Even the most sophisticated skin care aficionados might feel flummoxed when asked how to heal damaged nails. Despite being incredibly common (and easy) to experience dry, brittle, or gel-ravaged nail beds, the rules of proper nail care aren’t as widely discussed as other areas of your beauty routine. Fortunately, Bustle spoke with the experts, and it turns out that your nails are much more like skin and hair than you might think.
“Damaged nails are analogous to over-processed hair,” Dr. Dana Stern, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist who specializes in nail health, tells Bustle. “Often you need to avoid the damage-inducing product for a period of time and use effective, reparative, and restorative products that are formulated with good-for-nail ingredients.” In other words, you’ll want to take a break from whatever caused the damage to your nail beds and load up on nourishing ingredients to help them heal.
Jin Soon, celebrity nail artist and founder of JINsoon Nail Lacquer, adds that your nails get dry just like your hair and skin — hence why moisturizing is so important. “Like hair, your nails become brittle and are more susceptible to breakage and damage when dry,” she tells Bustle. “It’s important to use treatments and cuticle oils to nourish the nail bed.”
Ready to repair your nails for good? Read on for advice from the pros that’ll leave your fingertips in tip-top shape.
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1. Remove Polish Properly
While it may be tempting, there is one especially universal rule for nail care: Don’t peel your polish. “One of the main causes of damage to nails is improper removal and aftercare,” Soon tells Bustle. “If you are consistently getting gel, acrylic, or dip services, you need to ensure your salon is removing these with care to maintain your nails’ integrity.” This means always waiting until you get to the salon, as removing it yourself can seriously weaken your nails.
“People get impatient and they end up pulling the product off, [and] that’s what damages the nail,” Deborah Lippmann, celebrity manicurist, agrees, adding that leaving nail enhancements on for too long can damage your nails, too. “If wearing artificial nails that are not cared for in the right time frame, you can get water in between the nail enhancement and the nail ends up with mildew,” she says. “If left untreated, it can get worse.” So be sure to ask your technician when to come back in for removal — and actually stick to the schedule.
2. Always Wear Gloves & Nail Protection
If you’re experiencing excessive nail dryness or damage, consider the source. “Some common, everyday behaviors can cause damage to natural nails, [such as] not wearing gloves when washing dishes or doing chores with harsh cleaning products,” Silva Nahabedian, director of education at Dazzle Dry, tells Bustle. This is both due to potential chemicals from detergents and the water, as the water can — ironically — cause dryness in skin and cuticles.
Lippman suggests gloves or alternative nail protection for other chores, too. “Avoid using the tips of your nails as tools,” she advises, adding that you should always wear gloves when completing a task that requires fingers. Nahabedian’s secret? Apply cuticle oil to your nails before putting gloves on. “This little tip will help keep your nails supple and well hydrated,” she says.
3. Be Gentle With Manicures
While nails are clearly susceptible to chemical and even water damage, they’re similarly vulnerable to mechanical injuries from unintentionally harsh manicuring. “Some examples of overly aggressive manicuring often occur with cuticle removal, pushing back at the cuticle, electric filing of the nail plate, cleaning under the nail with an orange stick — which can lead to separation, aka onycholysis — and buffing the surface of the nail with a grit that is too abrasive for a natural nail,” Stern tells Bustle.
Nahabedian encourages finding accredited nail technicians when getting a manicure. “Be sure to find a manicurist who is well trained and invests in continuing education,” she says, noting that improper cuticle maintenance can cause damage to the natural nail. To avoid this, ask to have your cuticles “gently groomed,” as opposed to aggressively pushed back. This will help prevent damage to the natural nail plate, Nahabedian says.
4. Take Nail Polish Breaks
While it’s sad for nail art enthusiasts, sometimes, it’s necessary to give your nails a breather. “The best way to repair damaged nails, no matter the cause, is to give them a break from nail polish,” Soon tells Bustle. “Although a longer break is needed for gels and acrylics, your nails still need a break even from regular nail polish.” While on your nail polish vacation, be sure to keep your cuticles moisturized. “That will promote healing of the actual nail,” Soon says.
When looking for moisturizing products, Stern suggests seeking oils or ointment-based formulas as they’re more easily absorbed by your nails and cuticles. “Oils that are rich in phospholipids, namely sunflower oil, have been shown to increase nail flexibility and combat brittleness,” she explains.
Shop Nail Repair Care
The Nourishing Oil
For a full nail-health-makeover, Nahabedian recommends Dazzle Dry’s ultra-nourishing nail repair oil. This silky salve is formulated with hydrating squalane, soothing oat, and tea tree oil, which work together to repair your nails from superficial dryness and damage.
The Repair Treatment
Soon suggests using JINSoon’s HyperRepair either in between services or as a base coat as it hydrates, strengthens, and nourishes the natural nail. Formulated with glycolic, malic, and lactic acids, which restore the nail surface, as well as nourishing vitamins C, E, and B5, this potent repair serum will give your nail beds a moisturizing boost.
The Cuticle Cream
Deborah Lippman’s Cuticle Repair Cream conditions and soothes dry, cracked cuticles thanks to raspberry stem cell extract, red algae, shea butter, sodium hyaluronate, and multiple vitamins — working as a multivitamin for your nail beds.
The Strengthening Serum
Formulated for use on weak, dry, or peeling nails, this aloe vera-spiked nail strengthener helps replenish natural moisture and prevent cracks in your nail beds.
The Gentle Nail Polish Remover
Traditional nail polish remover can be dry and/or damaging, but this formula is anything but. Formulated with soybeans, herbs, and essential oils, this polish remover isn’t just gentler on your nails, but your nose, too, and can be washed off with just water.