From first impressions to overall health, nails can be one of the trickiest areas to upkeep, particularly if you're one to indulge regularly in gel manicures or acrylics. It's not only our beauty habits that wear down nails. Hand-heavy activities like certain sports, gardening, or even using harsh chemicals while cleaning can affect nail health and have a huge impact on both appearance and comfort. So what’s the best way to fix nails once the damage is done? We chatted with nail experts, who gave us some great insight.
Meet the Expert
Keep reading to learn how to repair damaged nails with 9 simple hacks.
Use a Cuticle Cream or Oil
Remark notes that one of the easiest ways to repair damaged nails is to apply a cuticle oil followed by a hand cream. "Cuticle oils deliver vitamins and nourishment and the cream will lock moisture. Moisture loss is a common symptom of gel nail damage," Remark says. Lippman adds, "Your cuticle is the end of your skin and is meant to be a barrier to keep bacteria and free radicals from entering the body, therefore preventing infections. Keeping your cuticle moisturized helps to keep it healthy and healthy cuticles are key to healthy nail growth. Using a cuticle oil such as Deborah Lippmann Cuticle Oil softens and hydrates your cuticles. Every drop softens cuticles with jojoba and coconut oils while protecting with vitamin E. Spend a full minute massaging the oil into the cuticle. Less is more when applying cuticle oil. Don't wash hands for 20 minutes after applying cuticle oil to allow for absorption."
Soak Nails in Olive Oil
This is one of the least expensive methods for potential DIY nail repair. Simply soak your nails in olive oil for about 10 to 15 minutes daily. If you suffer from dry skin, soaking your feet (or hands during dry winter months) can be a luxurious treatment for both nails and skin.
Up Your Biotin Intake
Biotin is a water-soluble B vitamin that helps to process glucose (sugars), fats, and proteins and convert them into energy for the body, which is important for many different functions.
One of the most popular nutrients for hair, skin, and nails is biotin. Aim to consume 30 micrograms daily, and consider incorporating a multivitamin into your daily wellness regimen. Remark says, "This absolutely works, but don't expect instant results. Nails take three months to grow out from root to tip, so be persistent and you'll see fundamentally stronger nails in three months."
Use a Keratin Treatment
You might have thought that keratin treatments are only for your hair‚ but you can use it for your nails, too, especially after removing acrylics or gels.
"Keratin is a natural protein that forms the building blocks for our skin, hair, and nails. A keratin treatment can help strengthen the nail and help prevent the nail from peeling, splitting, or breaking. Using a nail strengthener such as Hard Rock from my line, which is a protein-enriched base and topcoat designed to strengthen nails will encourage healthy, strong nail growth. Hard Rock is especially beneficial for weak nails or for use after gel or artificial nail removal," explains Lippmann.
Strengthen with Collagen and Camellia Extract
Collagen refers to a family of proteins that are the primary structural component of connective tissues, such as skin, ligaments, and cartilage. Topical collagen creams are said to improve fine lines and wrinkles by replacing the lost collagen, though its main benefit is moisturizing the skin.
In addition to a Keratin option, Remark highly recommends a steady regime of Essie's Treat Love and Color line, which includes ingredients such as collagen and camellia extract. "It’s strong enough to heal your nails, not just shield them. It also comes in plenty of colors to cover any physical evidence of nail damage on the surface of your nail."
Massage Your Fingertips
Who doesn't love a hand massage? Now you can add repairing damaged nails to the list of reasons why. "Do this every time you apply cuticle oil for added benefit. I'd also recommend filing your nails every three days to stimulate blood flow (which can increase the delivery of vital nutrients and improve circulation)," Remark says. "Think of it as the same technique you use to grow your hair: getting a trim every couple of months to manage dead ends and stimulate growth."
Change Your Polish Removal Routine
One of the best ways to repair damaged nails is to minimize your exposure to chemical-heavy products. "If you have really strong nails, you can use an acetone remover with treatment properties. I don’t recommend ever using just acetone without something to soften it. I really love using the remover in my collection, The Stripper. It’s a hydrating remover that won’t strip nails of their essential moisture and doesn’t leave a chalky residue on the nail. Plus, it's infused with lavender, essential oils and aloe vera extract to prevent drying the nail," says Lippmann.
Our hands come into contact with a variety of harsh substances each day. Opt for gentle soaps and cleansers, and wear gloves when you're performing tasks that might be rough on your skin and nails. Lippmann adds, "Keeping hands and nails, including the cuticles, cared for is essential to maintaining the health of your hands and extending the life of your manicure. Avoid using the tips of your nails as tools and always wear gloves when doing the dishes or other housework in order to protect the luster and wear of your manicure."
Getting into the habit of moisturizing your hands can be a fantastic way to habitually repair damaged nails. Keep a bottle of lotion beside every sink in your house to experience the difference. Lippmann recommends using her hand cream after applying cuticle oil. The Cure - Cuticle Repair Cream ($24) promises to deeply condition and soothe dry, cracked cuticles. The award-winning formula is infused with raspberry stem cell extract, red algae, shea butter, sodium hyaluronate, and vitamins A, C, and E meant to help repair the look of damaged cuticles. Other Byrdie favorites include Glossier's iconic Hand Cream ($18) and Aesop's Resurrection Aromatique Hand Balm ($31).
How long does it take to heal damaged nails?
Nails are notoriously slow to grow. Depending on how damaged your nails are, it can take around three months for your nails to grow completely back healthy.
Can you use a nail strengthener underneath gel polish?
Using a gel base coat underneath your gel polish might help reduce damage. However, it's not recommended to use a traditional nail strengthener under gel polish.
Is it safe to wear gel polish long-term?
Gel manicures offer a ton of benefits—they're long-lasting, they don't chip, and they stay glossy. However, getting gel manicures can damage your nails, especially if they aren't removed properly. To prevent damage, ensure your manicurist isn't using an electric file (damage central!), don't peel nails, and if you must remove them, use acetone and nourish with an oil afterward.
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National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Biotin fact sheet for health professionals. Updated January 10, 2022.
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