Tips for Strengthening Brittle Nails After Gel Manicure Removal — Expert Advice


I’m not exaggerating when I say I have barely seen my real nails in eight years. Every two weeks to the day, I am in the nail salon soaking and repeating my manicure routine. I have tried nearly every manicure technique under the sun, including acrylics, gel extensions, gel manicures, and dip powder.

Due to the effects of COVID-19 on the beauty industry, nail salons are currently closed, so I’ve been left to my own devices. My latest nail adventure was dip powder, which is artificial-like gel or acrylic, but the application is different than both. According to manicurist Holly Falcone, to create a dip powder manicure, you layer a base (which goes on like regular polish) and powder (which you dip your wet nail into) until you have your desired coverage before sealing it with a gel topcoat.

A few days ago, I sat down to remove my manicure by first removing the topcoat with a nail file and then soaking my nails in acetone until the powder was soft, then I went back to filing off the leftover powder residue until I could see my natural nails. While doing so, I realized two things. The first was that nail technicians have one of the hardest jobs in the world — removing this shit was not easy.

The second? My natural nails are a true disgrace. They’ve only seen the light of day less than 30 seconds every two weeks while my nail technician gets my next color ready, and what I found under the hard coating was not pretty at all. In fact, using the word damaged would be an understatement. They were so brittle and thin that the thought of doing anything to them on my own scared me. I decided that I’d be using this time in self-isolation to heal my nails and try to get them back in decent condition.

So, how exactly do I do that? Well, according to a few experts, there are a few ways to grow nails long and strong after the damage is done.

All products featured on Allure are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

1. Keep your nails short.

Just like when your hair needs a trim to grow, so do your nails. By cutting the ends off, you are freeing nails from damage and keeping them healthy, says Mona Gohara, a board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Yale.

2. Avoid harsh soaps and cleansers.

While you should be washing your hands more often than usual right now, Gohara recommends staying away from harsher soaps and cleansers as they can further weaken and irritate the nails. Gohara, who has a partnership with Dove, loves using the brand’s Foaming Hand Wash as a gentler option. We also love Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day Liquid Hand Soap, which smells like freshly squeezed lemonade.

3. Protect your nails.

That said, during this time of frequent sanitation and cleaning, your hands are going to get dried out. Wearing gloves to do the dishes and hydrating your nails after washing and sanitizing can help protect them from becoming more brittle and broken, says Falcone, who loves Deborah Lippmann’s Cuticle Cream because it’s formulated with shea butter to deeply hydrate the cuticles, which are prone to drying out quickly even under normal circumstances.

We also recommend pairing cuticle cream with your favorite hand lotion for double the moisture. One of our favorites is the Murumuru Butter and Rose Delicious glow Hand Cream from Love Beauty and Planet, which is packed with murumuru butter, an ingredient that makes hands and nails look smoother and feel softer.

4. Apply a strengthener.

Falcone also suggests applying a nail strengthener, which is a type of base coat that deeply heals the damaged nail, every few days. She loves the Nailtiques Formula 2, which, according to cosmetic chemist Ginger King has a protein called hydrolyzed keratin in its formula.

According to Gohara, this protein is already naturally found in your nails and hair, and applying it creates a protective barrier for your nails, which helps make them strong and resilient over time. Falcone suggests applying a strengthener one to two times a day until you feel they’re strong enough to be without the strengthener.

If you are going to remove your manicure at home, following our guides to minimize long-term damage. Once you successfully removed any polish, consider the above tips to keep your nails strong for your next in-person manicure appointment. Personally, I know my nail technician is going to be impressed with my nails once I’m lucky enough to be sitting in her chair again.

For more on gel manicures:

Now, watch as purple amethyst nail art comes to life:

You can follow Allure on Instagram and Twitter, or subscribe to our newsletter to stay up to date on all things beauty.