Brittle nails can wreck your manicure, so here’s how to make them stronger


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Photo: Getty Images/Guido Mieth

I’ve got to admit that I put my nails through the ringer. I don’t remember the last time they weren’t painted, I’m clack-clack-clacking away on a laptop (or my phone) for the majority of the day, and I rip and tear packages and food containers open like a beast. So, I’ve never been surprised that there are often times when my manicured nails simply break. I’ve always chocked it up to them being weak from overuse.

During one manicure sesh, though, my nail technician said that I’m actually dealing with really brittle nails. When I asked to learn more about the condition, it definitely described my nails to a T: “Brittle nails are nails that are thin, dry, and prone to breakage,” explains nail guru Jin Soon Choi, who owns an eponymous nail salon and nail polish line. Nadine Abramcyk, co-founder of nail hotspot Tenoverten, adds that brittle nails are softer and thinner than normal and have a tendency to split and tear apart.  Yep, it me.

You don’t get brittle nails from the reasons I thought, though—there can be more to it than simply overuse and too many gel manicures. “Brittle nails can be a sign of an ongoing health issue, but are often related to age, overuse of polish, and sometimes even the weather,” Abramcyk explains. “When you never give your nails a break from polish—specifically dark colors—your nails tend to dry out and become brittle over time.” (Guilty.) Choi adds that unless you have “Reynaud’s Syndrome, a condition which causes poor blood flow to the fingers and toes, most cases of brittle nails are due to nail dryness.”

“When you never give your nails a break from polish—specifically dark colors—your nails tend to dry out and become brittle over time.” —Jin Soon Choi

So yeah, not letting your nails live their naked life once in a while is one reason, but the weather can also be to blame for that brittleness. “Your nails can become overly dry in the winter when there is far less humidity in the air,” says Abramcyk, which means that winter likely isn’t being kind to your fingertips.

Whatever the cause, there are several signs to watch out for that’ll tell you if you’re dealing with brittle nails. “You’ll notice that the free edge of your nails splits easily, and you might see white spots on your nails,” says Choi. “Your nails will appear visibly dry, and you might experience splitting starting at either side of the nail if they’re becoming brittle,” Abramcyk adds.

You’re not doomed to have constantly breaking nails for life, though—there are pretty easy ways of building up your nails’ strength again. The most important thing? Moisture (which is the essence of beauty, after all—thanks Zoolander). “The most important thing is to moisturize your nails with cuticle oil, and to take breaks from using nail polish,” recommends Choi. “Wear gloves in cold weather and while washing dishes. I also recommend getting an intensive paraffin hand treatment from time to tome, or apply oil and a heavy cuticle balm to your hands while wearing cotton gloves overnight—repeat this until your nails are better.”

Abramcyk agrees about the cuticle oil as a lifesaver, advising to keep one with you at all times to keep brittle nails at bay. “This will keep your nails and surrounding cuticle moisturized and on the path towards healthy,” she says. Also? Be conscientious about your nail polish wear. “Try not to leave your polish on for more than a 10-day stint,” she says. “As nail polish gets older and the elements of weather—mostly the sun—affect the polish, your nails underneath can become affected. So even if you can’t make it to a salon, remove your nail polish at home.”

It’s a process, but soon enough you’ll be able to handle manis without seeing any breakage in sight. “Depending on how diligent you are about moisturizing your nails, it could take about one to three months,” says Choi, though Abramcyk notes that it depends on the severity of brittleness and your body’s composition. “I’d say on average a brittle nail condition can be treated in 6 to 8 weeks with proper commitment and rehydration through care.” Nail TLC, here I come.

On a related note, here’s what your nails can tell you about vitamin deficiencies. And these are the supplements to take for your best nails ever

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