How To Protect Your Nails From Acrylic Nail Damage

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Bare nails, gel, shellac, acrylic, the list goes on. Your nails aren’t just a hard shell on the tip of your fingers, and they aren’t just a fashion statement – they’re an indicator of health and so much more!  Your nails are made up of laminated layers of a protein called keratin and grow from the area at the base of the nail under your cuticle. Healthy nails are normally uniform in color and free of spots and discoloration. Fungi, redness, cracked nails, and similar issues could present themselves at some point. We’ll discuss how to maintain healthy nails and avoid those conditions altogether.

Let’s take a closer look at different nail polishes and how we can maintain our nail health no matter the nail-look we’re going for!

Regular Vs Acrylic Vs Gel Nails: Ingredients Breakdown

Woman painting nails white.

Woman painting her nails.

Regular manicures consist of soaking your hands in warm water to soothe and soften dead skin cells. Nails are clipped and filed/shaped and hands moisturized. Cuticles should be pushed back not cut. Finishing with a base coat, main coat/color, and a top coat, with time to allow nails to dry. The drying time ideally is 20 minutes or more.

The gel manicure is similar in that your nails are soaked in warm water, clipped and filed/shaped. The gel polish differs in that after each coat, hands are placed under a UV or LED light to cure. This process hardens and sets the polish allowing it to stay on the nails for 2-5 weeks without chipping. The drying time is significantly less as the regular manicure.

The acrylic nails are made by combining a liquid acrylic product (a monomer) with a powdered product (polymer) together to form a soft ball that can be fashioned into a nail shape. Once the nail technician applies this acrylic to a client’s nails, the material hardens and becomes much stronger. And then it can be buffed, filed, and shaped to your liking.

Different types of acrylic nails are mixed along with powders to form a strong adhesive bond. Gel nails are self-reliant, with no need for any powder polymers to mix in with them. The other key difference is that with acrylic nails you have to work quickly as they start to harden on contact with air.

Additionally, nail tips are even another choice and part of the acrylics family. They also require an adhesive to affix to your own nails.

How Do You Keep Your Nails Healthy With Acrylics

Acrylic nails can be lovely on just about anyone! With acrylics, you can enjoy long, elegant nails even if your natural nails are short. However, taking care of acrylics is essential to keep them looking great. You want to be certain to keep your nails clean, doing whatever possible to avoid breakage. Keep your normal lifestyle in mind when choosing the length. If you work in a job that requires regular use of your hands, consider going a little shorter than you’d want for a special event.
As your nails begin to grow under the acrylics, you’ll want to get a touch-up every 3-4 weeks as needed.

This is really not something you want to do at home on your own. It’s best to find a professional technician to monitor for inconsistencies and general health of your natural nails.
After about 3 months, your technician will remove the acrylics. This gives you time for your nails breathe and regenerate before your next application. This “rest time” is so important for your nails and unfortunately overlooked in our attempt to have perfect nails all the time.
Be certain to dry your hands thoroughly after each washing to avoid a fungus growth. Moisture can get trapped between the acrylic and your real nails, a great place for fungus to grow.  

The Best Solution For Damaged Nails

Person removing acrylic nails with acetone.

Removing acrylic nails with acetone.

Nails are porous and need to breathe. Give your nails a much needed rest between manicures, especially between gels/acrylics. When they are removed it is especially traumatic for the nails and they really need a break. It is best to wear gloves when cleaning with chemicals, mostly to protect your hands. You can use the opportunity to really give your hands and nails a deep moisturizing using Vaseline or coconut oil slathered over hands, including cuticles and nails and put your gloves on to clean giving plenty of time for absorption and by the time the cleaning is done your hands and nails are looking and feeling great.

There are products that will help to restore good health to your nails. For example, OPI makes a 3-step system that is really great for optimizing nail health. It includes a serum infused base coat, color coat, and protective top coat.

It takes at least 3 months for damaged nails to grow out. You really want to give your nails a break from gel and acrylics to allow the nail plate to recover. You can buff and harden the nails during the process with a base coat that contains a gelatin matrix. Keeping in mind that too much buffing will weaken the nails.

Natural Nail Polish Explained

While no nail polish is completely natural, it is best to find brands that are “3-free”. This refers to toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), or formaldehyde, all known to be carcinogens, and therefore best avoided.

There are some water based nail enamels available that don’t contain the harmful chemicals of traditional nail polish and also come off with water or simple alcohol. They’re great for special occasions when you just want that certain finished look for your nails. You should not have high expectations of having a long-lasting chip-free manicure. These are not meant for long term use, in general. 

So if you’ve used a natural nail polish, you can certainly remove that polish just as naturally. Try either white vinegar or a vinegar solution mixed with lemon juice. And for the stubborn spots, use a buffer, but know that too much buffing does compromise the nail bed.


Keeping good healthy practices in mind, nails need to be cared for whether you are polishing, using acrylics, or nothing at all.  Wash your hands often keeping them clean, and dry thoroughly. Remember to moisturize including your cuticles. When cleaning, washing dishes, or using chemicals, try to use gloves to protect your hands and nails.

Try to avoid cutting your cuticles, this is only a cosmetic step in a manicure, there is no benefit to hands or nails. Instead, use an orangewood stick instead to push back softened cuticles to achieve a clean and completed look. Using a sawing motion when filing your nails may weaken them. Keep your nails trimmed and file them in one direction.
The maintenance of your nails is not only important for beautiful hands but for the health benefits as well.