The secret to happy, healthy nails? Exfoliation.


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Photo: Getty Images/Jessica Peterson

Whenever anybody asks me what the most important part of a skin-care routine is, I always say exfoliation without missing a beat. Dermatologists and facialists alike sing its praises for good reason—exfoliation, whether physical or chemical, is the secret behind sloughing off dead skin cells so that your pores are open and clear from gunk.

I also know that you should be exfoliating your vagina (apparently), and the rest of your body, too. But it was only recently that I learned you should be taking exfoliation to your fingertips in order to have healthy nails.

… Say wha?

“Your nails have layers of dead nail cells—AKA onychocytes—that become dehydrated and damaged from environmental exposures such as water, temperature changes, as well as chemicals from products, polish remover being the biggest culprit,” explains Dana Stern, MD, a board-certified dermatologist who specializes in nail care. “As a result, the onychocytes lift and separate, which causes peeling—this is analogous to dry, rough, scaly skin.”

Who knew your nails can have problems when facing buildup, just like your skin? According to Dr. Stern, that buildup can also lead to discoloration—particularly a yellowing tone that comes from polish. “White patches called keratin granulations can form when polish is left on too long, and then the onychoctes are removed along with the polish—which is especially common on toenails where people tend to keep polish on for very long periods,” she tells me. Not to mention that ridges can develop, which is essentially atrophy of the nail matrix—also known as the nail plate that’s producing structure.

The answer to preventing all of these not-so-pretty manicure obstacles? Exfoliation. “All of these nail changes will improve dramatically with what I refer to as essential exfoliation,” says Dr. Stern, who favors glycolic acid for doing the job. “Glycolic acid specifically has been shown in medical literature to be an effective agent for nail rejuvenation. “It’s very common in skin care, but quite revolutionary for nails.” So if you’re experiencing nail woes like the above, you might want to slather on your go-to acid serum onto your manicure, or invest in the Dr. Dana Nail Renewal System by Nu Skin ($55) to keep everything clear. Her advice: Do it once a week, and you’ll have a happy set of nails.

If brittle nails are your dilemma, here’s how to make your nails stronger. And you could also add cuticle oil to your regimen, which has a ton of benefits (including making your mani last longer).

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