How to repair damaged nails

Weak nails that are prone to flaking and breaking indicate damage of the keratin bonds that give nails resilience and strength. It's quite normal, and can be caused daily activities like hand washing, bathing, cleaning and other manual tasks, as well as through incorrect application and/or removal of artificial nails and gel polish. Occasionally, however, damaged nails can indicate a nutritional deficiency or health concern, so if it’s a persistent problem – or you suspect there’s more to it – visit your GP.

Damage caused by gel polish and acrylic nails, explained

Firstly, let's bust a myth: Gel polish and acrylic nails don't cause harm to your natural nails, but the process of their application and removal can.

“Damage can be caused during the gel polish or acrylic application process mainly by over-filing the natural nail either with an electric or hand file,” explains Metta Francis – manicurist and founder of Nails by Mets. The same is true of aggressive removal. “If the natural nails are already weak, filing the surface of them will cause them to become weaker and once the gel/acrylic is removed, they may be extremely thin and therefore vulnerable. Also, when product is soaked off using acetone (or acetone-based) removers, the natural nails become temporarily dehydrated and weakened, therefore the use of sharp metal implements to scrape off any remaining product can cause damage, as can over-filing the nail surface.” A gentler removal, which may take more time, is much better for the natural nails, she says. Key here is to “remove more product initially with a file, and/or soaking off for longer, so the product comes away from the natural nail easily”.

In addition, for those accustomed to the thicker coating and extra strength that gel polish and acrylic nails provide, natural nails can feel much weaker in comparison when these products are remove, Francis offers. “It's easy to continue using your hands and nails in the same way you may have done with acrylics and gel polish on, but the natural nails are much more susceptible to damage and can break more easily.”

Ways to strengthen and repair damaged nails

Nail damage caused by trauma (from daily activities or polish application and removal) can be repaired – and prevented – with treatments and care. Try these tips:

1) Keep your nails short

Influential manicurist and OPI’s global ambassador, Harriet Westmoreland tells us, “A great way to strengthen nails is to keep them short and softly shaped so the corners don’t snap off”.

2) Apply a daily nail strengthening treatment

Westmoreland recommends using OPI’s new Repair Mode nail strengthener which uses technology to repair broken bonds from inside the nail. “Apply morning and night for hydrated strong and healthy nails,” she advises. “Whatever has caused the damage, it will repair the keratin bonds in the nail plate in just six days.” Alternative products for home use include the CND Rescue RXx Daily Keratin Treatment, which Francis rates, and Protein Formula for Nails Formula 4 – Strengthen, which we have tried and tested at Bazaar with impressive results.

3) Try a professional treatment

Alternatively, Francis suggests booking an IBX Nail Strengthening Repair Treatment. “This is a professional-only treatment that makes nails feel much stronger after the first application,” she says. “It penetrates and works from within, helping to fuse any damaged keratin.” An IBX treatment can be carried out weekly if needed.

4) Use a strengthening base coat

To maintain the strength of your nails after a treatment (either done professionally or at home), use a product like OPI’s Nail Envy (available in eight shades) which can be worn alone or as a strengthening base coat under regular nail polish to protect nails against breaking, chipping, peeling, and splitting.

5) Keep nails hydrated

Westmoreland says that using “a cuticle oil or rich hand cream regularly will also help to keep the nail plate conditioned and hydrated” – especially as dry, brittle or peeling nails are often the result of too little moisture. In addition, when it comes to removing regular nail polish at home, she recommends “using an oil-based remover to avoid the nails becoming dehydrated”. Try the Manucurist Nail Polish Remover.

6) Only visit reputable nail professionals

When it comes to having acrylic or gel manicures, “find a reputable nail technician or salon that has a focus on healthy natural nails,” says Francis. “They're more likely to spend extra time and care on a consultation and will advise whether gel or acrylic nails are suitable for you – if your natural nails are too damaged and thin already, they may recommend a nail strengthening treatment or repair treatment instead.” She says to avoid nail salons or technicians that appear too cheap: “it's possible they're using substandard products that require the natural nail to be really rough (and therefore over-filed) in order for product to adhere. Look for well-known brands and full systems.”

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