What do you do when you break a nail? For me, because my nails are natural, the shortest nail dictates the length of the rest — regardless of whether I’m emotionally prepared to part with my long nails or not. If the middle finger on my left hand breaks or splits into a hairline fracture, I grab the nail clippers and enter an involuntary short nail era.
But a recent TikTok trend is bringing back an alternative method we might have been missing out on: repairing a broken nail instead of cutting it short. Like a bandage for your nails, a silk wrap is used to cover the break and keep it from fracturing further, thus allowing for the nails to keep on keeping on. The technique has actually been around for decades, but it’s seeing renewed attention now that nail artists are posting TikToks using what looks like gauze or a tea-bag-like fabric as a kind of reinforcement. Here's how it works.
What is a silk wrap?
"Silk wraps were originally developed in the 1980s and became hugely popular in the '90s and '00s," says London-based nail artist Ami Streets. "A thin woven strip of natural silk or artificial fabric is applied to a natural nail as an overlay to add strength and repair splits and tears.” According to Streets, back then (in a pre-gel polish world), people with weak or brittle natural nails would apply silk wraps to their nails to make them more durable.
Some of the videos on TikTok show silk wraps being used to create extensions in conjunction with an additional bond-building gel (to hold the piece of fabric in place and give it structure), but most manicurists only recommend this technique in the case of nail repair.
"I’ve only used the silk wrap method to repair damage — usually in cases where the nail is torn or split and needs to be structurally reinforced to allow it to grow out without having to lose any length or cut the nail," says Streets. For adding length to every single nail, she prefers a gel extension or bond builder. "In my opinion, there are better [options] available to extend nails, including Gel X and builder gel.”
How are silk wraps applied?
The process of repairing a broken nail using a silk wrap starts with buffing or filing the offending nail so it's smooth and dry. Then the fabric wrap will be sized and placed directly over the broken area. "I use tweezers for extra precision," Streets notes. To bind the wrap in place, an adhesive is applied over top. "Nail glue, resin [a liquified plastic that bonds to the nail], or even a top coat nail polish can work," says Streets. The adhesive will turn the fabric transparent and harden it flush to the nail. Once that’s all dried and set, the nail is buffed, shaped, and filed. Streets says that the bonding will be "imperceptible to the eye," making it a great option for a quick repair job.
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How much do silk nail wraps cost?
Because a silk wrap is a quick-fix service, it might not be advertised on your nail salon menu the same way you’d see “gel manicure” or “full set” for acrylics. But most experts agree that you can ask for it — or just show your broken nail — and your salon will likely know exactly what to do. In New York City, the cost of a silk wrap for a single nail is roughly $15.
Alternatively, for zero dollars, you could give a similar technique a shot by using a tea bag at home. "Tea bags work well as a similarly thin but strong woven fabric that can easily be adhered to the nail with glue or polish and buffed down to create a smooth and repaired nail surface ready to paint," says Streets. Natalie Minerva, the lead nail artist on Euphoria, uses this trick, too. "If there is a mild tear in the free edge of the nail, I’ll grab a tea bag and cut it to the length of the rip," she says. "Next, I’ll grab some nail glue and lay that down over the tear, then place the cut tea bag material on top. I’ll add more nail glue on top of that, let it dry, then buff it so it’s flush with the natural curve of the nail. Consider it a nail Band-Aid!"