7 Hacks for Strong and Healthy Nails

While we patiently wait for the day we can see our nail techs again, here are some ways to take care of your nails at home.

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Many factors contribute to unhealthy nails

With nail salons closed in many parts of the country due to the pandemic, and all the hand washing and hand sanitizing we’re doing these days, our hands and nails may be starting to look worse for wear.

Unhealthy nails are weak, brittle and tend to break if they grow past a certain point. Other signs include discolouration, and the appearance of redness or swelling in the surrounding skin. But the first sign is often any change from your baseline. “Not everyone can have long, luxurious, almond-shaped nails,” says Dr. Renée Beach, a Toronto-based dermatologist and founder of DermAtelier on Avenue. “If what’s normal for you has suddenly changed, then that should be a personal warning sign.”

Lots of factors can lead to unhealthy nails, but they can also be a sign of another health issue at work. “For example, discolouration can be caused by something as basic as household exposures or occupational exposures [to chemicals],” Beach says. “An underlying skin condition can also be the cause. Like, when we see the thickening or lifting of nails or yellowing underneath — that can be a sign of psoriasis.”

Here are seven ways you can keep your nails healthy and strong.

(Related: Press-On Nails Are the New Heroes of At-Home Manis)

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Use protection

The phase “no glove, no love” should also apply to your hands and nails. Walking around in the cold, washing dishes and cleaning up with harsh chemicals—all without gloves can do a lot of damage to our hands. “It doesn’t matter how much moisturizer or serum you put on your hands and cuticles, if [your hands aren’t] shielded, it’s definitely going to compromise that top epidermal layer of the skin,” says Beach.

(Related: The Ultimate Guide to Keeping Your Skin Smooth All Winter Long)

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Use a base coat

If you’re painting your nails at home, a base coat is a necessary step. Like a pair of gloves, a base coat acts as a protective barrier between your nail plate and the polish. “It’s going to stop that [discolouration] from occurring, like the pigment in the polish won’t stay in the nails,” says Erika Berthelot, a Winnipeg-based nail technician and founder of Cutie Oils, a brand of cruelty-free cuticle oils.

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Take a break from polish

Despite the popular adage that you need to let them “breathe,” your nails are made up of non-living keratin (like your hair), so polish doesn’t interfere with your nails getting oxygen. “However, your nails may need a break periodically, especially if you don’t use a base coat or low-quality nail polish, as it can lead to white patches on the nail and discolouration,” says Linh Khuu, the owner of Varnish Nails and Beauty in Vancouver.

(Related: The Best Thing to Do for Your Skin in Lockdown)

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Keep them short

Though long nails look great, they’re also a hazard. This is especially true if you have an overgrown manicure (miss you, nail salons!). “If you hit the tip of your manicure, it might bend and break right in the middle of your nail bed,” Berthelot says. “You’re going to wind up with bad breaks in the middle of the nail if you just let them grow out long.” The best thing you can do for an overgrown manicure is to just keep filing it down to avoid a painful break down the line.

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Be patient when removing your manicure

As satisfying as picking your manicure off can be, it’s absolutely awful for your nails.

If you’re now stuck at home without your nail tech to help take your manicure off, Berthelot suggests going slowly and deliberately. “Sit down with a glass of wine and a movie, and buckle in for a good two hours,” she says.

For soak-off products, like acrylics, you’ll need a gritty nail file. Start by buffing the top of the manicure off. Once you’re all scratched up, dip some cotton balls in acetone, place it over your nails, and wrap it all up with some tinfoil. To check if it’s ready to come off (which could be anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour), lift the foil a little to see if the manicure is lifting or crumbling. If it is, you’re good to go. If you take the foil off a bit too early (especially if you’re removing acrylics, which tend to get gummy when you soak it off), no worries. Start from scratch and get buffing. “Basically, you’re looking to buff away all the shine, and put some deep scratches into the polish,” says Berthelot. “That allows the acetone to really absorb into the polish and lift it off.”

If you can’t find a gritty nail file or acetone at your local pharmacy, both Khuu and Berthelot note that most nail techs will be happy to your nail tech would be happy to sell you a soak kits or nail files.

(Related: 9 Personal Care Product Upgrades You Never Knew You Needed)

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Let your cuticles grow

Cutting your cuticles has no health benefits and is purely for the aesthetic. According to Khuu, “improper cuticle cutting can lead to hang nails and infections.”

Pushing your cuticles back when you get a manicure is also ill-advised. “Your cuticles are supposed to seal the area of the nail it grows out from bacterial entry and other irritants,” says Beach. “When we push that back, we’re potentially exposing an area that’s not supposed to be exposed. It’s nice to look at, but from a physiologic perspective, the cuticles are necessary and important.”

If your cuticles are dry, try using a cuticle oil to add moisture back to the skin there.

(Related: What Is An Eyelash Serum — And Do I Need One?)

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Be careful if you use supplements

Hair, skin and nails supplements usually contain biotin (also known as Vitamin B7), which can be found naturally in eggs, fish and sweet potatoes. Despite the popularity of these supplements, biotin has not been proven to help nail or hair growth.

High dosages of biotin can also be problematic. “When we take over-the-counter supplements that have higher than suggested physiological levels of biotin, there are risks,” says Beach. One such risk is that biotin can distort the results of thyroid function tests and troponin tests, which are used to check for heart attacks. In 2017, the FDA in the States issued a warning to patients, healthcare providers and lab technicians about biotin’s interference on lab tests.

Next: The Top Beauty Trends to Come Out of Pandemic Life

Originally Published in Best Health Canada

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