Everyone knows the importance of making a good first impression. When you meet someone new for the first time, it’s instinctive to make eye contact, smile, and shake hands. Hopefully, you encounter a firm handshake—although etiquette practices vary widely by country—and aren’t grazed by a gnarly set of nails, an open wound, or jagged cuticle, but hey, it happens. No matter which side of the handshake you’re on, odds are if it’s a rough one, you leave the encounter with a strong desire to head to your nearest nail salon.
But wait—this might not be the best course of action. In fact, it’s possible that too many manicures might be the source of damaged nails in the first place. So instead of masking any unsightly or uncomfortable nail deficiencies with a sleek coat of lacquer, take a moment to pause and reflect on how to fix the problem, not just cover it up.
Unfortunately, there are a ton of ways nails can become damaged. Whether it’s from overuse of gel or acrylic nail techniques, vitamin deficiencies, direct injuries to the nail bed, or seasonal skincare concerns, it’s actually pretty easy for nails to fall into states of disrepair.
Fortunately, there are also several simple ways to get your nails back into tip-top shape, and who better to advise us on these tactics than professionals who deal with nail concerns every day? We reached out to editorial manicurist Jin Soon Choi, Olive & June founder and CEO Sarah Gibson Tuttle, celebrity crystal manicurist Mazz Hanna, and Varnish Lane co-founder Lauren Dunne to get the best tips, tricks, and treatments for repairing damaged nails.
A Clean Slate
So your nails are officially damaged—now what? First, completely remove whatever is currently on your nails. If that’s regular nail polish, you can DIY with your go-to remover and cotton balls. If you have gel or acrylics, it’s time to make an appointment with a professional. “Proper removal won’t damage your nails—it just takes patience,” says Tuttle. “Definitely avoid picking your gels off, because that will hurt your nails and cause further damage,” she explains.
If you're sporting an old set of acrylics, filing off parts before soaking is not a bad idea, according to Choi. "Some technicians use an electronic file to remove it, which is fast but should be done carefully to avoid filing the real nail off," she counsels—and don't try this at home.
This acetone-free nail polish remover is the top seller on Amazon.
These giant cotton balls are 100% biodegradable and can also be used for toner application, makeup remover, and baby and medical care.
While you might be tempted to apply a fresh coat of paint, all of our experts strongly advise against it. Commit to going bare and giving your hands some TLC. “I know people don’t like to hear it, but the more time off from gels and acrylics, the better the health of your nails,” says Choi. Use this as an opportunity to focus on cuticle care—seriously. All of our experts agree that applying a daily cuticle serum will help your nails bounce back quicker and stronger than ever.
"Wearing acrylics, gels, or dip powders for several weeks can seriously dry out nails, making them brittle and susceptible to breaks after removal," explains Dunne. Varnish Lane's cuticle oil uses a combination of natural ingredients to restore moisture while also promoting nail strength.
Tuttle and her team worked with a chemist to develop a proprietary cuticle formula modeled after an under-eye serum. "They are both areas of thin skin that need layer upon layer of hydration," she explains. Once cuticles are fully hydrated, applying a daily dose will continue to give you the look of freshly manicured nails whether they're polished or not.
Hanna agrees that cuticle oil is an essential part of healthy nail growth. Her version is made with certified organic jojoba and hempseed oils for maximum hydration and lavender and geranium essential oils, which can stimulate nail growth and heal any damage to the cuticle.
We recommend stockpiling Amazon's top-selling cuticle oil.
Protect & Strengthen
Depending on how damaged your nails are, it can take up to three months to completely grow them out. Once you’ve given your nail beds enough breathing room, avoid further damage to areas that are still sensitive by using nontoxic protecting and strengthening products.
"Take a break from polish altogether and use a nail hardener on them instead," says Dunne. Try this formula on your nails to keep them looking shiny and healthy during the recovery process.
This 10-free nail-strengthening base coat works wonders as well.
According to Amazon reviewers, if you struggle with nails that peel easily, then this strengthening cream is a total game changer.
If bare-naked nails just aren't an option, Hanna advises her clients to use a gentle treatment product and sheer color to help get back on track while still looking perfectly manicured.
Heal From Within
Sometimes, the issues that cause damaged nails are more than skin-deep. Fortunately, the rise in the wellness industry has helped people to become more informed about the vitamins, minerals, and supplements essential to their health. While each of the below products was recommended by our panel of experts, it’s important to always check with your doctor before adding something new to your personal regimen.
"We recommend supplements that promote healthy nail growth with ingredients such as horsetail herb," says Tuttle. Drink daily and your hair will grow faster too!
You've probably heard about Biotin before, and if you're dealing with brittle, broken nails, it's definitely time to give this hero supplement a try.
"I love the idea of taking supplements for promoting healthy nails. In fact, I do so myself," says Choi. She also recommends eating foods that contain biotin and collagen such as salmon, avocados, sweet potatoes, leafy greens, citrus, nuts, and seeds.
Bonus Tips & Tricks
Once your nails are on the mend, it's important not to go back to your old ways. Give your hands the TLC they deserve with these tried-and-true tactics straight from our team of experts.
Resist the urge to cut your cuticles. Dunne and her team always recommend that clients just have their cuticles pushed back and only dead skin removed. "Your cuticles are there to help protect the new healthy nails that are growing back," she explains.
During the regrowth process, good, healthy nail habits are key. "Remember no picking and no biting," says Tuttle. This Swiss formula has a bitter-yet-harmless taste that keeps hands out of the mouth and helps prevent the spread of germs.
Choi recommends applying a rich hand cream while wearing cotton gloves overnight to aid in the rejuvenation and continued vitality of nails.
Hydration is always a key factor when it comes to health. Gamify your intake with this time-marked water bottle and challenge yourself to finish a full gallon each day.
Last but not least, Dunne encourages all Varnish Lane clients to wear gloves when doing dishes or cleaning around the house. "Extended exposure to water, moisture, and cleaning products will dry out your nails even more and extend the recovery process," she tells us. We're on it!