How To Repair Your Nails After They've Been Damaged

by Telesto

Weak, damaged nails? Follow these tips to get them back in tip-top condition

Is there anything can you do when your fingernails are breaking and flaking and generally looking pretty, well, flaky? The answer is yes, if you are patient and prepared to invest a bit of time and effort. A good hand care regime doesn’t take too long and will pay dividends in the long run. Having attractive hands and nails can help to improve your confidence and earn you compliments. Remember to treat your hands and nails gently and with respect and they’ll soon start to look good.

Nowadays, I’m seeing lots of ladies with badly damaged nails after having been wearing gels or acrylics for a long period of time.  I know they look fab, but the damage they cause massive, which is why I was never taught those techniques, and have never used them.  (I’m actually not sure about the fumes from acrylics either, but that’s another subject.)

Of course, having acrylics or gels is not the only way that you can damage your fingernails - I whacked one of mine with a hammer when I was doing some DIY, and it took ages to start growing properly again.  And biting your nails can also cause short-term damage.

So what can you do when your nails are in a desperate state?

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  1. Be patient.  It takes between 3 and 6 months for your fingernails to grow, and longer for toe nails - between 6 months and a year.  So whatever damage has been done, you aren’t going to repair it overnight.  If you are going somewhere special, buy some of the stick on nails and take them off after a couple of days.  (Added bonus: they’ll protect your nails a bit too.)

  2. Be consistent.  Whatever you do, it needs to be done regularly, every day, at least once a day, preferably two or three times a day, for a full 6 months.  By which time, hopefully, you will have got yourself into a habit that you don’t want to break.  (If you ever get to know any hand models, they will tell you that their life is quite restricted by what they have to do, and they take REALLY good care of their hands and nails.)

  3. As a rule of thumb, no pun intended, if it’s good for your hands, it’s probably good for your nails.  The reverse, however, is not necessarily true.

  4. Make sure that you dry your hands and nails thoroughly whenever you take them out of water.  (You should do this, even if you are still wearing gels or acrylics, if you get water underneath them, you can get a very nasty infection.)

  5. If you can, wear rubber gloves for washing up and other household chores.  If you have an allergy, wear cotton gloves inside the rubber ones.

  6. Whenever you have had your hands in water, and, after you have applied anti-bacterial hand gel, use hand cream.  It doesn’t have to be the most expensive in the world, there are some good, less expensive ones around, but make sure you rub it in thoroughly, paying particular attention to the nails and cuticles. 

  7. Two or three times a day (in the morning, last thing before you go to be and during the day) apply a good nail treatment cream or almond oil, if you can use it.  (Not too much, it takes a bit of massaging to get it to absorb.)  I particularly like Nu Nale cream, and it’s not expensive.  I find that it helps to “seal” cracked edges, even if only temporarily.  The other benefit of regularly rubbing cream into the nail is that it increases blood flow to the nail, which helps them to grow.

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 8.   I’m a big fan of OPI, and like their Nail Envy - they come in a variety of types now, so hopefully
      you can find one to suit your needs.  Nails Inc A & E basecoat is good too.  Apply according to
      the instructions, and re-apply daily or every other day.  You can use both of these as a top
      coat too, over polish, and they have the added bonus of keeping you polish on for longer,
      without chipping.

9.   When you file your nails, make sure you use a good quality emery board or file - I like the
      crystal files that you can get now, or a diamond file, but whatever you use, be gentle.  File   
      from the sides to the middle, no see-sawing!  Don’t file too far down at the sides either,  
      unless the nail is damaged there: that’s the weakest part of the nail and you want to give it as
      much strength as possible.

10. Buff your nails regularly.  I like the Nails Inc 4-way buffer which has a file and ridge remover
      too.  Please note: use ridge removers very sparingly on finger nails, if at all.  You are trying to
      repair them, not damage them further.  I tend to save ridge removers for toenail use, and even
      then, only in extreme cases.  If you paint your nails, after you’ve buffed them, give them a wipe
      over with acetone free remover, so that your base coat will adhere properly.  Like rubbing    
      cream into the nail, buffing stimulates blood flow, and helps them to grow. 

11. Soak your nails in warm water with a drop of olive or almond oil once a week, for about five   
      minutes, and gently push back the cuticle with a hoof stick.  Unless you’ve previously had your
      cuticles cut, don’t start cutting them.  It’s a nightmare to get them to a state where you don’t
      have to continue.  (Yes, that is the voice of experience speaking!) 

12. Personal view: painting nails helps to protect them (many a time I’ve done some damage with
      a cheese grater or knife but the polish has protected most of the nail).  I have no issue with
      using less expensive brands of polish, but, if your nails are already damaged, please ensure
      that you use a good quality strengthener, as above.

13. Wear gloves in the winter and a sun block on your hands in the summer - it will help to prevent
      age spots, and it’s never too early to try to prevent these things. 

14. Eat a balanced diet, ensuring that you eat a sufficient amount of protein.  Your nails are made
      of protein, so it’s required to build, amongst other things, healthy nails.

15. Treat your nails with respect.  Do not use them as can openers, screwdrivers, to flip ring pulls,

16. Remember that certain medications may adversely affect your nails.  Just follow the tips above
      to help your nails as much as possible.

17. Consider getting regular (non-gel/acrylic) manicures.  Your nails will look better, so you’ll feel
      more inclined to keep on looking after them properly.

If you follow these tips, your nails will improve.  I can’t promise that they will never break again, but they will improve.

Update 3/8/14

As a result of the tip by Wordchazer, I bought some hoof oil, and have been using it for about three months now.  I think the smell that she refers to is Wintergreen, although I won't swear to that.  I do think it's helped, although I've generally been making more of an effort with my nails.  I don't know what I did around the beginning of the year to make my nails so bad, but whatever it was, a bit of TLC has remedied the situation.

Updated: 08/03/2014, Telesto
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Telesto on 08/03/2014

Thank you. I've been using the hoof oil as recommended by Wordchazer, and it does seem to be helping. I think the key is to be consistent, a case of do as I say, not do as I do!

fitzcharming on 08/03/2014

I've been noticing the new nail polish colors during my last few trips to the drug store and am thinking I should spruce up my nails a bit. I abuse them terribly and they deserve some TLC. Great tips on this page.

Telesto on 04/11/2014

Just ordered hoof oil, thank you. Typing usually helps nails grow - what happens with your ring fingers? Toe nails. .. Yes they get a lot of damage so no surprise they need extra care. We should treat them the same as our fingernails but the best I do is a full pedicure every other week. Podiatrists are definitely worth their weight in gold. Ditto osteopaths.

Guest on 04/11/2014

There certainly is hoof oil on Amazon, Telesto. 902 results for the search 'hoof oil' in fact. It's the stuff that grooms and stable lads/lasses use to make the horses' hooves stronger and less likely to be damaged when they're competing. It's black, gooey and smells evil but if you rub or paint it on and leave for around 10 minutes then wash your hands, it has the desired effect after a while. My ring fingers are the worst for getting the nails to grow, which is odd because they're not the longest fingers. I don't know that hoof oil will do mjuch for damaged nail beds but it'll certainly strengthen the nail over the top, for sure.

I didn't know that toe nails took so long to recover from damage either. My right big toenail has been a menace for a while and without regular intervention from the podiatrist would have given me an infection and ingrowing nail by now. He's a medical professional worth every penny of the £34 for a 30 minute appointment that he charges every couple of months.

Telesto on 04/11/2014

Hoof oil? I have to confess to never having heard of it. Do they sell it on Amazon? I know what you mean about the left thumb talon! I have one of those. But also have one nail with a damaged nail bed because I decided to use it as target practice when using a hammer. Hence my need for hoof oil.

Guest on 04/11/2014

Best thing I EVER found for my nails was hoof oil. My boss at the time kept a horse, and noticed that after painting her equine's hooves, that her nails were stronger too. I have one nail (left thumb) which is a talon and has been for years, but most of the others are shorter due to my admin-typing-writing-washing up-medical hygiene gel lifestyle. Washing up gloves are useless to me. I break glasses wearing them as I have no feeling in my fingers then. I have worn stickon nails before but I really ought to start painting the stubs again to make them stronger and stop them from being damaged. I also swear by handcream and have a huge bottle of it in my desk drawer as the medics do stress the hand washing thing even for us admins, which caused the natural oils to vanish quicker than lightspeed from my hands. I have fairly sensitive skin so I'm trying to keep an eye on it to make sure I don't get nasties later in life.

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