Your step-by-step game plan to get healthy nails after gels and acrylics, including the best nail strengtheners and supplements.

By Melanie Rud
Updated Jan 01, 2020 @ 8:00 am
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There’s no denying that there’s a long list of upshots to making gels, acrylics, or dip your go-to manicure. No dry time, long-wear with no chips, perpetually glossy shine, and, in the case of acrylics, even longer length. But all of these types of manis come with the potential to take a major toll on your tips (particularly if they’re removed improperly).

If your weak, brittle nails are in need of a little extra TLC, try these pro tips from celebrity manicurists (including their go-to nail strengtheners and supplements) to help them grow longer and stronger.

Make sure gel removal is done correctly.

Okay, so technically this isn’t a rehab tip, but do this first and it can save you from having to deal with a lot of the ensuing potential problems. First and foremost, repeat after us: I will not pick off a gel manicure.

“Picking off gel is probably the worst thing you can do to your nails,” says celebrity manicurist Geraldine Holford. “The immediate effects are harming the nail plate because you’re removing the top layers of the actual nail along with your polish,” she explains.

“The long-term effects are thinning of the nails, harm to the nail bed, and irregularities on the nail plate and in growth patterns.” No, thank you.

Pro tip: Whether you’re having gel or dip removed, ask your tech to cover your hands in hot towels while your nails are wrapped up in the acetone-soaked cotton pads; the heat will help speed up the process, explains Sarah Gibson Tuttle, founder and CEO of Olive & June.

You can try removing dips or gels at home, but definitely save acrylic removal for the pros since the adhesive used is much stronger — as is your potential to do major damage. “Improper removal in this case is ten times worse than it is with gels. It really has to be careful and thoughtful, and should take up to two hours,” notes Tuttle.

Load up on hydration.

Now that the gel-dip-acrylic is off, the key is to moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. “Prolonged use of gel manis and acrylics dehydrates your nails, making them dry, brittle, and fragile,” says manicurist Jin Soon Choi, founder of JINSoon nail polish and salons.

A cuticle oil is your BFF for imparting deep hydration. Focus on slathering it not only on the nail itself, but also massaging it well into the cuticle; the cuticle is where new, healthy nail growth will start so it’s important to nourish and hydrate this area, says Choi.

One best-seller to try: CND Solar Oil Nail and Cuticle Conditioner ($9; ulta.com). Holford also likes using straight up jojoba oil, which can strengthen nail beds and boost healthy nail growth. She recommends applying it three times per day for five days (and keeping nails otherwise bare) for the best results.

Take a break from color.

“While there’s no scientific evidence that keeping your nails polish-free will make a difference, anecdotally I can tell you that we totally notice a difference in the strength and health of the nails when our clients do take a break,” says Tuttle. Choi and Holford agree — all three recommend keeping your nails au naturel for at least a few days after sporting a gel, acrylics, or dip.

If you really need to keep them polished, use a nail strengthener as a base coat, suggests Holford. You can also look for a color that contains strengthening ingredients. (Keep reading for a list of some of our favorites below.)

Go short.

“Whether you realize it or not, when you have long nails you’re constantly hitting them on your keyboard, the door, you name it. People underestimate how much of an impact this has,” says Tuttle.

Keep your nails short and give them a chance to grow out stronger and healthier (and heck, maybe even longer) than before. The other upshot: Nails that aren’t in great shape look healthier when they’re shorter, adds Holford.

Take a supplement.

Along with addressing nails from the outside, all the experts we spoke with agreed that the right supplements can help strengthen your tips from the inside, out. One good option? Collagen. An essential protein for hair, skin, and nails, ingestible collagen peptides are easily incorporated into your daily routine and can help promote healthy nails.

“Collagen has really made a difference in the health of my nails. They feel resilient and stronger,” says Holford. Try: NeoCell Super Collagen Powder ($17; neocell.com). Another good option? Biotin. The B vitamin is one of Tuttle’s top picks for strengthening nails. Choi adds that along with supplements, you can also get these internal benefits by focusing on incorporating biotin-rich and collagen-synthesizing foods in your diet, such as salmon, avocados, sweet potatoes, leafy greens, and nuts and seeds.

Apply a nail strengthener.

OPI Nail Envy

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Holford recommends this OPI pick, which she says is “transformative” for thin nails. You can use it on its own to strengthen nails (it remains clear and won’t turn yellow), though, as mentioned, it works equally well as a base coat with benefits.

To buy: $18; amazon.com

Essie Treat Love & Color Nail Polish Strengthener

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For those for whom the idea of sporting bare nails is simply unfathomable, this line from Essie is choice. The wide range of sheer colors are infused with strengthening collagen and camellia oil, and can reduce peeling and breakage in just one week.

To buy: $10; ulta.com

Ten Over Ten Celery Oil

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Celery juice is trending as an overall health booster, and this capitalizes on some of the same benefits...for your nails. Celery seed extract improves thickness and minimizes the look of ridges, but this strengthening treatment also touts a long list of other beneficial ingredients, such as vitamin B3 and zinc to help harden nails, and antioxidant-rich meadowfoam seed oil to protect them from environmental damage.

To buy: $26; tenoverten.com

Butter London Horse Power Nail Rescue Base Coat

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This treatment pairs biotin with horsetail extract (hence the name), another ingredient known for helping nails grow longer and stronger. While it works great on brittle nails, you can also swipe it on healthy tips for an added boost.

To buy: $18; amazon.com

Olive & June Cuticle Serum

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Just like a serum for your face is highly concentrated with beneficial ingredients, so too is this option for your nails. Hydration is the name of the game, thanks to cactus flower, plus a blend of different oils such as jojoba, avocado, and apricot kernel. And, as we now know, hydrated nails mean longer, stronger nails.

To buy: $30 for 2; oliveandjune.com