If Your Nails Are Breaking More Than Usual, Derms Say These Sneaky Summer Activities Are the Culprit

Photo: Getty Images/ Jena Ardell
Bad news for any aspiring merpeople out there: All that water exposure might be secretly wrecking your nails. According to Dana Stern, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai and renowned nail expert, the nail is 1,000 times more absorptive of water than the skin, which means that too much water exposure can weaken your nails and cause peeling and breakage.

Think of your nails like little sponges. When water—which is a chemical—enters the nail cells, those cells expand. Then, after the water immersion, they subsequently contract. This process puts a lot of extra strain on your nails, making them more susceptible to weakening, peeling, and breakage. Further, any nail immersed in water for prolonged periods will become very flexible and soft, which can lead to more breakage, thinning, and weakening over time.

While every sort water-related activity (showers, hand washing, dish scrubbing, etc.) can put this type of stress on your nails, according to board-certified dermatologist Naana Boakye, MD MPH, things tend to get worse in the summer when our normal water exposure is multiplied thanks to pool parties and dips in the ocean. With that in mind, it’s no wonder your overall nail health may be struggling this time of year.

How to protect your nails from water damage

In the same way you would want to continually hydrate and treat damaged, over-processed hair (rather than simply using a repairing mask one time and hoping for the best), you also need to maintain, hydrate, and protect your cuticle throughout the year. Dr. Stern suggests keeping your nails short (so that there’s less surface area to absorb water), moisturizing your cuticles before and after water exposure, and using acetone-free, hydrating polish removers.

Dr. Boakye also recommends regular use of an emollient, non-greasy hand cream, which she massages into her nail beds and cuticles after every wash (or hand sanitizer application) and before bed. Look for protective ingredients that shield the nails from frequent hand washing while simultaneously rejuvenating the hands, like shea butter, coconut oil, and olive oil.

By regularly moisturizing and caring for nails year round, you can prepare for that extra H2O exposure come summertime and minimize damage to your already-healthy nails.

Shop the pros’ product picks below.

Dr. Dana Nail Renewal System — $30.00

This polish-free, three-step system is clinically proven to support the appearance of healthier, stronger, smoother, less brittle nails. Created by Dr. Stern herself, the kit features glycolic acid to exfoliate as well as hydrating botanicals to help condition and hydrate the nails and cuticles. Think of it like a facial for your nails

Dear Sunday’s B.03 Nail Strengthening Base Coat — $20.00

This vegan, non-toxic base coat promotes nail growth by creating a healthy, smooth foundation. Dr. Boakye is a fan of its hydrating ingredients and strengthening effects.

Karité Hand Cream — $20.00

Dermatologist-created and approved, this lightweight hand cream restores moisture and repairs the skin’s barrier without any harsh chemicals. It’s made with some of Dr. Boakye’s favorite ingredients—like coconut and shea butter—to keep your hands and nails nourished through all those lake dives and 20-second washes.

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