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If you are a dedicated acrylic wearer, you know how harsh they can be on your nails, especially if you don’t do a good job of taking care of them. Regardless of what type of application you use—sculpted acrylic versus glued on tips, gel extensions or dip powder—there ends up being some wear and tear on your natural nails. Anyone who is committed to long-term wear needs to be informed on how to strengthen nails after acrylics, as to not end up with fragile, sensitive nail beds. 

Some of our fav celebs like Megan Thee Stallion, Sukihana, Cardi B, and even Sasha Obama have been serving nail art looks (even in a pandemic). It’s no wonder more and more women are scheduling appointments to get a fresh, mile-long set. But before you commit to the look, it’s important to know how to take care of your precious digits before, during, and after acrylics to keep them in good fighting shape.

I spoke to Debi Norman, licensed cosmetologist for nearly thirty years. She has been an educator at two prominent cosmetology schools in the Pacific Northwest and has owned her own salon for five years. She is well-versed in nail ailments and is familiar with the most common misconceptions about hair, skin, and nails.

Norman made it clear that nail extensions are not exactly good for the health of your natural nails. “There’s mild to moderate damage done to your natural nail in the process of applying the acrylic, due to the filing of your natural nail and the chemicals used in the acrylic. Your nails become dehydrated while wearing acrylics, since they are not getting any air or moisture. This can leave them weak and brittle.”

Give your nails a rest between fillings

Considering that most people go in for a fill every two to three weeks to maintain a flawless look, it’s important to note your natural nails aren’t thriving when they are under a thick layer of acrylic for weeks to months at a time. Norman recommends not wearing acrylics for more than two months without giving your nails a break in between. She suggests giving the acrylics a rest for at least one to two weeks every two months so your nails can strengthen and rehydrate.

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Go for sculpted acrylics instead of glued on tips

Dark skinned young woman, hands in front of her face, portrait, Duesseldorf, Germany

Source: imageBROKER/Rolf Fischer / Getty

The expert recommends sculpted acrylics over glued on tips with acrylic overlay, “Because with glued on tips you typically have to file down the tip to blend into your natural nail, which damages your natural nail because you are filing your own nail bed and it can end up leaving ridges and dents.”

Opting for sculpted acrylics is a way to plan for the worst, so to speak. Anyone who has had fake nails knows the pain and suffering that can be caused by accidentally hitting your nail or catching your nail on something. Norman says that this might be something to consider for your nail application, asking what could happen if you break a nail?

When you break a sculpted acrylic, it breaks off at the free edge, whereas when you break a glued on acrylic nail tip, it’s more likely to cause damage to your natural nail because it typically will rip off the part of the nail it is glued on to. Ouch!

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Don’t pick at your nails

So what happens when you break a nail or your nails start to lift and you’re unable to get to the salon in time? First thing’s first, try your very best not to pick at them or pull them off, because this can cause a lot of damage to your nails and be pretty painful if done carelessly.

Our expert says: “The proper way to remove acrylic nails is to soak them in acetone, which requires time and patience. You can do this at home or at a salon. You will want to fill a small glass dish with 100% acetone. The dish should be big enough for your hand. Make sure the dish is glass, because acetone can eat through plastic.”

“You’ll soak your nails for 20-30 minutes, when you remove your nails the acrylic will feel gummy,” she continued. “You can use a high grit nail file to remove remaining acrylic and soak again if necessary.”

Of course at this point I would recommend giving your nails a break, maybe buffing them with some cuticle oil or using some nail strengthener. Basically, let them breathe for a little bit before the next round.

Be on alert for harmful practices at the salon

Everyone wants to know her nail technician’s number

Source: Delmaine Donson / Getty

One really important piece of expert advice from Norman is about removal in a salon. “It is highly recommended not to let a nail technician try to remove your acrylics with another object, such as sliding a nail tip under the nail to lift it or clipping the loose acrylic with cuticle nippers. While this is a quick way to remove acrylics when it is time for a fill, it removes the top layer of your nail and can be very painful. This can leave your nails thin, tender, and weak.”

When Jada Pinkett Smith needed to remove her acrylics last year and put a call out to Instagram for advice, one user suggested wiggling floss or floss sticks under the nail until it pops off. Our resident expert says that is a big no-no if you want to maintain healthy nails after acrylics. The best thing you can do is have them removed the right way with acetone to not cause further damage, as your nails will already be weak, dry, and brittle after wearing acrylics for long periods of time, so the last thing you want to do is cause more damage.

Wash your hands thoroughly as your nails start to lift

When your nails start to lift, moisture can get in between the acrylic and your natural nail, which becomes a hotbed for bacteria. To spare you any icky details, the moral of the story is to take care good care of your extensions, which includes maintaining the health of your natural nails and taking the proper steps to remove your artificial nails when it is time to do so. And of course, wash your hands!

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