You loved your long, shiny nails and the endless nail art options they supplied… until it was time to take them off. If you were once religious with wearing acrylics, then this story might sound all too familiar. As a rule, when nails are put under stress, they crack—figuratively and literally. And if your nail health wasn’t up to par before acrylics, or you went to a salon that was careless on how they went about applying them, dealing with damage afterwards is nearly inevitable. But mending your tips isn’t impossible—just follow these tips from top nail pros.
First, you need to understand why damage would even happen in the first place. That means knowing exactly what the process entails. According to Amy Ling Lin, the founder of Sunday’s salons in New York City, it begins by filing your natural nail and applying a primer. Then, an acrylic nail is placed on top. This is sealed into place. "After two weeks of acrylics, the clients will need to return for a fill-in, which means filling in the gap between your own nails and acrylics nails to prevent any water or anything else might get into the open area. Otherwise the acrylic nails might get loose or be a cause for infection,” she says.
She says if the filling was successful, you can get a new set in about two months. Your old set will have to be removed and a new one applied. Removing them can take up to an hour, she says, and is done by soaking your nails in an acetone-based solution. A driller can also be used to remove them. "There is an extremely high chance that either of these removal processes can and will damage your nail bed,” she warns.
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You’re not guaranteed to see damage after a set of acrylics—there are many different factors at play—but it can happen. "The condition of the natural nail after acrylic nail removal varies greatly depending on the skill level of the technician who’s applied it, as well as the quality of product used," notes Fleury Rose, the a celebrity stylist and the in-house creative director at Wild Oleander Beauty Bar in Brooklyn, New York. "Generally we see thinning of the nail bed from over-filing, and a lot of dryness. In worse cases you see 'rings of fire' caused by improper E-filing, and even nail fungus!” Thinning of the nail bed also tends to lead to weakness and a likelihood of flaking and chipping.
"If you’ve removed your acrylics and want to transition back into wearing your nails natural, I’d definitely recommend going for a shorter nail until your healthy natural nails have grown out,” recommends Rose. This means keeping them trimmed—without extensions—which will also reduce the chances of your natural nail breaking at the most inopportune moment, as it always does.
Switch to Regular Polish
Instead of a gel polish, which usually entails filing down the nail when it's removed and reapplied, try staying on a regular nail lacquer routine for a while. "If one really can’t go without their normal nail-care regime, I recommend a clear nail polish, just to observe one’s nail growth situation," says Amy Ling Lin.
Both our pros recommend regular application of cuticle oil and hand lotion due to the drying effects of acetone. We like Deborah Lippmann's It's a Miracle Cuticle Oil ($20; dermstore.com) and Juara Coconut Illipe Hand & Nail Balm ($20; dermstore.com).
Eat the Right Nutrients
"I would suggest adding biotin, omega-3 rich food to your daily diet, which can strength your nails..." says Amy Ling Lin. You can find biotin in foods like eggs, peanuts, almonds, avocados, or sweet potatoes, she says. "Another daily food is walnuts, which is rich in omega-3 and vitamin E."
Wait It Out
Both of our pros said your nails can be nursed back to health, without a doubt, but it'll take time. Sorry... There really isn't a quick fix. Your damaged nail needs to grow out completely so that it can be replaced with a healthy nail. While you wait, stick to regular nail polish, get regimented about moisturizing, and stay away from acrylics. And when it doubt, go see a pro for their advice.