How-To: Use Neon Nail Polishes Safely

Sarah Ostresh, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, OPI, shares how to use these trending nail colors safely this summer.
Sarah Ostresh, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, OPI, shares how to use these trending nail colors safely this summer.

Neons are popular for grabbing attention and making a statement!

They are used in multiple aspects of life that require attention, including advertising, apparel and increasingly in cosmetics. According to Pinterest, searches for neon lime nails have jumped by over 3,500% this year, indicating their prevalence as a big trend for the summer.

Shades of neon are extremely bright versions of primary (red, yellow and blue) and secondary (orange, green and violet) colors. When neon nails are spotted outside in the sun or at a dance party under blacklights, the glow of neon pigments becomes especially apparent. This is due to the fluorescence of neon pigments. They are unique from other colors due to the fact that they are fluorescent, meaning they emit light after illumination.

What is Fluorescence?

Fluorescence is a process that occurs when a substance absorbs radiation, such as UV light, and reemits light of a lower energy, such as visible light. This results in luminescence and why we see certain colors “glow” during the day.

Beginning in the 1930s, the first fluorescent pigments, also known as colorants, were commercialized for mainstream use. The first naturally fluorescent pigments were identified with a blacklight and then mixed with shellac to produce paints. Pigments are tiny solid particles that are well mixed into a liquid base to form colored paint. For pigments to properly mix into formulas, they are often coated with additives to build better attraction between pigments and the liquid base. These coatings are critical for proper dispersion leading to a uniform paint layer and are still in use today.

Following a decade of research and development, pigments called “daylight fluorescents” were manufactured for use that not only glow under blacklight conditions, but also in daylight from absorbing UV rays of the sun. By the 1960s, fluorescent colors became ubiquitous for use in psychedelic posters, advertising and a variety of safety gear.

Neons and Nail Polish

Pigments of all types are heavily regulated by the FDA due to the industrial processes they undergo in manufacturing. Industrial grade pigments may have many impurities left behind, so many of them are not acceptable for use in cosmetics. Further development has been done to create neon colorants that are safe for use in cosmetics and do not require the same level of regulation.

Neon cosmetic pigments generally contain standard cosmetic colorants along with materials called “optical brighteners.” It is these optical brighteners, now cosmetically approved, that react with UV light to create fluorescence. A huge variety of polish shades result from the evolution of these pigments. Many shades only need a low level of neon to create vibrant coral, intense teal or bright magenta. The mixing of pigments generates a vast library of color possibilities. As an example, neon green combines a lime green combination of standard cosmetic colorants, along with optical brighteners. The color that is emitted is very narrow and powerful, igniting its vibrant nature.

Neon Challenges: Fading and Staining

All pigments will fade over time in the presence of light, heat and humidity. These attention-grabbing neon pigments get drained after glowing for so long! Some pigments fade faster than others. This will cause the color of your favorite nail polish to change from bright to pastel or become more yellow over time. This can be avoided with the addition of UV filters and storage of the bottle in cool, dry places. Nails are inevitably exposed to heat and sunshine in the summer weather, but protecting the bottle is crucial for bright and colorful manicures in the future.

Some neon pigments may leach out of the lacquer and into your nail, causing potential staining visible when the lacquer is removed. It is best to use a base coat to prevent staining and a top coat to both extend the wear time and prevent fading. This prep work and technique used by nail professionals is key for maintaining lasting manicures all summer long.

Brightness to Stay

With the addition of fluorescent neon pigments or the addition of an optical brighteners, companies across the globe are creating nail polish with a lasting glow. After decades of research and development, it is safe to say that neons are here to stay and make your nails (and the world) a little brighter.

Regulating Neon Cosmetic Pigments

By Danielle Shapiro, Senior Specialist, Regulatory (Wella/OPI)

Have you ever heard someone ask, “is it true that neon nail polish is actually illegal”? This rumor has swirled around the cosmetic industry for quite some time. The truth is, all colorants used in cosmetic products in the United States need to be vetted first by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Colors derived mainly from petroleum are known as “coal-tar dyes” or “synthetic-organic” and must pass analysis of their composition and purity by the FDA in their labs. Those approved colorants need to be batch certified, meet certain specifications and be used within permissible levels. There are some naturally sourced colorants which are exempt from FDA certification. Exempt colorants are not required to have batch certification, but still need to be approved by the FDA before use. Neon colorants, specifically, are limited in their use due to impurity levels in the industrial manufacturing process. Fortunately, we now have FDA approved cosmetic neon colors which we can enjoy legally and safely.

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