ve heard that hairspray helps dry your nail faster. Ever heard that? I’m skeptical to believe it.

    • Michelle Mismas says:

      Hmm, I don’t think I’ve heard of using hairspray for that. I know you can use it to remove pen marks from polish

      • POW Nails says:

        It’s totally true! If I’m in a rush I hairspray, wait a min and then top coat. Prevents my nail art from smudging, it’s the best tip ever!

  17. Morgan says:

    LOVE this post!! I’m a nail tech and so many people come in with all these crazy theories about nails! I’m defiantly going to share this on my website and facebook page!!

  18. Claire says:

    This article was fascinating to read! I leaned that my nails don’t need a break from polish :) Thanks!
    Also, I recently read in a magazine that you should use a hair dryer (on cold setting) or sit in front of your A/C to speed up drying. Doesn’t that cause bubbles??

  19. Zeeh says:

    I recently read a post from a blogger about cutting your finger nails with scissors to get a straight edge. I thought that was pretty crazy. Especially considering that my nails in particular have very little in common with a piece of paper, you know being just a bit thicker and having a curve…

    • Michelle Mismas says:

      With regulars scissors? My brittle nails would snap.

      • Zeeh says:

        Yep, there was even a picture. I have thick nails that curve and to bend them in such a way to support regular scissors would definitely hurt, I think I’ll stick to a nail file.

  20. Megan says:

    I think cleaning every last bit of oil off your nails prior to polishing them is bad advice. I let a little bit of cuticle oil stick around and my polish lasts much longer now. Plus my nails aren’t peeling as much.

    • My polish never lasts more than a day and I was always told that this was because my natural nail was “too oily”. So I was told that I should remove the oil from my nails with alcohol before painting them. But this is interesting, maybe I will forget that advice and see what happens. Either way I still haven’t been able to keep nail polish on more than 2 days.

      • Emma says:

        I had the same problem for years–my nails would last three days at most before getting major chips, sometimes shorter–but a couple months ago I bought a cheap Wet n Wild topcoat after running out of my old one and suddenly my polish is lasting a week before any chipping. No idea why this is, I’ve used a pretty wide variety of topcoats in the past, but I can’t say I’m complaining.

  21. Marilyn says:

    I had a nail tech at a high end salon question me for doing my own nails because I said I don’t do as well left handed as right. She said you need to “seal” the top coat in a smooth motion. I’m still not sure what she means. I use 3 swipes & I’ve never had a problem doing my own nails. I think she wanted repeat business!

  22. Fedoraharp says:

    I think the worst advice I got (that’s not already on this list) was to leave the polish bottle open for an hour or so if the polish is sheer- that way “the forumla will thicken up and it’ll get opaque”.

  23. The worst nail advice I’ve ever heard is that nails should be filed until they’re smooth, not just the edges. Crazy. Weakens nails and removes needed layers.

  24. Carissa Hensley says:

    Perfect post and one of my favs! It’s really sad that these myths continue to be spread . . . someone above said they stopped going to profs due to the bad advice they kept receiving and I’m in that camp as well. Although I miss the pampering, my nails have never been happier!

    • Michelle says:

      I stopped going to profs because most of them do a pretty sorry job. I started doing them myself because it burned me up to lay out thirty bucks for somebody, who was supposed to be an expert, file my nails naked, which makes it impossible to get them all the same shape, and then paint them with a jagged-edged gap that was wide enough to park a car in. It took me about a year, but I finally got my technique down so well that people frequently ask me who does my nails, and then they’re shocked when I say I do them myself.

      • Michelle Mismas says:

        That’s great that you’ve become so proficient at doing your own nails. Definitely a savings. Though, to be fair, I wouldn’t want to rip on the professional nail industry as a whole. It’s the same as any profession, there are always some people who don’t do the job as well as others. That doesn’t mean every nail tech is wrong.

        • Michelle says:

          True, and it was not my intention to rip on the industry as a whole. I just determined that I wasn’t willing to continue to spend money bouncing from salon to salon trying to find someone who would do a good job.

  25. I was recently told at my local nail salon that that the reason my nails were slightly yellow and so curved was becasue I dont eat enough fish. I just laughed and shook my head.

  26. Siameseflame says:

    This is a very interesting article. Thanks for posting it. Here are a few comments about nail myths.

    1. I have read more than a few times Patricia Yankee say to throw away polish that is more than a year old. Wonder what polish company she is working for? I have polish from the early seventies that I have used recently (just needed a bit of thinner) only problem with it was it was very smelly. I would hate to have to trash my 1400 plus bottles of nail polish collection just because some well known manicurist said that they go bad after a year.

    2. To check if polish is dry (this is my little trick) tap your nails together, remember that sound. When doing a new manicure, gently tap nails together, if you hear that sound you know your nails are dry.

    3. I have had polish on my nails for 41 years, just a couple of times for a few hours (surgery) have I had no polish on my nails. So if you need to “let your nails breathe” mine would be dead.

  27. As an amateur I’m always reading up on nail care and polish tips online. I tend to read nail care posts by nail professionals more so than the amateurs, but I’ve come to realize that these nail myths exist all over the place and it’s not always the professionals that know what they’re talking about. This is a great post! Thanks for sharing! My friends often say to me that it’s a waste to have such a large collection of nail polish because it “goes bad” and I always reassure them that nail polish does not have an expiration date. The main issue I find is they are messy with their polish application, and when polish builds up on the bottle, it doesn’t seal properly and then it gets thick and difficult to use. I’m careful with my own polish application, I keep my bottles clean, closed tight and they last me for years! :)

  28. Shana says:

    What about licking the nail to fix a small dent . . . anyone heard of or done this? Yes I do mean literally rubbing the nail on your tongue. . . I have heard a few people recommend this!

    • Lena says:

      I do this. It’s not a perfect solution but in a jiffy, it works for me. Your wet tongue glides over the nail and do not leave a mark; you flatten the bump by feeling (of your tongue).

    • WendyMD says:

      I’ve done this.. I know it sounds gross and kinda is but works. I smudged a nail I thought was dry on the way out the door, no time to properly fix it, the saliva smooths out any dents – not huge ones mind you – but in a pinch, yup.

  29. Natalie says:

    It’s not really advice, but years ago I had a roommate from a small third world county who essentially had talons. Her nails were crazy long and super thick, and instead of using clippers, I’d occasionally find her in the kitchen sawing away at her nails with a serrated knife. I guess I could have given her advice and recommended she use a pair of clippers, but who really wants to argue with someone wielding a knife?

  30. Andrea says:

    I have to mention this because it’s just wrong – a few of you have referred to “cuticles” obviously meaning that curved bit of skin at the base of your nail. That is NOT the cuticle. That is the eponychium – living tissue which (as you correctly stated) should not be cut. The cuticle is actually on the nail plate itself and SHOULD be removed during a manicure.

  31. The worst advice I got was from a lady at the pretty high end makeup store in my city. I was casually complaining about removing glitter polish and she told me to file it off. I don’t think that’d be so awesome for your nails’ health…

  32. Maria says:

    Great Post :) I too have nail polish that I had when I was in my teens. It must be 25+ years old and still fine. I have too many others now to need to use it but I don’t throw away things that there is nothing wrong with lol.

  33. Maria Cuesta says:

    Fabulous post, Michele. In response to FedoraHarp, I’ve also been told to leave a bottle of polish open for some minutes before applying but only if the polish is a bit thin (as in runny, not as in sheer).

  34. Georgeana Crespo says:

    My grandmother used to say the to make the mani last longer you should rub the edge of the nail while the polish is still wet to leave a teeny skinny white line atop the nail. I guess this must have been a habit she picked up in the 30s when she was a teen. I kinda have to say to an extent I have to agree, it does cause edge chipping to slow down a bit but I think that is because the edge is already somewhat chipped to begin with. Does this make sense?

  35. Morgan Lewis says:

    Haha! Love this! I do my mom’s nails every 1-2 weeks (she prefers gel manicures), and she just ordered the gel version of Don’t Bossa Nova Me Around from OPI’s new Brazil collection so she wanted to wait till it came in the mail before we do her nails again…. And I actually was just in the car with my mom running errands, and she says “it’s actually nice not having polish on my nails, so I can give them a break and let them breathe.” I endearingly rolled my eyes. XD apparently nails have lungs, y’all.

  36. Kay says:

    Nails don’t need to breathe. However, they do need air. Air and light keep fungus from growing. Additionally, the best way to keep nails from becoming and remaining brittle, is to occasionally take nail polish off and moisturize with coconut oil, etc. Saying nails need to breathe is like saying someone has stomach flu – stomach flu doesn’t exist, but it’s bad. Nails don’t need to breathe, but giving them air can prevent a lot of bad things.

  37. Gina says:

    About the ice bath thing, this always had me wondering. My mum used to swear by this in the 70s/80s and over my nail polish wearing lifetime she has gone from insisting do this every time to never using ice bath/cold water any more. I have actually asked her why she stopped and she said that it doesn’t seem to make a difference any more. She also said that modern nail polish stays “tacky dry” (like dry to the touch but easily to smudge) and nail polish used to not do this. So what I was wondering is, could it possibly be that the formulation changes from the ingredients that were common, like maybe different solvents, in nail polishes in the 60s (or whenever this advice started) have made this advice seem silly now and that that it actually DID used to work? I mean I know how different the formula and performance is in the chemical-laden goodness of an OPI black label-and compared the the formulas in old cutexes/revlons, black label OPI is practically modern AND non-toxic