How To Get Healthy Nails After Acrylics

Say goodbye to flaky, chipping, breaking nails.

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, or still are a stickler for wearing acrylics, then this story will probably hit close to home.

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 (or removing) them, dealing with damage afterwards is nearly inevitable.

But the good news is that it's fairly easy to mend damaged tips, as well as prevent them from even happening in the first place, so you don't have to necessarily say goodbye to acrylic nails for good. Read on for some advice and tricks of the trade from top nail pros.

The Process of Acrylic Nails

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 Sundays 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 acrylic nails to prevent any water or anything else that might get into the open area. Otherwise, the acrylic nails might get loose or be a cause for infection," she says.

She adds 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. An e-file 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.

Clean, healthy nails resting on a soft blanket
Getty Images

The Damage Acrylic Nails Can Cause

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 the product used," notes Fleury Rose, a celebrity stylist and in-house creative director at Wild Oleander Beauty Bar in Brooklyn, New York.

If a nail technician doesn't know what they're doing, they may file your nails improperly creating thin and brittle nail beds, says Candice Idehen, celebrity nail artist and owner of New York City-based nail bar, Bed of Nails.

"Usually your nails hurt to the touch and are visibly damaged," Idehen explains. "They may be extremely thin and flexible in a way that they bend under. Another sign is if they begin to break easily or tear."

Rose agrees, adding that in worst cases you may see "'rings of fire' caused by improper e-filing, and even nail fungus!" Chipping, flaking, and indentations or grooves are also results of improper nail technique.

Another source of nail damage may come from the salon's products. Idehen says there is one substance that is banned in the U.S. because of the damage it causes, but some salons still use it. "MMA Methyl Methacrylate is caustic and causes damage to the natural nail because of its prep and adhesion process," she says. She encourages those getting acrylics to do their research, find reputable salons, and splurge on better services.

But damage can't always be blamed on the salon. It can also be a result of peeling off your own acrylics, which Idehen strongly urges you to resist doing. "When you peel off acrylic or any other enhancement, for that matter, you take off several layers of your natural nail with it."

How to Repair Damage From Acrylic Nails

If your nails fall into any of the categories above, don't panic. Our nails actually bounce back fairly quickly and can be nursed back to health pretty easily. There are also a ton of different options for repairing your nails, including some very cheap solutions that won't break the bank.

Go Shorter

"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," says 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.

At-Home Treatments

You don't need to break the bank receiving treatments to get your nails healthy again. In fact, one solution may already be in your kitchen. "Using olive oil works wonders in restoring hydration to the nail," says Idehen. She says you can also purchase a drugstore treatment, like OPI's nail strengthener, Nail Envy ($18, Idehen recommends applying it every first, third, fifth, and seventh day of the week. At the end of the week, she says to remove and start the process again.

Lin and Rose also 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;

Receive a Professional Treatment

When your nail is too far gone for any at-home hacks, Idehen recommends receiving a professional treatment like the IBX Nail Strengthening System.

"It's like a Keratin treatment for your nails," says Idehen. "It uses protein and hydrating oils to fill in all the areas of damage on your nail, resulting in a much healthier nail even after one service!"

Switch to Regular Polish While They Heal

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 regimen, I recommend a clear nail polish, just to observe one's nail growth situation," says Lin.

Eat the Right Nutrients

"I would suggest adding biotin and omega-3-rich food to your daily diet, which can strengthen your nails," says Lin. You can find biotin in foods like eggs, peanuts, almonds, avocados, or sweet potatoes, she says. "Another daily food is walnuts, which are rich in omega-3 and vitamin E."

Wait It Out

All of our pros said that your nails could be nursed back to health, without a doubt, but it'll take time.

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 in doubt, go see a pro for their advice.

Prevent Future Damage

Waiting it out before receiving your next acrylic set may be a bummer, but there is hope. Idehen says you don't have to give up acrylics for good. It's all about finding the right salon, with knowledgeable experts who will take care of your nails. You also have to resist the urge to pick and peel them off yourself.

"Usually these types of salons are going to charge a premium or may be run by an independent nail tech who has opted out of the traditional salon setting so that she can spend the extra time caring for the natural nail while providing services," says Idehen.

While this may cost you a bit more money, it is so worth it if it means keeping your nails from being damaged.

She also suggests finding a salon that uses Apres Gel-X, a soft gel extension system. "It will give you a similar look and feel with more versatility," says Idehen.

CND's Plexigel nail enhancement system is another extension service you can try that incorporates semi-hard gel for durable nails.

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