Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Apothecary: A tool to prevent peeling nails

Hello ladies,

I often am asked about how to prevent peeling nails. What is surprising is how often such damage to the nail is unintentionally self inflicted. The culprit for the most part is improper filing and choice of tools. I am going to share my techniques for sealing the free edge of the nail against damage and selecting proper files.

The most important tool in my apothecary of nail care is the smooth buffer. It's a buffer that feels soft and foam like. It has almost no texture when you rub your fingers across it. Below I am showing an example of a smooth buffer by Flowery. I purchased this buffer in a two pack from Ulta.
Smooth buffer by Flowery

The first half reads:
Texas 2 Step Instant Nail Shiner
The second half reads:
Step 1: Red side, Lightly Buff 10 times
Step 2: White side, buff to shine

You may already have this tool in your cabinet. Most buffing blocks have a smooth side. Those will work just as well. I prefer to have a separate smooth buffer apart from the block. I like working with a tool that handles similarly to a nail file.

The smooth buffer will seal the free edge of the nail after filing. Nails are made up of tiny plates similar to fish scales. Filing will imperceptibly rough up the free edge as length is removed. The plates will loosen and pull back slightly. As they detach, this can result in peeling.

After filing, run the smooth buffer in one direction across the free edge of the nail. I typically repeat this action a couple times to be certain the nail is totally sealed against potential damage. I use the smooth buffer every time I file my nails, which I accomplish weekly. For ladies with longer nails, the smooth buffer can be gently run along each exposed side of the nail. This will help prevent the small cracks that lead to breaks.

As an experiment, touch the free edge of the nail after filing. Use the smooth buffer and compare the feeling. The sealed nail will have a smooth edge like thin plastic.

Black Panther Nail File, Course/Med, 100/180

Above is an example of a nail file with 180 grit. These will be clearly labeled at the beauty supply store. I have no brand loyalty when it comes to files. My main concern is to check the numbers to make sure I am working with 180 grit or higher. This particular file I am picturing has a coarse side of 100 grit and a medium side of 180 grit. I use the medium side. I tend to buy files that read 180/180.

I can also recommend crystal files or glass files for nail maintenance. I bought a salon quality crystal file for my mother as a part of her holiday gift last year. The only reason I don't own a crystal or a glass file is because of my tendency to drop my tools in the sink. I drop my tools often enough that one would think it was done out of enjoyment.

Here is what to avoid: metal files and emery boards. If you have a metal file, please toss it or take up lock picking. Perhaps your emery boards could replace popsicle sticks in a child's craft project. One of the things that I found so surprising when I learned about nail care beyond basic painting was how many products are available and in common use that are not good for nail health.

My mother had used emery boards her whole life. She always has had weak and brittle nails. The crystal file I purchased helped reduce the damage she had and allowed her nails to grow more comfortably. There may be some of you out there who can use metal files and emery boards without complaint and still maintain long nails. We all have our genetic code that shapes our tolerances to products and techniques. These recommendations are for those who need them and are in no way to suggest deviating from a working routine for those who don't.

One thing to remember is that peeling damage travels further down the nail than we can see with the naked eye. If your nails are peeling, It would be good to lightly buff the peeled area and use a little brush on nail glue on the area affected. When I switched my filing habits, it took me a few months to be rid of damage. It's been years since I have experienced any peeling.

There is more to the story about peeling nails regarding diet, which I will gladly go over in a future post. I wrote a little about diet and nail health in the FAQ.

Do any of you out there already use a smooth buffer? I am curious!
I will leave you with the image of a crocus flower greeting the lovely spring weather.

Happy painting, ladies!


  1. Good tips! I have problems with my nails peeling or getting stress marks high into the 'quick'. I'm thinking the problem is not enough vitamins, and yucky acetone nail polish remover. I still need a buffer, but I use a glass file all the time. I HATE metal files because I can still feel rough edges.

  2. nicee. I have a buffer and i should use it more often. I find that i pick at my nails alot as a nervous habit so that doesnt help much

  3. Skulda: Acetone might be a little harsh for you until your nails heal completely. I would recommend ordering a large bottle of Zoya Remove +. It's my favorite for it's ability to dissolve tough to remove polishes and be gentle on the nails. Protein from various sources is the main nutritional requirement. Some people do very well with biotin supplements. There is also something to be said for folic acid.

    Y: Some people can transfer their picking habit to a beaded bracelet or a textured ring as a first step to changing the habit. I'm not sure if it would work for you, but I figured it's worth mentioning. Softening edges, buffing...anything that keeps things smooth can help with that temptation. Bring out the buffer. :)

  4. Great post! I love the flower pic, yay!! spring is here!! dancing and jumping! ^_^

  5. You are so right! I believe my nails stopped breaking after I started using a glass file. I still use a metal one, but always finish with the glass file.

  6. I use one! But I only started about 6 months ago and it's made a huge difference. My nails grew longer than they ever have before...I will definitely try the tip about using it on the sides, I have some 'shredding' that I'd like to put a stop to. Thanks for this post!

  7. Yes, as soon as i found out that metal files are damaging i went out and bought glass file.. the same about smooth buffer. I really like them :)

  8. I always, always enjoy your apothecary posts. This is another wonderful one! I learn something in each of them and this is no exception. Although I have switched to a glass file - I found mine on sale at a Kerr Drug here! - I am going to smooth my ends after filing with a buffer! I do have one, I just never thought to do that and I have some peeling - that would explain why!

  9. Thank you for a very informative post. I have a glass file but might have to invest in a buffer to combat the peelies. Do you use the buffer horizontally across the tip of the nail or do you buff in the direction from the cuticle 'upwards' towards the nail tip? I have thought about using nail glue for peeling tips and I am definitely going to give that a try too. As Nicolle said, I love your apothecary posts. I have saved all of them in my feedreader!

  10. Arie: Thanks! I am so glad you liked it. This is such a whimsical time of the year. I may have to bring out the parasol soon. :)

    Fernanda Trapp: I'm so glad you had success with the glass file. The coarse 100 grit files are more for taking of length. It would be a good substitute for the metal file when used in conjunction with your glass file. If your method is working for you though, that's great! Go for what works! :)

    Elizabeth: That's awesome! Please let me know how using the smooth buffer at the sides works for you over time. <3

    VaidaG: Thank you so much for sharing. It's amazing what the right tools can do! :)

    Nicole: Thank you! I have been trying to get a catalog of apothecary posts together. I am glad you enjoy these posts and they are helpful to you. The smooth buffer is like magic! <3

    Hanneri: Thank you! It's wonderful to know the apothecary series is useful for you. To use the smooth buffer, glide it horizontally across the free edge. You will end up with a subtle 'claw' mark on the buffer.

    Some quick buffing/glue tips. Put a drop or two of cuticle oil or vegetable oil on your nail. Massage it in. Use the part of the buffing block with texture. Rub that back and forth across the nail gently. Use polish remover to prep and clean the nail before applying brush on nail glue. Resist the urge to wash your hands at this point. The glue will adhere better to thoroughly dry nails. Gently buff again to level out the glue (after it has thoroughly dried). You'll want to use non-acetone remover on any nails where you have applied nail glue. Otherwise the glue will dissolve when you remove your polish. I need to do a post on nail glue! ;)

  11. Very interesting post ! I used to have metal or emery files years ago, but now I use smooth files, 6-ways buffer (from Essence, I love it) and glass file :)

  12. Thank you for such an excellent post! I've been having some peeling issues lately and I couldn't quite figure out why. I suspect now that it's because I didn't buff after filing. I do have a smooth buffer but have never used it! Duh! :D

  13. Great post! I use grit file to shorten, then shape with glass file, and buff if needed. I would love to see your naked nails. They are so long! Do you see marks or lines in your nails if you have been sick? I seem to, and I had a really bad flu a few weeks back and am dreading how that will show up on my nails.

  14. Great post!! I have peeling nails and even if I have a 4 ways buffer (a Sephora one) I was not sure about how using it...I will start buffing sides (they peel, too and I can't stand feeling them "rough") and edges. My mom is using emerald and metal files, and her nails are so weak...I will buy her a glass one!

  15. Great post, I'd love more indepth knowledge ones like these, it's so useful! I had no idea I was doing so much damage to my nails :|

  16. I do use all of your tips. They're extremely helpful. I do buff my nails on the free edge. It does make a big difference. The one thing I haven't done is use the nail glue. That's a terrific idea. I know I can't resist peeling off the layer that's sticking up.

  17. Thanks for the tips. I recently switched to using a glass file and am using a treatment to heal my peeling nails. I will definitely be using my smooth buffer on the free edge now and would love to read the diet tips!

  18. Ayuu: Thanks! I used a Revlon metal file on occasion for years. I liked the idea that it's a sturdy tool. I had no idea a common file would cause damage. I'm glad the glass file is working out so well for you. I'm just starting to become acquainted with the Essence brand. I saw a display for the first time a couple weeks ago. I love CND buffers though. It may be hard to tempt me away. ;)

    witoxicity: You made me laugh! It's so easy to accumulate tools with good intentions and then forget to use them. We've all been there! :)

  19. Wizards of Bling: I'm working out some practices for removing/preventing staining. It may be awhile before I post a naked nails photo. It's so hard to tell length in pictures. To give you an idea, the pink (of my nail bed) and the white (above the nail line) are about equal in length.

    I tend to be pretty healthy overall. I get one cold/flu a year, sometimes two. I know exactly what you mean about showing signs of illness on your nails. That happened to me more at different points of my life when I was more susceptible to colds and flu. In recent years, I started taking the homeopathic oscillococcinum at the first signs of flu. I missed it this round since it came on so fast. I wonder if shortening the duration of cold/flu helps to stave off related nail problems. Here's a link: http://www.oscillo.com/. It might be a good question for a doctor. I have an interest in herbalism and homeopathy, but I am not licensed or certified.

  20. smALtY: Thank you! You may want to pick up some of the Q-tica nail strengthener for your mom too. It's great as a base and top coat to help encourage nail growth. I'm going to do a post about buffing peeled areas and sealing with nail glue. I'll do that in the next week since it seems to be a common concern. :)

    Silhouette Screams: No problem! I will definitely do more apothecary posts. If you explore the apothecary label, there are tips in each post with product reviews. <3

  21. Lucy: I'm going to do an apothecary post about nail glue in the next week. I'll include a thorough description of all the steps to use glue for peeling nails. I'm so glad these posts are of benefit to you. <3

    Rebecca: Thanks! I'm glad to have helped add another tool for your regimen. I have a little about diet in the FAQ. The diet post is something I will need to work on over time. I'm considering taking photos of healthy dishes I prepare at home and explain protein from food sources. It's in the works!

  22. Thank you for this informative post. I went to Sally today and bought what you suggested. My nails peel all the time so I'm going to use your suggestions and see how it goes. I try to keep polish on my nails at all times because it seems to keep them from breaking all the time. I take biotin twice a day and a good multi but I still have peeling and breaking. I drink tons of water too. I've tried about every protein nail builder on the market but nothing really seems to help. My latest is Barielle. They all seem to work the same. I hope this way of filing and buffing will help.

  23. LizKS48: I really hope the practices I use are helpful to you. It sounds like you are already very focused on the health of your nails. I can recommend a nail strengthener by Q-tica. It's from artofbeauty.com, the same company that makes Zoya products. Protein in your diet will do more for you than any protein builder you paint on your nails. It may be worth checking with your doctor about the grams of protein you need daily. I am a vegetarian, but I eat protein from various sources every day. It definitely helps to have a mix of different protein sources. It sounds like you have many of the factors covered. I wish you the best!


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