Do Nails Need to “Breathe” Between Manicures?

Do nails need to “breathe”? You might be asking yourself this as you see your tips begin to yellow after weeks of wearing the same nail polish. While your friends might casually mention the importance of making sure your nails get air, you can argue that no, your nails don’t actually need to breathe. “They derive oxygen and nutrients from the blood supply and not the air,” says New York City based-dermatologist and nail expert Dana Stern. Nails, however, do need breaks in-between manicures for other reasons. Here’s how to tell if you should go bare for a bit. 

Signs Your Nails Need a Break From Polish

According to Stern, there are five main signs that your nails need a rest from your weekly manicure appointments: the appearance of keratin granulation (rough and white patches on the surface of the nail), peeling, ridges and splits, discoloration, and dehydrated cuticles. Though some of this damage (like keratin granulation) can be caused by prolonged nail-polish wear, it can also be caused by improper prep and removal. “If an electric file or very abrasive buffers are used to scrape the surface of that nail, [they] can dislodge superficial onychocytes — or nail cells — leading to peeling, splitting, and general surface irregularities like thinning of the nail plate,” she says.

To avoid this, nail artist Elle suggests being vigilant in finding a manicurist that is careful not to excessively buff nails. (Signs of excessive buffing include feeling extreme heat or pain.) She also recommends never picking or peeling off your polish when you think it’s time for it to come off, as it can cause damage to the surface of your nails. “You can inadvertently remove the superficial nail cells resulting in keratin granulations,” Stern adds. 

How Long to Give Your Nails a Break After Gel and Acrylic Manicure Damage

The material that you choose to coat your nails with can play a role in how damaged they end up being and for how long your hiatus from the beauty ritual will need to be. It has to do with the removal process of the polish — gel and acrylic manicures can be more physically damaging to remove than regular polish. According to manicurist Mazz Hanna, some salons “don’t take the necessary time that is needed to remove gel and acrylic in a way that doesn’t damage the nail plate.”

Stern adds that your nails can be damaged with aggressive mechanical and chemical removal methods. Mechanical damage is created with rough removal (like vigorous scraping), while an example of chemical damage is soaking nails in acetone for too long — causing nails to dry out and become more brittle.

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