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5 Sneaky Nail Saboteurs

Tiny as they are, your fingernails can be an amazing asset and accessory, whether you wear them bare or sporting a trendy pattern. Think about what you do to keep them perfectly manicured, clipped, and polished—and then consider this: All of that effort may actually be damaging your digits, risking much more than just a broken nail.

Put down your file and topcoat brush and check out these five common practices that could be ruining your fingernails without you realizing it and learn easy fixes for 10 strong, long tips.

Biting the Hand That
Feeds You

A nervous habit for many, nibbling your nails can lead to skin infections and other yucky problems. “Germs and bacteria hide under nails, so biting them can spread these nasties to your mouth and possibly lead to bacterial infections,” says Candice Manacchio, a Creative Nail Design expert. “You can also get infections around the nail if it is bitten too low.”

To help kick this habit, try keeping your nails neatly polished with your favorite shade or adding some nail art so you’ll be less apt to bite and ruin your pretty tips, says Janine Coppola, SensatioNail’s vice president of marketing. If that doesn’t work, consider talking to a mental health provider about anxiety and boredom issues, which are often the underlying cause of nail chomping.

Cutting Corners

Dry or loose skin around your nail beds may make you want to clip away at those cuticles, but experts say to leave this to the pros. “Your cuticles prevent fungal and bacterial infections in your nail beds,” says podiatrist Adam Cirlincione, co-creator of Dr.’s Remedy Enriched Nail Polish. Cut the wrong way, and you could end up with inflamed fingertips. The same goes for hangnails, which are relatively harmless but sometimes painful pieces of torn cuticle.

When you see your nail technician, be sure she uses sterilized cuticle nippers to gently clip away the hanging skin. (Or, if you’re not sure or just germaphobic, bring your own nippers and keep them sterilized at home by washing with antibacterial soap and warm water, drying thoroughly with a towel, and then wiping down with rubbing alcohol.) Once your hangnail has been nipped, keep it protected from infection with an antiseptic ointment until it heals. Manacchio also recommends applying vitamin E-based cuticle oil daily to keep the area moisturized and prevent future hangnails.

If you’ve already taken things into your own hands and cut a cuticle at home, watch for any redness or swelling around your nails, and see your doctor immediately if this happens. “These infections can be very serious,” Manacchio says, “but a prescription antibiotic cream is often all you need to treat them.”


A nail file would never be mistaken for a saw, yet many people use them like one, filing back and forth with a strong, coarse-grit file—and separating the layers of the nail, causing splitting and peeling, says Katie Hughes, a butter LONDON global colour ambassador. Instead, choose a medium- to fine-grit file and go in one direction, says celebrity nail designer Patricia Yankee, who has worked with Rachael Ray and P Diddy.

This goes for feet, too. “People often file their toenails into a rounded shape and then trim into their corners to remove ingrown toenails, but this only leads to more ingrown toenails,” Cirlincione says. He advises always clipping and then filing toenails straight across to prevent them from growing inward.

Rush Removal

Sometimes nail enhancements such as acrylics, gels, and color gels can chip or start peeling off on their own, tempting you to peel or file the rest off. Other times because these can be arduous to remove (color gel, for example, requires a 10-minute soak in acetone polish remover followed by rubbing the remnants off with an orange stick), you become impatient and again resort to peeling or filing. “This will weaken and damage your nails by ripping off some layers—or even the entire natural nail,” Manacchio says. Even worse, it could take months for your nails to heal and grow back.

So, no matter how bad it may look to have nine long acrylic nails and one short natural one, resist the urge to start pulling. You invest good time and money to have these powders or gels
applied—invest the time to have a professional properly take them off.

Dryer Damage

Those super popular color gels may be shinier than regular manis and last a whole lot longer (up to three weeks), but they are able to do this because they require the use of a UVA ray lamp to dry them. And just like the hazards of baking under the artificial rays of a tanning bed, repeated use may make you sick. “If you are using these constantly, there is a concern of overexposure to the UV rays, and melanoma or skin cancer is possible beneath the nails and on the hands,” Cirlincione says.

At this point, more studies need to be done to truly determine whether or not the lamps alone can actually cause cancer. The UV rays used in nail lamps are much weaker than those in a tanning bed, but you should still limit the amount of time you utilize these lamps to no more than once a week, Cirlincione says.