It’s easy to forget about your nails. In this self-care-focused era, whether you're routinely applying sheet masks (or better: multi-masking), deep conditioning your strands during workouts, or scheduling massages on the reg, strengthening your nails can often fall to the wayside. And if you (like so many of us) swap out one gel manicure for the next like clockwork, you could be doing some serious damage to your digits.
So, what’s the best way to direct a little self-care in the direction of your nails? Should you buy a barrel’s worth of biotin? Say bye-bye to gel manicures forever and invest in some non-toxic nail treatments? And what are you supposed to do about your cuticles?
To help us answer these questions and more, we polled the co-founder of non-toxic, Cali-cool nail haven Côte, the creative director at Paintbox, and the founder and CEO of salon-slash-meditation studio Sundays. Here's their wisdom.
Keep reading for everything you ever wanted to know about strengthening your nails.
Do biotin supplements really help?
The popular supplement received a mixed response from the panel. Julie Kandalec, creative director of Paintbox, said she thinks it would be better to apply something directly to the nail rather than down a supplement. “Essie’s TLC strengthening polish is perfect, along with getting regular manis to prevent peeling,” she says.
What about other supplements?
Meanwhile, Sundays founder Amy Ling Lin hedges that biotin can help with hair, skin, and nails, but adds that it's not a fix-all. Instead, she says to look for a targeted supplement that your body absorbs well, such as something with protein, which she says will help replenish the nail plate.
Speaking of protein, what can foods do for nails?
Foods that are rich in biotin and protein can also be helpful for nail growth, according to experts. “Biotin can be obtained from egg or peanuts, almonds, avocados, and sweet potatoes,” says Ling Lin, adding that eggs, nuts, and beans are also protein-rich. She also swears by walnuts and other foods rich in omega-3s and vitamin E, which she says are helpful with nails as well.
Mary Lennon, co-founder of Côte, thinks garlic can help, too. “It’s naturally fortified with selenium, a mineral and nutrient that the body needs to stay healthy,” says Lennon. “This protects the body from damage caused by free radicals and infection, and basically assists in improving nail growth and health."
How often should you get nail treatments?
Both Kandalec and Ling Lin suggest getting weekly manicures, though Kandalec adds that people with very strong nails can wait two weeks. And pedicures? Ling Lin recommends two to three weeks between visits.
What products or ingredients should you look for when you do?
“Look for non-toxic polish formulas and enhanced base coat formulas, which can be customized to any nail issues such as breaking, brittle, and splitting nails," says Ling Lin. She also suggests adding nail care into your daily skin-care routine in the form of hand lotion and cuticle oil.
Kandalec agrees. “I’m a big fan of ingredients that are as natural as can be,” says Kandalec. “I love Dr. Hauschka’s Neem Nail Oil.”
Do you need to take polish breaks?
The consensus is there’s no need to go polish free unless you routinely get gel manicures. Gel polishes don't allow oxygen to get to the nails, Ling Lin says, so they need to be taken off every two weeks to help make sure that the nails stay healthy.
Is it better to use non-toxic nail polish?
Lennon says it “100 percent" helps to go natural when it comes to polish. "The nail plate is porous and made of keratin. It's not a hard barrier as is often incorrectly assumed,” she says. That could mean that your polish plays Plinko through the surface of your nails and like skin care, could wind up in your body, according to this study from Duke University, so opting for cleaner formulas will help you rest easier about that weekly mani.
What polish removers are best to take off polish?
Côte makes an acetone-free remover in both a liquid and a towel version. “It smells like natural orange oil,” says Lennon. “There really is no nail polish remover smell to it at all.”
Both Kandalec and Ling Lin suggest Zoya Remove Plus. “It’s strong, yet non-drying thanks to just the right amount of essential oils,” says Kandalec.
Are gel manicures out of the question?
Taking off gel manicures also removes the top layers of the nail, which is why one expert gave a resounding "yes" response to this question. But not so fast: Another panelist said they're totally fine, because if applied and removed properly, a gel manicure can prevent the nails from breaking in the first place. If you do get a gel manicure, just make sure you go to a technician who has been properly trained on how to remove the gel, and definitely take a few weeks off in between.
What's the best way to manage cuticles?
To cut or not to cut, that is the question. Though unruly cuticles can seemingly ruin your mani, it's best not to trim them (because they'll grow back thicker and rougher) unless they're loose, says Kandalec. “Your cuticle is a watertight seal to prevent bacteria from entering the nail’s matrix, which is where it grows from."
The best way to do that? Secure some wooden manicure sticks at home (and for goodness' sake) make sure to have a convo with your manicurist ahead of your appointment, according to Ling Lin. Start with a cuticle oil, which is hydrating and helps keep hangnails at bay, and use it every day. "Massage it gently into cuticles to boost circulation," she says. "A well-hydrated cuticle will promote whole-nail health.”
If you do trim, she says to "avoid cuticle eliminator products. A lot of them contain acidic compounds, which are harsh on the skin,” she says. And if all of this is just too much to consider when you need self-care for your whole self, consider the newest trend in nails: naked.
For more on all-natural manicures, here's what you need to know. And these are the supplements you need to take for healthy AF nails.
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