9 Ways Your Nail Care Routine Changes In Winter

by Teresa Newsome
Asian young woman applying manicure and pedicure at home
monzenmachi/E+/Getty Images

Winter is hard on your body. The ways your nail care routine changes in winter may not be as important, as, say, the way your shoe game changes, but it's just as important if you want to keep all that hard work of reforming your cuticles from getting ruined by the cold.

Even if you're not one of those people who feels the cold in their bones, you're not immune to the way cold, dry air sucks the moisture out of your skin, or the way ice toys with your center of gravity (which is a nice way of saying we all have at least one good winter fall, amirite? Maybe that's just me.) All these things also have damning effects on your nails. And in the winter, it's even more annoying to have to cart your mangled fingers to the salon through a foot of snow and temperatures cold enough to re-slush melted margaritas.

But if you make some easy tweaks to your winter nail care routine, you can stay home by the fireplace (or a YouTube video of a fireplace) and drink tea while your nails gleam and glow like celestial bodies. None of these changes are huge departures from what you should already be doing, but they yield big results, and help avert big disasters.

1. Never Go Naked

Naked nails are mani enemy number one. And that enemy must be avoided at all costs if you want to survive the winter (and the rest of the year, while we're at it.) It's a myth that nails need to breathe. They can absorb oils, but they don't have lungs. When your nails have a coat of armor in the name of base coat, polish, and top coat, they're protected from enemy number two: water. They're also less likely to break and peel because they're protected. Always protect your nails with polish. A naked nail is a sad nail. This is the topcoat all the bloggers are gaga over:

G & G HK Girl - Fast Drying + Super Shiny Top Coat, $7, Glisten And Glow

2. Avoid Water

Water is bad for your nails. Like, really bad. Your nails absorb it, and get all boated, which can push the oils out. You need the oils. Plus that water absorption makes them super weak. And the expansion from the water bloat breaks the bond between your nail polish and your nail, causing it to chip. Before you get in the shower or do anything in water, make sure your nails are protected, topside and bottom-side, with base coat, polish, and topcoat. Be sure to swipe at the very tip of your nail, too, to cap everything off and seal out water. Once you're done, you guessed it, lotion.

3. Lotion Like You're In The Desert (Or Colorado)

Your nails love lotion more than I love glitter. And I really love glitter. Cold, dry air is pretty much the worst for your skin and your hair, but it also messes up your nails.. You need to maintain moisture in both your nails and your cuticles in order to prevent splitting, peeling, and breaking nails. Painful hangnails, cracked and bleeding cuticles, and chewed-up looking skin around your nails improves and eventually goes away, too. A fool-proof moisture strategy for the winter months is to use hand lotion several times a day, especially after you wash them or get them wet. Apply cuticle oil in the afternoon, before your lotion, and use a thick hand cream at night. A thick hand cream will seal in moisture, so if you want to use a cuticle oil before you apply that, too, even better.

Bliss Kiss Simply Cure Cuticle Oil Pen And Refill, $21, My Bliss Kiss

Lush Helping Hands Hand Cream, $20, Lush

4. Replace Moisture In The Air

Humidifiers work wonders for making dry, cold air into warm, moist air. Warm, moist air doesn't suck the life out of your skin, hair, and nails. A drugstore humidifier works fine, and if you don't have one (and don't want to buy one) you can boil a pot of water on the stove for at least some moisture. Just don't burn down your apartment. Oh, and while we're on the topic of humidifiers, you can get one for your desk too, and some are even meant for adding stress-relieving essential oils, which they diffuse into the air.

5. Skip Strengtheners

Nail strengtheners and nail hardeners do just that — they make your nails strong and hard. But strong and hard is not what you want, believe it or not. What you want is strong and flexible. Flexible nails break less. Hard nails crack, chip and break more easily. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but it's better to skip the hardeners and instead use a cuticle oil and good hand cream religiously instead. A good basecoat is plenty of nail protection.

Orly Bonder Basecoat, $8, Target

6. Polish Clean Nails

As we've established, naked nails are the enemy. With all that lotion you're applying now, you might find that your polish is chipping more, which leave little unprotected pieces of nail (and tempts you to pick at it, which can pull off layers of your nail plate!). That's because the oils in the lotion are interrupting your polish bond. Before you paint your nails, make sure to clean them off with rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover. You'll remove the surface oils, but you'll lock in the oils that have been absorbed into your nail, which is what matters. And always start with a base coat and end with a top coat. This protects your nails and seals in your polish.

7. Use Acetone

This is a controversial opinion, because acetone has a reputation for drying out your nails and skin. Still, especially in the winter, I find that acetone's super quick polish dissolving magic actually saves me some moisture when compared to weaker strengthening or moisturizing polishes, and the people at Nail Care HQ agree. It goes in fast and gets the job done. And any damage it does can be reversed with a good cuticle oil.

8. Wear Gloves

Gloves make nail care so easy! They protect your hands from all sorts of things, from grabbing a door handle wrong and breaking a nail, to the excess moisture that weakens your nails. Plus, if you're going to be cleaning off a windshield or shoveling a walkway, you need that extra protection. Because your nails are not tools, and should not be contributing to the snow removal efforts better left to scrapers and shovels. Also, see below, for kitten mittens. Because I love you.

Kitsch Animal Convertible Glove, $10, Urban Outfitters

9. File On The Regular

Since you'll be wearing gloves whenever you go outside, plus you'll be wrangling more scarves and sweaters, it's especially important that your nails are free of ridges and cracks. Most of the ridges and cracks that lead to tears, snags or breaks are the ones you can't even see. Filing them gently two to three times per week will make sure those edges stay smooth. This is more important to saving your existing nails and adding new length that it sounds.

And for God's sake, be careful out there. You could fall and break something worse than a nail. Like your texting hand. Or your phone! Ouch.

Images: monzenmachi/E+/Getty Images; Giphy (9)