How to Paint Your Toenails When You Can’t Reach may earn a small commission when you use one of the links on this page to purchase.

how to paint your toenails when you can't reach

As someone who has a little more to love around the middle, reaching to paint my toenails was quite the challenge. Bending straight forward made it almost impossible to paint my toenails and as much as I contorted my body any way I could think of, I ended up with a sore back and shoddily-painted toenails.

So, I scoured the Internet, watched some videos, and came up with some tips.

So, how can you paint your toenails when you can’t reach?

Experiment to find the best position for your body type. Try using a chair to sit in or to rest your feet on while you stand so you don’t have to bend as much. Of course, it’s also an option to plan a pedicure with a friend or ask your spouse to help.

Below, we’ll take a closer look at how to paint your toenails when you can’t reach, whether you’re plus-sized or pregnant. Hopefully, this will help get your toes looking great in your sandals and open-toed shoes.

How to Paint Your Toenails When You’re Plus-Sized

Currently, it’s estimated that around 85-90% of women around the world use nail care products. Painting your toenails is a great way to boost your confidence. Who doesn’t feel great in a cute pair of open-toed shoes with their toes looking their best? We shouldn’t have to give this up being plus-sized women.

Here are some strategies I’ve put to the test.

Use a Toe Spreader

Even when you find the position that works best for you, painting your toes can require bending in awkward and sometimes uncomfortable positions. Using a toe spreader helps position your toes for painting. Plus, you spend less time painting your toenails because you aren’t struggling to keep your toes apart while applying polish. It’s super helpful for preventing smudging while the polish dries, too. Don’t worry if you can’t find your toe spreader- you can even fold a piece of tissue in half several times and position it between the toes in a pinch.

Find a Position That Works

Something that I’ve found after watching various videos on the topic is that there isn’t really a one-size-fits all position for painting your toenails as a bigger woman. Of course, there are positions that work better for painting your toenails when you can’t reach, so let’s take a look.

Using a chair is one of the best ways to give yourself that extra leverage you need to paint your toenails. The chair can be used while sitting or standing, depending on what works best for you. I find that a kitchen chair works best, just be sure to cover it with newspaper or something in case of drops or spills.

For women who are a little larger around the tummy, but still have good flexibility in their thighs, try keeping one foot on the ground and pull the other foot up toward the chair. This doesn’t always work for painting, but it is a good technique for trimming your nails and cuticles, filing, or applying moisturizer.

You can also stand with your foot flat next to the chair, then put your toenails that you’re trying to paint on the chair. Bend at the knee and angle your body as you need to, so you can access your toes a little bit easier. I find not having to bend as much as I do while sitting to paint my nails makes me feel less dizzy if I stay in the position for a few minutes. You can see an example of how to paint your toenails when you can’t reach in this video:

Take Breaks as Needed

Let’s face it. Even when you find the best position for your body, you might still be bending in an awkward position. Taking a break to stretch if you need to stops you from over-straining your muscles. Plus, giving yourself a pedicure is something that should relax you, so don’t rush through it.

Paint Your Toenails When You’re Relaxed

Finally, be sure to paint your toenails when you’re relaxed, rather than when you have to rush through it or after you’ve been standing all day. After long periods of standing, it’s common for fluid to accumulate in the feet and lower legs from the pull of gravity. This fluid accumulation (known as edema) is especially common in people with a little extra weight and it can make it harder to paint your nails.

Extra Tips for Painting Your Toenails When You Can’t Reach

Body positioning aside, here are a few extra things that I’ve learned from painting my toenails over the years as a larger woman.

Apply Vaseline for a Neater Finish

Even with toe spreaders to hold your piggies in place, sometimes it’s hard to get the neat finish you want. Before you start painting your nails, take a Q-tip with vaseline and apply it around the nail. This stops nail polish from sticking to skin, so you can wipe it away easily once your nail dries. I also find this option works well if you ever ask your husband or a younger child to paint your nails, since they don’t always have the steady hand needed to keep the nail polish on the toenail.

Cut Straight Across Instead of Curving Your Nails

One mistake that people make is cutting their nails in a curve because they look cute. Unfortunately, this cute look also encourages nails to grow curved instead of straight. They may grow into the skin and cause ingrown toenails. Instead, you should always cut straight across. If the corners of the nail are too sharp, gently file down the points but be sure not to curve the

Go for a Longer-Lasting Look

When you have to awkwardly bend your body every time that you want to touch-up your nail polish or change the color, I find that it’s best not to put yourself in this position too frequently. For this reason, I try to stick with high-quality nail polish that doesn’t chip easily. Doing things like filing down the nail bed so nail polish sticks better and applying a top coat also makes your nail polish last.

Keep Nails Looking Great Without Polish

As mentioned below, it’s best to take some time off from painting nails, too. Not only does this prevent yellowing from the nail bed not being able to breathe, but it also gives you time to notice any changes or discoloration. Even when you aren’t painting your nails, however, you can keep them looking great by keeping them trimmed and cleaning them regularly. You should also be sure to moisturize your nails when they are bare. Keeping nails moisturized prevents splitting, which in turn prevents bacteria from sneaking into the nail bed from those open areas.

Whitening your toenails will also keep them looking great, especially if they are stained from polish. Start by buffing away the discoloration if it’s on the surface of the nail by using a filer. Once your nails are filed, you can use home remedies like applying hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, lemon juice, or even denture cleaner to the nail beds for a whiter appearance. Note that these methods should only be used for surface stains, as they won’t penetrate deep enough to treat discoloration from fungus or underlying health conditions.

Why You Should Paint Your Toenails Sparingly When You’re Overweight or Pregnant

While there’s nothing wrong with matching your toes to your fingernails or wanting your feet to look great in some open-toed shoes on a night out, you should spend some down-time with the polish, too. The color and growth of your toenails can tell a doctor a lot about your health. Hippocrates started looking at the feet as an indicator of systemic disease as early as the fifth century when he identified a clubbing shape. Since, there have been many systemic diseases linked to the nail beds as well.

While being overweight does not mean you’re necessarily unhealthy, being overweight generally means there’s a greater risk for developing conditions like cardiovascular disease, sleep apnea, and diabetes. Catching these diseases earlier gives you a greater chance of fighting them and keeping your toenails bare every once in a while could give you insight into your health.

What Discoloration of My Toenails Means

A normal, healthy toenail should look similar to your fingernails. It should be a pinkish color because of the color of your toes underneath. Additionally, the nail growth should not be curved, ingrown, or growing into your skin.

You can learn a lot about your health by looking at the color of your toenails and any discoloration, streaks, spots, or weird growth patterns often indicate an underlying problem.

Here are some things to watch out for:

  • White spots that turn yellow or brown- This is usually toenail fungus, which is most common in older individuals and those with poor circulation (like people with diabetes). However, it can happen to anyone if bacteria from yeast or mold gets under the nail bed. Toenails also thicken over time with fungal growth.
  • Yellow or green colors- Yellowing that isn’t caused by fungus is usually caused by using nail polish too often or for a long period of time. Toenails that turn green usually do so as a bad reaction to products you’ve used.
  • Black, dark blue, or deep blue spot- This means you probably dropped something really heavy on your toe. This happened to me over the summer when I dropped a kitchen trash can on my toe and lasted for months.
  • Bluish or purple colors all over- When the toenail is blue or purple all over, without an injury, it could be caused by poor circulation. Poor circulation can be caused by systemic infections like Raynaud’s disease, heart disease, or diabetes. It’s especially concerning if you don’t have full sensation in your feet.
  • Gray or black toenails- Gray toenails indicate poor nutrition, arthritis or lung disease. Black toenails not caused by bruising might indicate a deficiency in iron or Vitamin B12. In rare cases, it could also indicate something serious like liver disease, kidney disease, or cancer.
  • Streaking- White bands indicate a lack of protein in your diet or even dealing with extra stress, while toes that are completely white may be caused by anemia. Dark streaks may indicate something serious, including melanoma skin cancer.

Cautions for Pregnant Women Painting Their Toenails

The biggest concern for pregnant women painting their toes during pregnancy actually comes from bending or awkwardly contorting their bodies once they’re in their later trimester. You shouldn’t bend so far that you strain yourself, since it raises the risk of pre-term labor or miscarriage. Immediately stop what you’re doing if it hurts or becomes too difficult to bend.

Even though nail polish does contain chemicals and other not-so-good ingredients, there hasn’t been a strong connection between occasionally painting your nails and exposing your baby to chemicals. You can even treat yourself to an occasional pedicure, since the only risk of fumes comes from regular, occupational exposure. If you are concerned about it, they do make non-toxic nail polishes.

Something else to note is that using nail polish remover exposes you to more fumes than nail polish. You should opt for an acetone-free nail polish remover and be sure to use it in a well-ventilated area.

How Often Should I Paint My Toenails?

According to Joy Rowland, DPM, foot specialist at Cleveland Clinic, it’s best to paint your toenails and then wear it for several weeks before removing. Then, spend a few weeks with toenails bare. Wearing your nail polish longer lets you enjoy your toenails and also limits how often you’re using nail polish remover, which is highly toxic and gives off strong fumes.

The time in between is a great time to look for changes in color that could give you insight into your health.

Final Word

There’s no reason that we shouldn’t paint our toenails and keep our feet looking great, even as bigger women. I love the boost of confidence I get when I’m looking great, with a set of beautiful toenails peeking out of my open-toed shoes to compliment my top and dress pants.

As you can see, learning how to paint your toenails when you can’t reach is all about finding the position that works best for you. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all option, though elevating the foot you are working on and then bending down is usually what works best for most people. Of course, having someone else do it is also an option!

Hopefully, this article has been full of tips that will make painting your toenails as a plus-sized woman that much easier. Feel free to drop a comment with any strategies I’ve forgotten, or any techniques you’ve used to paint your toenails when you can’t reach!

Camila R.

Camila is a body positive blogger and fat activist that's focused on helping people of all sizes live life big! That means accepting yourself at any size and just enjoying life! She lives in New Mexico with her husband and two chihauhuas.

Recent Posts