Manicurists may call these techniques "nail enhancements," but they're not improving the health of your nails. After you remove acrylics, gels, or wraps, your nails will probably feel thinner and more brittle because they've been smoothed down with a file to help the overlays adhere. That said, if you take the proper precautions, no permanent harm should be done. "It's like dyeing your hair; you can damage the existing hair, but once you stop and let it grow out again, it will be the same quality as before," says manicurist Deborah Lippmann. And she knows: A longtime acrylics wearer, she went back to her natural nails eight years ago when she started her own nail care line. The transition will take time—about four to six months to grow an entirely fresh, virgin nail, according to Lenora Felderman, MD, clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Weill Medical College. To use artificial nails safely, the experts recommend that you:
- Say no to drills. They file down the surface of the nails more quickly than a regular nail file, but they can traumatize your cuticles and nail plates. "If your manicurist takes out a drill, just tell her to put it right back," says Thompson.
- Avoid infection. Make sure the manicurist doesn't cut your cuticles and that all tools have been sterilized. "Anything that disrupts the cuticle is opening up a pathway for infection," says Audrey Kunin, MD, associate clinical instructor of dermatology at the University of Kansas School of Medicine (and an acrylics wearer).
- Keep length in check—you still want to be able to button your clothes. But even more important, longer nails are more likely to crack or break. If the impact is strong enough, the break could actually damage your nail plate (and at the very least, it will hurt—as our acrylics tester discovered).
- Be diligent about maintenance. You will need to fill in the space between your cuticles and the artificial nails every ten to 14 days. "Don't wait too long, or moisture could get trapped underneath the nail and it will start to mildew and turn green," says Lippmann. "You'll have to wait for the nail to grow out to get rid of it." Other types of fungi, like yeast, can also breed under there. At the first sign of any discoloration in your natural nail, remove the fakes and get to a dermatologist, who can diagnose the specific problem. Many kinds of nail infections are most effectively treated with an oral antifungal medication.
- Resist the urge to pick or bite off your artificial nails. You could tear, break, or otherwise damage the nail underneath. Ideally, you should return to the salon to have them soaked off in an acetone solution.