I’ve never been the girl with hand model-worthy nail beds. I’ve been a biter since I can remember, and my ragged cuticles and short fingernails always bothered me. Like many others in my position, I figured that acrylics were my best bet at good nails. I loved them: The long, almond shape made me feel like a Kardashian, and the thickness of the plastic prevented me from nibbling. But then, reality set in. I got fill after fill until they finally fell off… resulting in thin, brittle, acrylic-damaged nails underneath. I’m finally on the path to nail rehab for my natural nails, and with some expert input from the pros, I’ve made some much-needed leeway.
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“The only way to nurse damaged nails back to health is to give them a break from whatever caused damage in the first place,” Mazz Hanna, a celebrity nail artist who works with Julia Roberts and Selma Blair, tells TZR. “If you've ripped off your gel one too many times, take a break.” In my case, that means letting go of my beloved acrylics and giving my stubby lil’ nails some extra love.
That’s not to say that all nails that’ve been through the gel or acrylic process need repair. “The telltale sign of damaged nails are when they become thin and brittle and they break off before any growth can accumulate,” Hanna says. “Ridges are another way to tell if there has been damage to the nail plate.”
If you tend to get your fake nails refilled instead of soaked off and reapplied, you likely have some ridges — i.e., uneven texture on the surface of your natural nail. “Sometimes nail techs are pressed for time and end up grinding down the natural nail before refilling acrylics,” Hanna explains. “This is what can lead to ridges.” To treat the ridges in my nails, I like to use Dermelect’s Makeover Ridge Filler to camouflage the bumpy surface. It’s a simple, light pink polish infused with protein (aka, what nails are made of) to fill in dips while simultaneously strengthening the nail.
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Your nails go through a lot when you’re constantly getting acrylics or gel polish applied and removed. “When gels or acrylics are removed, sometimes they aren't soaked for long enough and as a result, a layer of nail is scraped off with the product,” Hanna says. This usually makes nails thin, bendy, and prone to breakage — three of my top concerns. Of course, I use the prerequisite clear strengthening top coat, but the product that’s made the most difference thus far is actually a nail serum — kind of like the vitamin and antioxidant-packed serums you use on your face, but for nails instead. I slather on a bit of Sally Hansen’s Hard As Nails Vitamin Strength Serum, fortified with vitamins A, C, and E, every day, and I’m dealing with fewer broken nails as a result.
Cuticle oil can also help maintain healthy nails. Think of cuticles like the scalp — this is the bedrock of nail growth. Just like healthy hair can only grow out of a healthy scalp, strong nails can only grow out of cared-for cuticles. I swear by Mazz Hanna’s Amethyst Cuticle Oil for three reasons: It works (thanks to conditioning hemp seed oil), it smells good (care of lavender and geranium essential oils), and its rollerball applicator is actually an amethyst crystal, “which can aid in fighting the urge to pick or bite nails and cuticles,” Hanna tells me. I’m a believer.
While the nail-repairing game requires a lot of patience, that doesn't mean you have to skip out on manicures in the meantime. Natural-looking nails will never go out of style. Try out a negative space manicure if you want to spice up your natural nails. Hanna suggests using a bobby pin to create tiny polka dots around the cuticle for a style that’s easy to achieve from home.
If your nails are going through a thin phase, make sure to ditch acetone nail polish remover. I’ve developed an obsession with Tenoverten’s rose-scented, acetone-free liquid remover for this reason. It actually has horsetail leaf extract, vitamin E, and aloe inside — so instead of stripping your nails (like most removers), it actually strengthens them.
Here are a few more picks for nail-strengthening treatments at home if you’re experiencing any kind of natural nail damage.
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