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Regular manicures have never really lasted for me. Between typing all day, washing dishes at night and cleaning up after my dogs, my nails seem to always chip in no time. Longer-lasting manicures like dip powder or gel color have been the solution, and once I discovered these options, I quickly grew addicted. That is, until, my manicurist cut me off.
I recently walked into a neighborhood salon to soak off my SNS dip powder manicure and replace them with a new color. During the removal process, the technician asked me how long I had been wearing this particular set.
“I get them to last over a month each time!” I boasted.
She looked dubious, then concerned, as she filed the rest of the product off my nails.
Then, the unexpected happened.
“I will not be doing your nails today. I think you need a break," she said.
Why do nails need a break from polish?
Nail professionals recommend letting nails breathe every once in the while, and avoiding back-to-back nail processes that involve gluing or painting on layers of chemical-laden product. I’d gone well over a year without a break, soaking off dip powder every four to six weeks and immediately replacing them with another set. The toll? My nails were now weak, peeling, cracked and in some cases, bruised. As a result, I’d been benched.
Wearing nail polish for long periods of time can allow chemicals in the polish to seep into the nail bed and cause it to discolor, split and peel, according to experts.
“It is best to read the label before use, as different brands of nail polish contain a range of potentially toxic and irritating chemicals, including alcohol, various fragrances, toluene, formaldehyde and dibutyl phthalate,” said Dr. Sonia Batra, a board-certified dermatologist and co-host of “The Doctors.”
Soak-off gel manicures and dip powder manicures are even more damaging than regular nail polish.
“Using gel polish has been found to cause nail thinning, most likely due to the acetone soak used to remove the polish, which can be extremely drying and cause nail peeling,” said Batra.
Hard gels can be even more damaging to the nails because they need to be filed off, which can cause irreversible damage to underlying tissue and cuticles. And, the longer we use tips, gel or powder, the worse it ends up being.
“Prolonged use can give rise to a yellow-orange discoloration of the nails or to white, rough patches, called keratin granulation, that are due to dehydration or inadvertent removal of the top layer of the nail,” said Batra.
It is important to note that nails obtain their nutrients and oxygen from the bloodstream, so wearing nail polish doesn't deprive them of oxygen, but it does irritate them.
“Nails need oxygen to maintain health and to get their nutrients," celebrity manicurist Erica Marton, who is based in Florida and New York City, told TODAY over email; her clients include Bette Midler, Mary-Louise Parker and Rashida Jones. "Think of it as wearing a latex mask on your face: After a day, your face would need to breathe. You can get irritation. The same applies to nails, just not the same effects of a face irritation."
How long do nails need a break?
Fingernails take an average of four to six months to grow out completely from the cuticle to the tip.
“For natural nails, a three- to four-week break usually will be sufficient to allow discoloration to fade, whether nails are yellow-orange or have white patches,” said Batra.
For gel nails, take a break for a week at least once every eight weeks to allow the nails to rehydrate and to allow repair of the underlying structures.
“An emollient applied directly to the nail and cuticle oil will also aid recovery,” said Batra.
How to help nails recuperate
When you’re trying to give your nails a break from dip powder (SNS nails) or gel polish, Varnish Lane co-founder Lauren Dunne suggests using a plant-based acetone remover.
“The main ingredient in dip base coats is the same ingredient as Krazy Glue — so you can only imagine how damaging those chemicals can be," she said. "To remove it, we use a plant-based acetone remover, an environmentally friendlier alternative to petroleum-based products."
If you decided to skip the salon to remove them, don’t! Dunne suggests it’s best to leave these matters to the professionals.
Dunne recommends a plant-based acetone because "they're safer for your nails and skin, plus you won't have to sacrifice your skin's health for a product that works."
She added, "This product safely removes gels and dips without the harsh ingredients found in other acetone removers."
Batra recommends this "scent-free, dye-free (hypoallergenic) heavy moisturizer that helps restore the barrier of the skin and nails without being greasy or sticky."
"I also like that it lasts despite frequent hand washing,” she added.
“This oil hydrates but also absorbs quickly. Milk contains a natural alpha hydroxy acid (lactic acid), and honey is a natural anti-inflammatory,” said Batra.
To preserve the health of nails, wear gloves to protect them from water and chemicals during household chores.
“Avoid prolonged exposure to hot water and tone down the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer, as both can be extremely drying to the nail and cause peeling and cracks,” said Batra.
“Nowadays, I highly recommend Maxus base coat; it has amino acids and tea tree oil, which is a go-to for healthy nails!” said Marton, who explained that tea tree oil is good for fighting fungus or bacteria. “If you have damaged nails, they are probably lacking in protein (and amino acids)."
Bottom line: Yes, treat your nails to a vacation; the harsh chemicals will ruin your nails if you don’t.
“You are suffocating them," said Marton. "Let them breathe! A week or month a break is healthy. Think of it as fasting for your nails!”