I don't bite my nails, and I take a bunch of great supplements, but for years, my nails basically didn't grow at all. Okay, that's a slight exaggeration—they did grow but only to a little way past the tip of my finger before they'd then break off. I dabbled in acrylics, but that left them feeling weaker than when I started, so honestly, I was stumped. Manicurists would always tell me that I had great nail beds, but while well-meaning, their compliments felt a little redundant if the lengths of my nails were brittle and weak.
Thankfully, one of the perks of my job is that I'm able to chat with experts at the top of their trade, and after explaining my concerns to a few nail pros, I suddenly found myself in receipt of a plethora of amazing tips and product recommendations for healthy nails. I implemented some of the advice into my nailcare routine, and my nails have never looked or felt so healthy.
This is something that didn’t make sense to me at first, but as soon as I made gels a regular part of my nail routine, they have been stronger than ever. I try to always book into a salon for application and removal for the professional touch.
"Gel polish is absolutely fine for the nail. It's the removal that can sometimes damage the nail, so be careful not to let your nail tech over-drill or over-file," says Huaichin Kuo the lead nail technician at Lacquered + Stripped, Marble Arch.
I tend to avoid salons that use drill files, as they have left my nails feeling paper-thin and tender in the past. It may take a little longer to soak and file, but it truly saves the health of your nail—trust me. Another gel option to consider is hard gel. "These can be infilled and cause less damage, as removal can be kept to a minimum," says Huaichin.
As if there weren’t already enough reasons to hate washing the dishes, the damage it causes to the nails is another to add to the list. Unfortunately, I can’t refuse to clean the plates ever again, so I began wearing rubber gloves—game changer. "Nails are like sponges and absorb the water, making them very soft," says Shimol Kanuga from Guys & Dolls Parlour in Shoreditch, and the softer the nail, the more likely it is to split or break.
"Nails are very porous. Too much water can cause them to expand and the nails to become brittle and flaky when exposed too much. If you wear nail extensions, water can sometimes get trapped and cause fungal nails if not applied correctly. Wear rubber gloves when you can. This will protect your natural nail," adds Huaichin. If your nails are currently feeling weak, I love applying a strengthening nail treatment like OPI Nail Envy (£21).
Keeping your cuticles hydrated will help your manicure look professional and keep hangnails at bay. "To keep your natural nails healthy, avoid picking or biting your cuticles," warns Huaichin. The best way to avoid rough-looking cuticles is by using a nourishing oil.
I get it. Before I started keeping a cuticle oil on my desk, I'd never used one, but just like taking my supplements, it’s become a daily habit. "Natural, healthy nails require hydration," says Shimol. "Cuticle oil works by nourishing the cuticle and nail bed, which is why it's such an important step in nailcare whether you're growing your nails or simply want them to look healthy."
If you do get the odd hangnail, don't pull at it. Huaichin advises getting a cuticle nipper to avoid tearing the skin.
Saffron oil and vitamin E combine for a super-softening cuticle oil that has a sweet scent, and the stars add an element of fun too.
#4: Have a File Handy
Previously, when I got a chip on my gels or they had slightly broken, I would start to peel my nail off—a bad habit for sure. Now, I buff and file it away. So while it looks less than perfect, it’s still in a healthy condition until I can get my nails redone. "There is no set rule on how much you should file your nails," says Huaichin. "Avoid over-filing though—file your nails just to keep them neat."
Sometimes, it feels like I’m in a perpetual loop of beauty upkeep, but getting my nails done is something I always look forward to and never begrudge. I look after my nails in the same way that I look after my hair: I upkeep at home but go to the salon to get treatments, trims and colour touch-ups.
Huaichin says, "The best thing you can do to keep your nails healthy is see your manicurist or nail tech every two to three weeks. They will keep your nails healthy and be able to advise you what is best for your nails." And I completely agree. If there’s ever a time you can’t make it into the salon, keeping up with the above tips at home will see you right until you can get to a pro.