While there are certainly bigger problems in the world than a broken nail, there’s no denying that suddenly chipping, cracking, splitting, or fully breaking your nail is nothing short of a disappointment—especially if you’ve been trying to grow them out.
Unfortunately, no matter how much you try to avoid breaking a nail—from religiously applying strengthening serum (we’re obsessed with ISDIN Si-Nails Strengthening Treatment, $29) and learning how to correctly remove gel polish to avoid excessive exposure to hot water, which can soften nails and lead to more cracks and snags—it’s rather unavoidable at least every once in a while.
Thankfully, a broken nail doesn’t need to automatically ruin your manicure. After all, there seems to be one sure-fire way to fix a damaged digit. According to nail experts Sarah Gibson Tuttle, Lauren Dunne, and Molly Romah, the best way to rehab a broken nail—if the goal is to salvage length—is to get crafty with a teabag.
Meet the Expert
The thin, porous material of a tea bag makes it a perfect patch for your broken nail. It adheres nicely to your nails and helps to seamlessly patch the broken part back together. The tea bag material is permeable, which helps it quickly adhere to your nails using only clear polish. A coffee filter can also be used in a pinch, however, the paper is often thicker than tea bags and may not blend quite as well.
Ready to get started? Learn exactly how to fix that broken nail.
File the Broken Nail (and All Your Nails, While You're at It)
Whether you’ve cracked, chipped, or fully broken your nail, the first thing you’ll want to do is file the edges. “Moving in one single direction, file the nail back to the original shape so that it matches the other nails (just a little shorter),” Gibson Tuttle says. “If it's a major break, clip 90 percent and file the remaining 10 percent.”
The reason filing is such a must—apart from the fact that most folks like smooth edges—is because doing so will help limit how far a crack can lead through the nail, which helps to avoid getting unnecessarily close to the quick. (Ouch, no thank you.)
Now, if your nails are quite short, filing might be all it takes to repair your nail. However, if you have long almond-, oval-, stiletto-, or coffin-shaped nails and you’ve cracked one edge, you’ll want to file the jagged edge (as opposed to clipping) and move on to step two.
Pro Tip: "This is exactly why we created The Studio Box,” Gibson Tuttle says. “It takes all the guesswork out of what you need to do the perfect salon manicure at home: file, buffer, and all.” The Olive & June Studio Box has all of the essentials you need to protect your polish, care for your cuticles, and extend the life of your manicure inside one super cute, reusable mani box—apart from teabags, that is. Fortunately, most of us have those lying around the house.
Wipe Your Broken Nail With Rubbing Alcohol
Before placing the tea bag over the top of your cracked nail, Romah says you’ll want to wipe your nail with alcohol and buff it out so that it’s completely smooth. This will not only help the cloth adhere better but the polish, too.
Cut a Tea Bag
Once your nail is filed, Dunne says to cut a small piece of teabag (make sure it's clean and no tea particles are attached) to lay over the entire crack—and, yes, it’s totally fine if it takes up the surface of the nail. After cutting your cloth, put it to the side until step four.
Apply Gel Basecoat, Then Adhere the Tea Bag to the Crack
Now that your nail is buffed and filed to perfection, it’s time to put your nail back together. “Apply a layer of clear polish and use a toothpick or tweezers to apply the tea bag to the nail while the clear polish is still wet,” Dunne instructs. Once dry, buff out any rough patches before moving on to the next step.
Romah notes that you can also do this with gel polish if you want a longer-lasting fix. If that’s the case, instead of regular clear polish, opt for a gel base coat and be sure to cure it with a gel lamp between coats.
Pro Tip: Many old-fashioned nail hacks recommend gluing broken nails back together but Dunne says you should steer clear of doing so. “We recommend avoiding nail glue as it contains chemicals that can be very irritating to the nail bed,” she explains.
Finish With Polish
After marveling at how well a teabag mends a broken nail, you’ll want to make it look just as polished as your other nails, so pick your favorite hue and paint accordingly.
Pro Tip: If you’re pressed for time after repairing a broken nail, or you simply don’t have your polish color with you, nail stickers are a great way to camouflage any irregularities on your nail.
When to See a Doctor
Most nail breaks are not serious and do not require medical assistance, especially if it is just the tip of your nail. If your nail breaks down into your nail bed, however, it can be quite painful. If this happens, watch for signs of infection, including redness, swelling, and pain, and see your doctor if this does occur.
If you caught your nail on something and ripped it off, unfortunately, it won't reattach—but it will eventually grow back. If it has separated from the nail bed completely, it will take around six months to grow back out. You do not need medical attention for this unless you have increasing pain and/or swelling as this could indicate an infection.
You may notice your nail bed turning black or purple after an injury, especially if you smashed your finger or caught your nail on something and it ripped. If it is just a small bruised spot, it will go away as it heals and does not require medical attention. If it is a larger area and causes painful throbbing, you may have a subungual hematoma and your doctor may need to place a small hole and drain it to relieve the pressure and allow it to heal.
How do you prevent nails from breaking?
You now know how to fix a broken nail, but how do you prevent them from breaking in the first place? Keep your nails dry by wearing gloves when cleaning or washing dishes, moisturize your nails and cuticles every day, and avoid harsh nail products by using acetone-free nail polish remover.
Will a broken nail heal itself?
Once a nail splits or breaks, it will not grow back together. You can use the technique above to repair the break until the nail grows out.
How can I help my nails grow more quickly?
Nails grow very slowly and it can take six months for a fingernail to grow back. The supplement biotin has been found to help strengthen nails so they don’t break as they grow. As a bonus, it also is thought to promote hair growth as well! You can also apply a nail hardener to your nails to help protect them.
What home remedies can keep my nails healthy?
Coconut oil is a great way to naturally keep your nails healthy as it strengthens nails, moisturizes cuticles, prevents ridges—and even treats toenail fungus. Simply massage the coconut oil into your nails and cuticles each day.
Why is my nail splitting down the middle?
Nails that split down the middle (also known by its technical name of Onychorrhexis) are often caused by frequent handwashing or overuse of nail polish remover resulting in dry, brittle nails that crack. Occasionally, this condition can be caused by a medical condition, including thyroid issues or anemia, so talk to your doctor if this condition persists.
American Society for Surgery of the Hand. Nail Bed Injury. (n.d.)
University of Michigan Health. Nail Problems and Injuries. February, 2020.
American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. Subungual Hematoma. (n.d.)
Cleveland Clinic. Is Biotin as Good as Advertised for Your Hair Loss? September, 2019.
American Academy of Family Physicians. Acquired Nail Disorder in an Older Person. April, 2017.