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TikTok’s Nail Exfoliation Is Just The Thing For Flaky, Weak Nails

Welcome to Beauty In A Tik, where each week we put TikTok's viral beauty hacks and innovative trends to the test.
When the weather turns cold, my hands really feel it – and it seems I'm not the only one. In the past week alone, 'what causes dry hands?' and 'hand cream for very dry hands' have dominated internet searches, and TikTok's dermatologists are taking to the platform in droves to suggest hacks and remedies that'll help alleviate the discomfort.
By now, it's likely you've heard of 'hand slugging' (combining hyaluronic acid, hand cream and Vaseline for softer hands) and 'hand masking' (treating your hands to a hydrating weekly sheet mask). But nails rarely get a look in. This makes no sense, because with dry hands often come equally thirsty nails. No wonder we're adding 'why are my nails so brittle?' to the Google list.
My nails often peel and rarely get past a certain point before they snap off at the tip. Though I probably don't drink enough water (I'm convinced we're all guilty of this), I do have a balanced diet and use hand cream regularly. Am I missing a trick? Perhaps, according to TikTok-viral dermatologist Dr Dray, who suggests we should be exfoliating our nails.
"I'm a dermatologist and here is my secret for healthier-looking nails," said Dr Dray in a video with 41.2k views and counting. "Use a moisturiser with an alpha hydroxy acid in it, whether it be glycolic [acid] or lactic [acid]." Both of these ingredients (also known as AHAs in the skincare world) help to exfoliate the skin but it sounds like they're also beneficial on nails. Dr Dray pinpoints AmLactin Daily Moisturising Body Lotion with lactic acid, which she says can "really help improve the health of the nail plate". It's not available in the UK so I improvised.
Cast your mind back to this summer when everyone rediscovered The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution, £8. TikTokers were using the exfoliating toner on their feet to remove dry, cracked skin and calluses, while others recommended it as a treatment for a flaky scalp. I tried both hacks and was pleasantly surprised each time. Just in time for sandal weather, my feet felt a hell of a lot softer and the flakes on my scalp all but disappeared. Could the exfoliating toner work on my ragged cuticles and peeling nails? I had to try it.
Dunking in a cotton bud and saturating it fully, I swiped the product over my nail plate and along my scraggly cuticles, taking care to avoid any splits in the skin (I'm a picker). If I were to apply this product to my face, I would always follow up with a quenching moisturiser, so I looked to Cetaphil Moisturising Lotion, £16, which boasts skin-softening avocado oil, hydrating niacinamide and moisturising vitamin E. You could slather this all over your hands but I dotted a little onto each nail and cuticle, taking the time to really massage everything in. Applying cuticle oil is a great last step if you want to keep the moisture under lock and key. It also lends nails an attractive glossy effect, similar to top coat.
It's been around three weeks since I discovered TikTok's nail exfoliation hack and I can confirm that my nails and cuticles are so much better for it. I no longer peel away flakes because there hardly are any. Research suggests that glycolic and lactic acids in particular increase skin hydration. As my cuticles are smoother, there isn't an excuse to pick them and cause a painful hangnail. I'm yet to grow my nails long but they don't appear as brittle thanks to this combination of products, so I have hope! You can apply the glycolic acid toner to nails and cuticles once a day if you like. I used it every other day to be on the safe side, as acids can be irritating. On the nights I took a break, I tried to remember to swipe on some cuticle oil, but I was more consistent with the lotion.
Ami Streets, session manicurist and nail expert, believes there's method to nail exfoliation. "I would definitely recommend the use of exfoliating products on hands and nails," Ami told me. Not only does it make skin smoother but the exfoliation action boosts the effectiveness of other topical skincare, for example creams and oils used to moisturise cuticles and nails.
Ami believes that cuticle oil should be used daily as part of your skincare routine (keep it on your bedside table). "Incorporate application of oil after exfoliation to rehydrate skin," advises Ami. "It's essential to keep nails nourished, especially after this [exfoliating] skincare step, as it removes natural oils and can be drying." Ami says that nail and cuticle oil is reparative and actually penetrates skin a little deeper than a hand cream. For that reason, she says it's excellent for locking in moisture and keeping hands and nails in optimum condition.
There are rules to nail exfoliation. "I would recommend regular – but not daily – exfoliation," says Ami, who suggests trying it once a week to start. "As with facial exfoliation (depending on your skin type, texture and products used), daily use of exfoliants could be too frequent and can result in irritation, redness or peeling," particularly if your cuticles and hands are sensitive. "Choose your exfoliant wisely," adds Ami, starting with something gentle. "You can always work up to using stronger chemical-based exfoliants once you have established your tolerance level." You might like to begin with something like Revolution Skincare PHA and Lactic Acid Gentle Toner, £8, or OPI Prospa Exfoliating Cuticle Cream, £12.80, which cuts out the toner step.
If you're exfoliating your hands and nails regularly, Ami hits home the importance of choosing a hand cream with the addition of sunscreen. "We tend to forget that hands are one of the areas that really show signs of sun damage and are often overlooked in our skincare application," says Ami. What's more, exfoliating acids make skin very sensitive to sunlight. "Protect your hands by using specific hand cream products with a high SPF factor," like Hello Sunday The One For Your Hands Hand Cream SPF30, £9, "or simply apply your regular facial SPF on the backs of your hands daily," recommends Ami.
I hadn't even heard of it until recently but nail exfoliation works a treat. You heard it here first.
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