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 and learning how to correctly remove gel polish to avoid excessive exposure to hot water, which might soften nails and lead to more cracks and snags—it’s unavoidable at least every once in a while.
Thankfully, a broken nail doesn’t need to ruin your manicure automatically. After all, there seems to be one surefire 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 tea bag.
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.
Meet the Expert
- Sarah Gibson Tuttle is the founder of Olive & June, a Los Angeles-based nail salon and product line.
- Lauren Dunne is a nail expert and the co-founder of Washington, D.C.-based nail salon Varnish Lane.
- Molly Romah is the lead nail technician at Chillhouse in New York City.
- Michele Farber, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist with Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City.
Ready to get started? Ahead, learn exactly how to fix that broken nail.
Prepare Your Nails (and Not Just the Chipped One)
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).
Before placing the tea bag over the top of your cracked nail, Romah says you’ll also 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 tea bag (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.
Adhere the Tea Bag to the Crack With a Clear Base Coat
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.
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 tea bag 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.
The Final Look
Apply your top coat, let it dry (or cure if you went the gel route), and congratulate yourself on your DIY fixing skills.
And a little 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 likely 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 try to repair the break until the nail grows out.
How can I help my nails grow more quickly?
Nails grow very slowly and, as previously mentioned, it can take six months for a fingernail to grow back. Board-certified dermatologist Michele Farber, MD, suggests focusing on proper protein intake and optimizing your nutrition, practicing good nail hygiene, and gently caring for your nails.
What home remedies can keep my nails healthy?
Coconut oil is a great way to naturally keep your nails healthy as it is thought to strengthen nail, moisturize cuticles, and prevent ridges. 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 can be caused by frequent handwashing or overuse of nail polish remover resulting in dry, brittle nails that crack. Occasionally, nail splitting can also be caused by a medical condition, including thyroid issues or anemia, so talk to your doctor if this condition persists.
University of Michigan Health. Nail problems and injuries. Updated February 26, 2020.
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