How to Prevent Your Nail Polish From Cracking and Peeling

red nails



Manicures—what's not to love? Well, for one, taking the time and spending the money to get a picture-perfect nail job, only for it to chip within days, if not minutes, of leaving the salon (or your bathroom if you opt for DIY). While gel manicures are much less likely to chip, and therefore offer a great option for those who want to extend the life of their manicure, there are also ways to stretch the duration of classic polish.

To discover how to achieve your longest-lasting manicure, we tapped two nail experts for their top tips to prevent nail polish from cracking.

Keep reading to discover 12 ways to boost your manicure's life from start to finish—no cracking or peeling nail polish allowed.

Meet the Expert

01 of 12

Opt For a Waterless Manicure

Crack Nails Polish Waterless Manicure


"Your nails are extremely porous and can absorb water even faster than your skin," Dunne says. "Waterlogged hands cause the nail to expand and shrink within hours of the manicure being completed, causing the polish to chip prematurely. Your polish cannot contract as your nails do so the polish can chip and crack when your nails shrink back to their normal shape and size."

And waterless nail studio owners aren't the only ones who swear by the method. Gibson Tuttle also thinks waterless manis are the real deal. "Historically, manis have included water to soak your cuticles but the issue is that it expands your nail plate—and when that water evaporates, your polish will crack and/or chip." Instead of getting a classic manicure to make your cuticles look their best, she recommends going waterless during the mani process and tending to your cuticles daily afterward. "Regularly push your cuticles back in the shower and use a buffer to gently remove any excess cuticle," she instructs. "You can clip whatever is hanging (but nothing more!)."

02 of 12

Buff Your Nail Plate Before Applying Polish

First, Gibson Tuttle says to buff your nail plate to make sure you have a smooth surface for the polish to adhere to. "Uneven surfaces on your nails lends to cracks more easily," she explains. "[After buffing,] prep by swiping your nails with polish remover prior to painting, even when not wearing polish—this ensures you don't have any residual oil on your nails, which can cause polish to not fully adhere."

03 of 12

Avoid Excessive Water Contact

Crack Nails Polish Avoid Excess Water


Looking for an excuse not to do chores? Protecting your mani is it. "Your nails (and second-day hair) will glow, we promise," Gibson Tuttle points out, noting that even washing your hair too often can lead to premature chips. If, however, you can't avoid your daily duties, Dunne says to simply perform them wearing gloves to keep the water from affecting your picture-perfect manicure.

04 of 12

Always Use Basecoat and Topcoat

While starting and ending with base and topcoat tacks extra time onto a manicure, they're important steps that shouldn't be skipped. "Applying base and topcoat is critical to preventing chipping or cracking for a lasting manicure," Dunne says. "Basecoat is what allows the coats to adhere to your nails and topcoat is what seals it all in." Dunne recommends reapplying your topcoat every other day to prevent your nail polish from cracking. We love OPI's Natural Nail Base Coat for its ability to prevent stains and prolong a manicure or pedicure, and the Seche Vite Dry Fast Top Coat ($6) for its intense shine and ultra-glossy finish.

05 of 12

Don't Let Your Polish Touch Your Cuticles

Chip Nails Polish Avoid Cuticles


Dunne notes that many people often apply top coat messily thinking that it doesn’t matter because it is clear. "Au contraire!" she says. "Topcoat needs to fully cover your polish to ensure your polish is protected from chips and scuffs. It should not, however, touch your cuticles. Getting top coat on your cuticles can cause your polish to lift off of your nail (whether it’s regular polish or gel polish)." At the end of the day, while it takes more time to paint carefully, remember that any polish that is not covered in a top coat will chip more easily.

"Polish on the skin or cuticles makes it easier for the polish to lift," Gibson Tuttle says. A great way to clean up stray polish is with the Olive & June Clean Up Brush, $8.

06 of 12

Paint Thin Coats

Chip Nails Polish Paint Thin Coats


Quite simply, Gibson Tuttle says that "thick coats of polish equal chipping and peeling." Dunne tacks onto this, noting that, while some people think that the thicker the coat of polish, the stronger it will be, it's actually the total opposite. "The thinner the coats, and the longer you let them dry in-between coats, the longer the polish will last," she says.

07 of 12

Extend Color and Topcoat Over the Top Edge of Your Nail

Chip Nails Polish Extend Color


When you get your nails painted, pay special attention that your manicurist carries the color over the front edge. "It is extremely important that the free edge of your nail is coated with polish and topcoat so that polish doesn’t lift or chip from the free edge of your nail," Dunne says. Gibson Tuttle adds, "Capping the tip of your nail helps ensure the entire nail is sealed, which helps to prevent tip wear."

08 of 12

Resist the Urge to Shake Your Nail Polish Before Opening

Chip Nails Polish Don't Shake


We know what you're thinking: Why does this matter? Oh, but it does. According to Gibson Tuttle, shaking leads to bubbles and bubbles lead to chips. As such, she recommends rolling the bottle between your hands to mix it without forming bubbles.

09 of 12

Use Polish and Topcoat From the Same Brand

Chip Nails Polish Brand Matching


If you're like us, you likely have a collection of polishes from all different brands. While that's all good and well, Gibson Tuttle says to use polishes and topcoats from the same brand. "The two formulas are specifically formulated to work together to give you your longest-lasting manicure," she explains. Therefore, if you buy a new polish color, make sure you have a coordinating topcoat from the range. Otherwise, it's like wearing two different socks—fine, but not ideal.

10 of 12

Use Cuticle Serum Regularly

Just like you apply lip balm every day, you should layer on cuticle serum daily as well. "Not only will it make your mani look like you just stepped out of the salon but it will make sure you don't pick (or bite!) your polish," Gibson Tuttle explains, noting that it's super hydrating, too. We love Olive & June's Cuticle Serum Duo for its double-duty ease of use.

11 of 12

Wait 10 Minutes Between Coats of Polish

Pretty Coffin Nail Shape Manicure Mauve


As much as you might want to speed up your mani, Gibson Tuttle says to wait five to 10 minutes in between painting coats of polish. "This will decrease the chance of bubbles and help ensure the polish dries completely, which will help prevent chipping," she says.

12 of 12

Replace Your Polish After One Year

Chip Nails Polish Replace Regularly


We know, we know: Once you have a favorite color, the last thing you want to do is throw it out before you've used it all. However, according to Gibson Tuttle, it's necessary. "Once you open a polish bottle, you begin to introduce air into the formula, which will eventually make polish thicker. This can lead to clumps, which will make your mani more likely to chip," she says.

  • Why do nails crack and peel?

    There are many reasons—mostly, damage from excessive exposure to water and biting.

  • How do I stop my nails from splitting and peeling?

    Try to keep your nails dry, avoid harsh chemicals, and apply a protective layer

  • What should I eat to strengthen my nails?

    Aside from proper nail hygiene, incorporating protein into your diet is a great way to help nail strength, especially considering most protein-rich foods also contain selenium, a mineral necessary for nail health.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. Brittle splitting nails.

  2. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Selenium.

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