How To Un-Wreck Your Nails

By the time you notice your nails are in need of a little TLC, things are already horribly wrong. Your cuticles are crappy, you've got more ridges than a bag of Ruffles, and why, oh WHY, can't you get rid of these crazy yellow stains? It's time to stop the hand hate and bring on the healing.

We reached out to Jaclyn Ferber and Adair Ilyinsky, cofounders of the magical tenoverten salons and nail-care line, to give us the details on how to rehab your digits when you've got a 911-worthy situation on your hands. So, read on, and learn how to un-wreck your nails — for good.

Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
"Yellowing is usually a by-product of keeping your polish on too long," says Ferber. "You see it more in pedicures — out of sight, out of mind." So, Ferber offers up this advice: "Even if you can't get in to a salon, don't leave polish on for longer than three weeks. You have to let your nails breathe, especially if you're fond of dark colors." She recommends going a few days polish-free now and then to give your nails a break and reduce discoloration and also advises that individuals use gentler products, like non-acetone remover and lacquers that are three- or five-free. Another option? "You can always alternate dark and light polishes," Ferber says.
Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Just like your hair, splitting nails are a symptom of dryness. "There's a lot of damage done from gels that are applied and/or removed incorrectly," warns Ferber. "You should also only leave them on for no longer than two weeks — many splitting nails are caused by leaving gels on too long." The experts at the tenoverten salons recommend against using them altogether; however, if you do go that route, they advise that you have them applied and removed by a licensed professional. "You should also add a reparative step to help replace what you take out of your nails," she cautions. Ferber recommends using a basecoat with vitamin E or horsetail, like tenoverten's new The Foundation Base Coat. "It's a good hardener and contains minerals; it helps strengthen the nail," she says.
Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Gel polishes aren't the only lacquer that can damage your nails — keeping your regular polish on too long can turn your nails into a brittle mess. "As polish chips, it takes off the top layer of the nail," says Ilyinsky. "So, when you pick your polish, you're taking off a layer of your nail with it." Yikes. "If you can't make it to your next manicure, at least take it off with polish remover so the old polish isn't taking off the top of the nail," she advises.
Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Hangnails can be caused by your hands getting excessively dry — so don't forget the hand cream on a daily basis — but they are also a symptom of overcutting. "We train our technicians not to overcut, that they should only cut the dead skin and not the live skin of the cuticle," says Ilyinsky. "You shouldn't cut healthy cuticles. It's counterintuitive because you think your nails look neater and healthier, but it's actually damaging to the nail bed. They look great that one day, then the next there are tons of tiny hangnails everywhere." She recommends you request that only the dead skin be removed and the healthy cuticle simply be gently pushed back with an orange stick when you stop in for your next mani. "A good manicurist will lightly buff the top of the nail afterward just to take off any remnant cuticle, but there's no need to cut the healthy skin that's there," Ilyinsky notes.
Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Ripples in your nail can be a factor of genetics and/or nutrition (watch your folate and calcium!), but they are also a result of using stripping products, like gel manicures and harsh polishes. Other than maintaining a healthy diet, both experts say it's best to use a good basecoat to fill in any gaps — so your polish goes on evenly — and a nail strengthener to help the nail grow in strong over time. As for filing down that uneven surface? Don't. "All you're doing is thinning the nail," says Ferber. "Buffing is fine, but not too much. Try not to wear down your nail."
Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Polish that chips in a heartbeat can have multiple causes. "If you don't clean the nail and the nail bed before you apply the polish, it won't adhere for very long," advises Ferber, who also maintains that a good topcoat helps. "Life is such that, depending on what we do, it may cause polish to chip. Use a good topcoat to help prevent chipping no matter what you do, to seal the polish job."

Other than your lifestyle, you may actually have dry or oily nails that can affect your polish jobs. "All of our physiology is different," Ilyinsky points out. "Just like you may have dry or oily hair, you can have the same kind of nail beds." That said, some types of coats still work better for tricky nail beds. "Find your best polish, and stick with that line and formulation," advises Ilyinsky. Another ninja-level nail trick to help you maintain your manicure? "A lot of our customers don't take showers before they get their nails done," she says. "Hot water from a shower can prevent your nails from [fully] drying, so they avoid showering directly after a manicure, and only wash their hands with cold water to help their polish set." Let that be a lesson: manicure first, bathe later. Priorities, people.
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