The Truth About Nail Polish and Damage


I was talking to a friend the other day. She asked me the question “can painting your nails damage them?”

So I figured I’d write a post to answer her question.

The answer is pretty simple. Yes, some of the chemicals in nail polish and nail polish removers can weaken or dry out your nails. It is a good idea to have a break for two weeks every couple of months. This helps to keep your natural nails strong and healthy.

Let’s find out more about how and why your natural nails get damaged. And how you can minimize damage caused by painting your nails.

We’ll jump right in and find out Can painting your nails damage them?

Is nail polish bad for your nails?

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I hate to break it to you nail polish lovers, but the majority of nail polishes contain toxic chemicals.

These chemicals can damage your natural nails.

Click here to check out the best non toxic nail polishes available.

Nail polishes are a lot better (and safer) now than they used to be. But, If you paint your nails frequently, then chances are your nails will be weaker. And therefore also more likely to break.

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Are your nails are peeling a lot, extremely weak, or are stained yellow?

If yes, chances are you are overdoing the nail polish and you need to give your nails a breather.

Not all nail polishes are the same. Each formula is unique (even between different colors in the same make of polish) and some are safer than others. So it is always a good idea to check the labels so that you know exactly what’s in your polish.

The three main chemicals to avoid in nail polishes are:

Formaldehyde (a respiratory irritant that has been linked to cancer).

Toluene (can affect the brain and the nervous system).

And camphor (a toxic irritant added to nail polishes to increase shine and prevent chipping).

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The damage caused to your natural nails by regular polishing is partly due to the chemicals in the polishes themselves.

But other products like nail polish removers, for example, can dry out and cause even more damage to your nails. Any nail polish remover that is acetone-based is going to dry out your nails significantly. Because of this, it’s a good idea to remove your nail polish with a non-acetone remover. Or alternate between an acetone-based and non-acetone-based remover.

How can I keep my natural nails healthy?

Want your manicure to look fabulous? Then you need to keep your natural nails healthy and in good condition.

There’s nothing more frustrating than finishing up a beautiful mani. Only to find that it is ruined when your natural nails bend, chip or flake because they are too weak.

Good nail care involves looking after your nails in a number of different ways.

Paying attention to what you eat is a good start (here is an article containing nail enriching foods).

Filing your nails gently and carefully is good too. Giving your nails a break every now and then can make a world of difference to your overall nail health.

If your nails are weak, then nail polish might not be the only culprit. Weak or brittle nails can also be genetic. If this is the case with your nails, you can strengthen them. By either adding more protein to your diet or by taking a supplement.

Biotin (vitamin H) Is the best vitamin for strengthening nails like this one (check price on Amazon). If you don’t want to buy a supplement then try eating more chicken, bananas, cauliflower, salmon, beans, eggs lentils, and peanuts.

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Don’t file your nails too vigorously! When you file your nails you are putting them under pressure.

Apply too much pressure and your nails will weaken and may break.

If your nails are weak it’s a good idea to file them quite short to minimize the chance of them breaking.

Don’t buff your nails too much. Buffing your nails before you polish them can give you a better finish. But if your nails are already thin, then making them even thinner isn’t going to do you any favors.

Don’t bite your nails! If you want healthy nails don’t bite them. It may seem obvious, but chomping your nails off with your gnashers causes a huge amount of unnecessary damage to your natural nails!

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Keep your nails clean and moisturised. Use a cuticle oil after you apply your polish (don’t put cuticle oil on before you paint your nails as this will add moisture to them and your nail polish will not stick).

If your cuticles are hard then use a cuticle oil or a softener regularly. Your cuticles are there to protect your nails from water and infections so please resist any temptations to cut them. Pushing them back gently is fine.

Always use a base coat. Base coats are designed to protect your natural nail and to create a good base for your nail polish to stick to.

Can nail polish dry out your nails?

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While the chemicals in some nail polishes can weaken your nails, the main culprit when it comes to dryness is usually acetone.

Acetone is the most effective way to remove nail polish, but it is also the most aggressive solvent for doing so. There are plenty of acetone-free nail polish removers on the market. I have tried one and it worked fine though it did take twice as long to remove the polish, presumably this is because the formula wasn’t as strong.

You could try switching to an acetone-free nail polish remover permanently or just alternating between an acetone and non-acetone remover to see if there’s any improvement in the condition of your nails.

Other products like washing up liquids and hand sanitizers, if used a lot, can also dry out your nails.

Do your nails need to breathe in between manicures?

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You often hear people talking about nails needing to “breathe” but in actual fact, your nails do not need exposure to oxygen in order to be healthy. Your nails get all of the nutrients they need from the bloodstream, which is why If you take a supplement or improve your diet you can see a big improvement in overall nail health.

It is a good idea to remove your nail polish once a week, and also to give you a break from polish completely for up to 3 weeks if they are excessively thin, stained or showing any other signs of damage like chipping or peeling.

Painting your nails with gel nail polish

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If you don’t remove your gel nail polish properly, you can cause a lot of damage to your natural nails. If you must wear gel nail polish, please please please do not be tempted to peel it off! You can absolutely wreck your natural nails by removing gel nail polish this way.

Sure enough, if you peel the polish will come off, but so will the top layer of your natural nail plate. Instead, use a gel remover and soak the polish off with cotton wool balls.

A lot of times when you remove your gel nail polish you will still have some little stubborn bits of polish stuck on the nail that you need to scrape off.

If you want your nails to stay in tip-top condition then avoid the metal scraping tools and use a wooden orange stick instead. They are very cheap and are so much kinder to the surface of the nail.

Painting your nails with regular nail polish


To keep your natural nails in the best possible condition when using regular nail polish, try using an acetone free nail polish remover. Acetone-free solutions are not as strong and it may take you slightly longer to remove your polish, but they are kinder to your nails which means that there will be more healthy in the long run.

Also, you may want to avoid any other products that could dry out your natural nails including washing up liquid, strong hand washes, household cleaning products and hand sanitizer Wearing gloves while washing up or cleaning is always a good idea.

Remove your nail polish properly and don’t be tempted to peel it off as you will damage the surface of your nail plate, which could take months to repair.

Final thoughts

I hope that you enjoyed my “can painting your nails damage them?” post.

As always, thanks for reading. I hope that this information has been helpful to you and that you now feel confident that you know everything you need to know to look after your nails and keep them looking long strong and beautiful.

Happy painting!

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  • Phoebe Meadows

    Phoebe Meadows is a self-proclaimed nail addict, always on the lookout for the latest trends and techniques. When she's not creating stunning nail designs, you can find her researching the latest nail care products or experimenting with new techniques.