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It might be time to give them a break.
Whether you've mastered the simple manicure or have moved on to complicated nail art, painting your nails can be a fun, easy, and inexpensive way to play with beauty. Plus, there's very little commitment because you can apply and remove as many colors as you want — unless it's starting to ruin your nails, that is.
Your nail plate, composed of keratin, protects the nerves and blood vessels underneath it. So keeping that protective layer healthy is really important. And the best way to do that is to first add a base coat every time you apply polish to your nails. Or, better yet, take an occasional manicure break to let your nails breathe.
"Over-manicuring or extended smothering of the nail with polish, gels, or acrylics can lead to thinning and weakening of the nail plate, which makes the protective nail surface into more of a cellophane wrapper than a hard shell casing," Dr. Jessica Krant, dermatologist and founder of the Art of Dermatology in New York City, told TIME.
Doesn't sound fun, does it? If you're not sure if you've ruined your nail plate, one big warning sign is experiencing pain after using nail polish remover or any other nail product, as it means your plates aren't functioning as a proper shield any longer. This also includes sensitivity or breakage.
As we mentioned before, taking a break from your weekly mani can help build your nails' strength back up. You could also try switching up the products you use. "Acetone-free nail polish remover is gentler, as it doesn't dry out your nails so much," recommends Dr. Marina Peredo, a New York City dermatologist.
Love gel manicures? Well, you're going to have to be especially careful. Since it requires soaking your nails (fingertips and cuticles included!) in a special gel nail polish remover and then filing away the polish, there's even more opportunity to damage your nail plates. In fact, TIME cites a study from the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology that links the "application and removal of gel nail polish to nail weakness, brittleness, and thinning."
Even worse: Trying to remove the gel polish yourself to save time and money. "The oil filing should be done on the top coat of the gel polish with a softer nail file just to break the seal and allow acetone to remove the gel quickly," says pro manicurist Alexaundra McCormick at Honey Artists. And you miss this important step when you try to force the gel off your nails yourself, she explains.
The lesson here: If you really want amazing nails, sometimes it's best to skip polish altogether for a few days to give them a break. And if you do get a gel mani, spend the extra money to let a pro remove it.