Can Doctors Wear Nail Polish? (Explained)

Doctors don’t get too many opportunities to add flair to their work uniforms. From white coats to scrubs, the customization of attire is limited. But is it the same when it comes to personal appearance?

Can doctors wear nail polish?

Yes, in some circumstances. Depending on hospital policy, doctors are often allowed to wear nail polish provided it isn’t chipped or cracked. Certain departments have strict rules against it, however.

So, as you can see, the answer is a little more complicated than it first seems!

If you’re interested in finding out more, here’s what this article will cover:

  • When doctors can/can’t wear nail polish
  • Reasons why
  • The ruling on nail polish and nails in other medical fields

As an international med student who understands the varying rules and regulations across countries, I know that this can be something of a hot topic!

Ready to start? Let’s go.

Can doctors have painted nails?

As previously mentioned, certain doctors are allowed to have painted nails. In America, policies surrounding dress and physical appearance are largely hospital-specific.

As an example, here’s what Mayo Clinic dictates as their guidelines surrounding the question…

Nail polish should be in good condition with no chipping.

(Source)

Because this policy, part of the broader Hand Hygiene Rules, extends to all hospital workers, it’s taken to assume doctors follow these rules also (how many days you’ll need before changing them out, is a little unclear, however).

Anywhere where doctors can compromise the sterilization of equipment (Sterile Processing Departments, etc), it appears nail polish or painted nails are not permitted.

Outside of the U.S., in the UK or Ireland for example, painted nails (or nail polish) are not allowed for hospital-based doctors.

Policy there operates on a “bare below the elbows” rule that extends to nail polish.

But you may still see doctors in those countries wearing it!

Related: Can Doctors Have Piercings? (Explained!)

What about doctors outside of hospital?

The ruling surrounding nail polish use among general practitioners (GP’s) will again come down to clinic policy.

Unless specific health and safety rules dictate otherwise, clinics are free to set their own policies when it comes to dressing and personal appearance.

Of course, outside of clinical work doctors are free to wear nail polish, get manicures and do anything else they wish to their hands and feet.

As evidenced in lockdown by dermatologist Dr. Dray!

Can doctors wear acrylic nails?

Acrylic or artificial nails aren’t generally permitted for doctors working in direct patient care.

Again, here’s Mayo Clinics’ ruling on it…

Artificial nails and shellac can not be worn by employees doing direct patient care (including but not limited to direct physical contact with patients during exams,procedures, treatments, nursing care, surgery, or emergencies); preparing ordispensing medication or blood products for patient use; preparing equipment orsupplies for patient use (e.g. Central Stores); food, beverages, and serving food.

Fake nails are seen as more of a health and safety risk than painted ones.

Can you wear nail polish as a surgeon?

Although there are many anecdotal reports of surgeons wearing nail polish, it’s generally not allowed.

Surgery is classified under “direct patient care”, meaning hygiene rules strongly pertain to it.

Having long nails (long enough for polish) is probably a bad idea in surgery anyway. Because so much of the job comes down to handling tools and manipulating the body parts of their patients, it can look unsanitary and unsafe.

Patients might get the wrong idea from their surgeon if they witness extravagant nails upon consultation!

Related: Do Surgeons Need Steady Hands? (Explained!)

Can you wear nails in the medical field?

Again the rules come down to where you work and what you do.

Always check with your employer’s policy first (or infection control) before assuming you’re free to wear nail polish or acrylic nails.

Doing so without clearance could place your job and your patients’ health and safety at risk.

There are a few accounts of nurses wearing gel nails and the like in their line of work but the evidence is still out in terms of their safety.

For the most part, fake nails or nail polish are not permitted for those involved in direct patient care in the medical field.

Nail polish and infection control

According to this study, any evidence that nail polish (or fake nails) leads to increased infection risk is inconclusive.

Nonetheless, most hospital policy operates similarly; seeing polish or acrylic nails as potential fomites (sources of pathogenic spread).

Infection control is always the best place to consult if you’re in any doubt as to the rules and regulations considering your nails (and what to do with them).

Can you wear nail polish in med school?

Yes, for the most part. Especially in the pre-clinical years of med school where patient contact is non-existent (beyond that is again dictated by teaching hospital policy).

Unless your school’s dress code suggests otherwise, nail polish is generally acceptable among medical students.

It is advised to go for neutral tones, however. Especially as you want to avoid any stigma related to bright or elaborate nails that patients or more traditional attendings may have!

Related: Medical Student Attire (The Ultimate Guide On What To Wear In Med School) 

Summary

Doctors are only allowed to wear nail polish if their hospital or clinical allows. Those wishing to work in surgery or involved in close patient contact may be subject to more stringent rules surrounding polish or acrylic nails. Nail length may also be another issue depending on where and who you work with.

Like most things in medicine, there are some limitations as to your cosmetic freedoms!