Nail breakage isn't only frustrating, it can be downright painful. Not to mention the fact that one broken nail requires you to file the rest of the nine down to their death in order to match the height of the lowest common denominator—not cool. Because when you've got a handful (literally) of strong, long fingernails, you can't very well have one lone, low ranger peeking out among the bunch. That's why we talked to Chelsea King, an LA-based nail artist, about how to keep your nails strong and healthy—hopefully ending your nail breakage once and for all.
What Causes Nail Breakage
"One of the main reasons I see weak nails is because of improper gel or acrylic removal," King says. "If these aren’t removed properly, you basically are peeling away a layer of your nail, which can thin them out and make them weak. These should be soaked off, not picked off!" She also adds that your nails could be weak due to vitamin deficiencies, too much or too little moisture, or even exposure to harsh chemicals (like heavy-duty cleaners).
Don't Forget Your Vitamins
Like hair, your nails need the right nutrients to grow long and strong. Vitamin C is key to the production of collagen, which the body uses to grow fingernails. Because the body can't produce vitamin C, it is important to consume vitamins or foods that contain it to avoid deficiency.
Meanwhile, B-group vitamins, like biotin, are crucial for maintaining the health of fingernails. "I’ve heard from many clients that taking biotin has helped their nails (and hair!). The only issue I have with taking supplements for nails is that your nails will only stay strong while you take the supplement, so once you stop taking it then your nails will revert back to how they were previously," King says. "I recommend using something like biotin if you’re trying to grow out some breakage due to gels or acrylics, or if you want your nails to grow longer—but not as a permanent solution."
Brittle nails could also be a sign of iron deficiency. To combat nail breakage, consume more leafy green vegetables, nuts, and lean red meat, which all contain the vital vitamins for nails.
Keep Your Nails Moisturized
Doing the dishes, excessively washing your hands, or even just moving between wet and dry environments can make your nails brittle. Constantly changing your nails' environment sucks the moisture out of them, meaning that you need to put it back somehow. "To restore that moisture back into your skin and nails, I recommend using cuticle oil and lotion. Also, nail health can be a sign of internal health, like dehydration. Drinking plenty of water can help!" she says.
For an at-home fix, olive oil and coconut oil are the best natural oils when it comes to nail growth, as they contain nutrients to restore damaged nails and increase blood circulation to the nail. Once a week, do an at-home nail dip where you soak your fingers in a bowl of oil for 10 or so minutes.
Avoid Harsh Chemicals and Buffing
Nails that are exposed to household cleansers begin to thin and dry out, especially if you're using chemicals like acetone or bleach. The same goes for harsh antibacterial kitchen soap that you might use to clean your dishes. Make sure to put gloves on when using harsh chemicals, and avoid nail polish removers with super high concentrations of acetone.
When it comes to buffing your nails, do it gently and sparingly. "Each time you buff you are slightly thinning the nail, so if you do that too often your nails can become weak," she says. "Only buff when necessary, and try to stick to no more than once a month."
Make a DIY Nail Soak
For a nail-friendly DIY hand soak, combine fresh lemon juice, sugar, apple cider vinegar, and warm water. Lemon contains vitamin C, which is key for nail growth. Apple cider vinegar and warm water can eliminate any white spots on nails. Plus, since apple cider vinegar has acetic acid, it can fight nail infections. If you want to turn this soak into a full-on manicure, you can do that at home, too.
Always Use a Base Coat
Turns out that having weak nails doesn't necessarily mean you shouldn't be wearing polish. In fact, wearing nail polish can actually help keep your nails from breaking. "The best way to keep your nails strong and healthy is actually to wear a protective base coat or even nail polish. Having an extra couple of layers gives your nails some strength so they’re less likely to break," King explains. "If you are experiencing nail weakness, I always recommend trimming your nails short and rounded." Having shorter nails with rounded edges mean they're less likely to snag on things and tear your nails.
Use a Nail Strengthener
Luckily, there's also paint-on nail strengtheners that can help your nails keep from breaking. "Nail hardeners are great for helping weak nails—they often contain calcium to help strengthen the nail, and helps prevent splitting or breaking," she says. But, strengtheners aren't for everyone. "If your nails are more dry/brittle, I would recommend some sort of nail conditioner (either in polish form or a cuticle oil). This helps add some moisture to the nail so instead of just breaking, they will bend and hopefully remain intact!"
A nail hardener may work faster than a conditioner or oil, and it can also be used as a base coat for regular polish. King recommends asking for a strengthening base coat or nail hardener at the salon if you're getting your nails done at the salon. "I always recommend to my clients if they have weak nails and want a bit of extra strength to just use clear gel base and top coat. It provides a nice layer to help your nails strengthen and grow out," she says. "Just make sure to soak if off properly otherwise you’ll cause more damage."
Resist the Urge to Pick
"Picking your nails can make breakage worse. If you’re picking off nail polish you can remove a layer of your nail, which over time can amount to a lot of layers," King says. "If you’re picking at a breaking nail, its best to get clippers or a file and fix it that way."
Pulling off a broken nail by hand rips away part of the edge, making it even weaker. If you find your nails are peeling, it's still best not to pick at that, either. Gently buff smooth the peeling part of the nail to keep it from peeling further.
Next up: Here's how to make your manicure and pedicure last longer.