Can Doctors Wear Nail Polish?

Can doctors wear nail polish? As infection control is a huge concern in the medical setting, let’s see if doctors and surgeons are given permission to wear a varnish!

Some rules on cosmetic aspects of medical workers, doctors, and surgeons, in particular, can be quite off-putting. Nevertheless, these guidelines and policies are there for patients’ safety and are based on serious concerns about infection transmission in medical settings. 

As hands are one of the most important tools for doctors and surgeons, it comes with no surprise that fingernail treatments, including artificial/polish nails, nail arts, and other similar adornments, are highly subjected to strict rules and regulations. 

Can doctors wear nail polish? How about long nails and acrylics? We’ll let you in on the essential guidelines you should know as a doctor!

Can Doctors Wear Nail Polish?

Working guidelines and policies vary across hospitals and medical institutions, but doctors are generally not permitted to wear nail polish.

The main reason is the concern about nail polish, especially when they are chipped, carrying the risk of cross-transmission. Many studies have shown the link between polished nails as a contact route for pathogens and healthcare-associated infections in patients.

On top of that, most respected healthcare organizations and institutions are against healthcare workers wearing fingernail polish.

The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology and The Association of Operating Room Nurses do not allow the wearing of gel polish in surgical operations. 

Their policies are backed by the link between nail polish and the increase in bacterial growth indicated in some research. There is a higher chance of fungi and chemicals harboring the nail polish, which can have detrimental implications to their patients’ health. 

In the same vein, other significant organizations such as the

US Centers for Disease Control, the Infectious Diseases Society of America, and the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America acknowledge the potential harm of artificial and polished nails. 

The institutions usually have more easy-going policies regarding gel-based polish. According to their working guidelines, surgeons are allowed to wear gel polish outside the OR but must have all of the polish removed to enter extensive surgeries and high-risk areas. 

For the reasons mentioned above, most medical facilities still ban nail polish wearing to ensure surgical effectiveness and safeguard the patients’ interests. 

Some clinics still permit their medical workers to wear polished nails, yet they have clear rules and regulations as to the length of the nails and type of polish (oftentimes, only clear polish is allowed). 

As policies may vary across clinics and institutions, it’s best to check the dress code policy in the place you’re working for if you’re curious or before committing to any manicure. 

Nail Polish And The Potential For Infection Transmission

For hygienic and safety reasons, almost all types of manicures and nail polish included are not allowed by healthcare organizations. 

Studies have shown that when the nail polish chips or breaks or is worn for more than four days might harbor microorganisms that cannot simply be removed by hand washing only, even with surgical hand scrubs. 

In other words, chipped nail polish increases more risks of infection than newly painted, unchipped nails. 

Chipped polish is more likely to spread infection than unvarnished, natural nails
Chipped polish is more likely to spread infection than unvarnished, natural nails

In addition, the presence of UV-cured nail polish

has been shown to increase the possibility of ineffective hand hygiene. This further validates the prohibition of nail polish, especially those cured under UV light conditions, in medical and surgical settings. 

According to another study, gel nails are associated with higher counts and more microbe species than natural nails.

The Rules May Vary In Different Countries And Medical Institutions

In the US, policies about dress codes and the physical appearance of medical workers are mainly determined by the hospitals.

Hence, it’s worth checking the rule of where you’re working if you can wear polished nails as a doctor. 

Mayo Clinic Health System

, for example, allows the wearing of nail polish provided that it is in good condition and without chipping to prevent the proliferation of microorganisms on fingers. 

However, the mentioned policy is quite ambiguous about the time window when the nail polish should be changed or removed. 

Many countries have stricter standards about hand hygiene for their medical workers. In the UK and Ireland, in particular, the ban on painted nails, including clear polish, is applied to all hospital-based doctors. 

In these countries, the Bare Below the Elbows initiative is fully implemented, which specifies doctors’ nails must be natural, short, and unvarnished, among other restrictions regarding the wearing of watches, ring bands, and other jewelry below the elbows. 

The World Health Organization (WHO)

and AORN do not recommend healthcare personnel wear nail varnish or artificial nails. Instead, nails should be kept short of deterring pathogens from spreading.

So, can doctors wear nail polish? Can surgeons wear nail polish? Now you know most hospitals are inclined to the “No” for both doctors and surgeons!

Can Doctors Wear Long Nails?

In the same vein, many hospitals mandate their medical workers to keep short nails, and this is for good reasons:

Higher Counts Of Microorganisms

Increased nail length has been proven to be a haven for microorganisms compared to shorter nails.

It’s simply because there are more surfaces for them to cling to. Fingernails are reservoirs for hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and human papillomavirus.

Long Nails Carry Higher Loads Of Microorganisms
Long Nails Carry Higher Loads Of Microorganisms

Interfere With The Procedures

Gloves are a protective barrier for doctors and patients according to Standard Precautions. Therefore, it is imperative that your nails are short (not growing longer than your fingertip).

To be more specific, what is the ideal length for your fingernail?

Doctors should keep their fingernail tips no longer than 0.08 inches (2mm). It is scientifically proven that fingernails at this length were less likely to harbor bacteria than nails exceeding 0.08 inches.

Doctors Should Keep Their Nails Short
Doctors Should Keep Their Nails Short

Longer nails can pierce the glove tips, and when this happens, you’re putting your patients in greater danger of infection and contamination. 

It is challenging to perform certain tasks with very long nails, especially when the doctors are in an emergency situation.

This can lead to incorrect protocol while using some medical equipment, which explains why most hospitals have clear guidelines about the nail’s length for their medical workers.  

Long nails are also not appropriate for examining the patients, especially when it comes to body parts that are sensitive or highly prone to disease transmission, such as rectal or pelvic. 

Prone To Breakage And Splitting

If doctors and surgeons wear nails too long, there is a higher chance that they will break, crack and split. It would cause no harm in your day-to-day life. 

However, when you’re performing surgical operations and your long nails are broken or splitted, this can disrupt the medical procedure, making your nails become a more attractive haven for microorganisms.

In the worst case scenario, the cracked piece of nails can make its way to the patient’s wound or organs. 

Attract Unnecessary Attention While On Duty

Super long nails might make a medical workers appear unprofessional to their colleagues and patients.

In such a professional setting, maintaining an acceptable appearance to your patients is incredibly important, which ensures a good relationship and smooth medical operation.

To safeguard their interests, patients might refuse the treatment and care from doctors or nurses who wear long nails since they regard long nails as unprofessional and unsanitary.  

Can Doctors Wear Artificial Nails?

Artificial nails are not to be worn by those having direct contact with patients, clients, or residents. This means that they aren’t generally permitted for doctors working in direct patient care.

In general, fake nails are even considered a greater threat than nail polish. 

According to the CDC guidelines, healthcare workers should not wear artificial nails if they care for patients at high risk of getting infected, patients in intensive care units, or transplant units.

The WHO policies also ban artificial nails and any sort of extenders for all healthcare personnel.

Depending on the guideline that your hospital chose to follow, either from CDC or WHO, there are different rules about artificial nails.

If they adhere to WHO guidelines, direct care providers must not wear artificial nails or extenders. 

If CDC is chosen, those providing care in high-risk sections should not have artificial nails. Yet, there are cases where medical institutions adhering to CDC guidelines decided to further prohibit nail gels gel polish to all care providers in addition to false nails to ensure the safety of their patients. 

Can Personnel In The OR Wear Artificial Nails?

Medical personnel should not wear artificial nails in the perioperative environment, and here is why:

Ineffective Hand Hygiene

In the operating room (OR), proper hand hygiene is crucial for infection control.

Therefore, it is of paramount importance to thorough­ly cleanse the surface of the hands all the way to the elbows, and eliminate any scales and other particles or residues that hang onto them. 

Cleansing and scrubbing false nails are more of a hassle, which can render hand washing less effective than you would with bare natural nails.

The less effective this sanitizing process becomes, the bigger the concern about infection control in the OR. 

Regular Exposure To Water Can Cause Lifting Issues

Working in the OR environment means that you have to come on good terms with regular water exposure.

A surgical nurse, for example, has to scrub at least four times in her 8-hour shift, and this process involves tough not-so-soft brushes and harsh chemicals. 

Frequent Scrubbing And Washing Can Lead To Nail Lifting
Frequent Scrubbing And Washing Can Lead To Nail Lifting

The thing is, acrylic nails are not highly recommended in a profession where you have to contact water that often.

Constant exposure to water and moisture cause premature lifting, leading to a gap between the artificial products and your nail bed. 

Water can accumulate between these gaps, creating a breeding ground for bacteria and yeast to thrive. One of the most common problems for wet hands with artificial nails is paronychia infection – a yeast infection under the nail fold. 

Doctors or nurses in the OR are in no doubt more prone to these types of infection, which could eventually cause contamination to the surgical environment. 

Long, Artificial Nails And Gloves Are Not A Match

As mentioned, nails with substantial length can puncture surgical gloves.

Gloves should be intact so that they won’t pose any threat to the patients’ conditions in invasive procedures. Long, fake nails just won’t let that happen, rendering them a big no in the OR room. 

Can Medical Students Wear Nail Polish?

Usually, nail polish is permitted among medical students. We recommend opting for neutral, discreet tones to be more appropriate for educational settings. 

The dress code typically gets stricter once one approaches the clinical years when direct contact with patients is a day-to-day affair.

Up to this point, med students are normally asked to wear nails with no nail extensions, fake nails, or even nail polish (including clear varnish!). 


Can doctors wear nail polish? We hope now you have the answer by the end of this article!

While there is still lacking strong scientific evidence about the relation between nail polish and cross-infection, we still should comprehend its potential as a harbor for microbes. 

Whether you are allowed to wear nail polish depends on your hospital’s policies, yet be prepared to forgo the manicure as most hospitals agreed on the ban of nail varnish or any type of nail treatments. 

Choosing this profession shows that you already acknowledge the importance of effective hand hygiene, which usually means clean, pristine nails! 

We should do what’s best for the good of our patients, and sometimes it is more rational to ask whether we should wear nail varnish in addition to whether we’re allowed or not! 


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