If you’ve ever gotten acrylics, you’re likely well aware of just how much the extensions can alter your nail appearance and health.
On one hand, fresh acrylics make nails look long and strong. On the other, once removed, they can leave your nails not only looking brittle but feeling weak, too. As such, you may find yourself at a crossroads: Should you immediately book a fresh set or take the time to strengthen your nails after removing acrylics? We’re hoping you opt for the latter, and if you do, ahead you’ll learn how to do so (including why it’s so important to take a break already) straight from dermatologist Dana Stern, MD, and nail expert Eunice Park.
Remove With Care
Acrylic nails are notorious for the damage they cause nails. But it’s not because of the material itself—rather, it's the way the material is removed. “Acrylics are bonded to the nail vis-à-vis a chemical reaction between a liquid monomer and a powder polymer,” says Stern. “The solution is then shaped to the nail where it hardens into a firm nail-like extension.” Sometimes, this solution doesn’t fully adhere to all edges, which can allow for lifting. When that happens, some people feel inclined to pick at the acrylic. Under absolutely no circumstances should you do so. Ripping acrylic off is what leads to brittle, weakened nails in need of strengthening.
With this in mind, Park says to start the acrylic removal process by filing down as much acrylic as possible (before reaching your nail). After doing so, place an acetone-soaked cotton ball on each nail and wrap it in foil to process. “Acrylic takes much longer to remove than gel so it can take a while for all the product to lift off,” Park says.
If you’re patient with the process, though, you may not have to be as concerned with learning how to strengthen your nails after removing acrylics. That said, if you have particularly thin or weak nails to begin with, or if you’re a serial acrylic wearer, keeping the below nail-strengthening methods in mind can help.
Give Your Nails a Little TLC
Even when acrylics are removed with care, your nails can still use a little extra nourishment to keep them looking and feeling their best. “Remember the nail is a canvas, so it is important to get that canvas back into shape in order to enjoy a return to enhancements,” Stern says.
She adds that acrylic damage can be treated with the Dr. Dana Nail Renewal System ($30), which is a 3-step treatment system she developed to keep fingernails and toenails healthy. “It’s a polish-free mani/pedi in a box or your before or after acrylic BFF," she says.
Take a Break From Acrylics
As much as you may love your acrylic nails, due to their length, strength, and durability (or all three), Park says it is possible to overdo it. “Acrylic has bigger molecules than gel and therefore requires bigger grooves in the natural nail to grip onto—this is often why acid-based primers are used to etch the natural nail for acrylic,” she explains. “If you've ever wondered why your nails feel sore even a day or two after an acrylic appointment, this is why.”
Post-acrylic damage can stretch beyond soreness, though. “If the product is aggressively removed and you have acrylics applied often, you will likely see damage to the nail matrix (the anatomical part of the nail that produces the actual nail plate; you can see part of it as the lunula or half-moon),” Stern says. “Matrix damage will result in abnormalities observed at the nail, including surface irregularities, white patches, bumps, and grooves.” What’s more, Stern says that it’s possible to accidentally remove your cuticle during acrylic removal, which can also affect nail appearance and potentially lead to infections.
Consider a Different Type of Extension
If your nails feel thin, weak, or sore AF after acrylics, you may think that your long nail dreams are kaput. Fortunately, there’s a solution. “Aprés Gel-X is a soft gel system, and since gel molecules are much smaller, less aggressive etching is required on the natural nail," says Park. "Plus, Gel-X uses a non-acid-based primer and the removal process is very simple and much faster than acrylic." Because of this, she says that Gel-X is a great way to strengthen and protect the natural nail as it grows out and rebuilds itself — all without having to sacrifice gorgeous nails in the process.
Oh, and did we mention that you don’t even have to go to the salon to get picture-perfect Gel-X nails? The Aprés Gel-X Starter Kit ($118) has everything you need to begin applying Gel-X. “We also have tons of educational tutorials on our Instagram and TikTok,” Park shares, assuring us that it’s an approachable acrylic substitute.
Get Your Nails Checked Out
Just like regular physicals are recommended for the body, Stern says that getting your nails checked out by a dermatologist is never a bad idea. “Nails need to be examined,” she exclaims. “Sometimes people intentionally cover an ugly nail abnormality in order to cosmetically camouflage it. One of the first nail melanomas I saw in my career was when I was in residency and a young 20-something-year-old woman came to our clinic with advanced nail melanoma that she had been covering up with acrylic.” With this in mind, she says to always arrive at your annual skin check polish- and acrylic-free so that your doctor can examine your nails, too.