Ew! Beauty: Brittle Winter Nails

Hit the nail on the head of this issue

Let’s face it: Along with fall’s chill (which means piling on the layers and drying, dulling skin) comes a ton of gross beauty problems. From smelly feet to chapped lips, there’s a lot that can hold you back from living the confident fireside, pumpkin spice latte-sipping lifestyle you were meant to lead. But don’t worry—we’re talking to experts about how to fix them. Welcome to Ew! Beauty.

'Tis the season—for gift-giving, caffeinated holiday drinks, and, less appealingly, brittle nails. Between the extremes of dry heat blasting indoors and the freezing temperatures outdoors, not to mention frequent hand-washing, your nails experience as much dehydration as your skin and hair do. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that come the first gust of wind, and you are faced with ever-cracked, chipped nails and pesky, and oftentimes painful, hangnails that threaten to ruin our fresh manicures by catching on something and ripping open.

To learn how to deal with weakened cold-weather paws and not spend the season hiding in our mittens, we caught up with Jin Soon Choi, founder of JINsoon Nail Lacquer and Jin Soon Natural Hand and Foot Spa, and Evelyn Lim, lead artist at Manhattan's design-focused salon Paintbox, to get their tips on keeping your winter manicure winter fresh. Get ready to nail it with their advice below

Keep hands moisturized

When the weather dips, so do moisture levels, leading to dry skin, surface hand cuts (you know the mysterious, itchy cuts that seem to take over your knuckles and top of your hands), hanging cuticles, and ready-to-break-at-any-movement nails. "The cold and dry air of winter causes moisture loss in the nail which can result in splitting and chipping," says Lim. "The best way to combat this is to keep your hands and nails heavily hydrated and moisturized throughout the day." She suggests reaching for a hand cream with shea butter and applying it throughout the day. In addition to slathering it all over your hands, make sure to massage the cream into the nails to nourish the surface and cuticles and keep a bottle of lotion next to your bathroom sink to remember to moisturize hands after washing, hot showers (a major moisture magnet), or anytime after they get wet to restore the hydration levels.

For a more intense surge of hydration, try wearing cotton gloves while you sleep. "A foolproof way to lock in moisture is to exfoliate your hands, apply a thick hand cream, and wear cotton gloves overnight," says Choi. "If you do this for several consecutive nights, you will notice a major improvement in your skin."

Take care of cuticles

Anyone who's had a bad hangnail knows the restraint it takes not to pull on it, a process that most often ends with painful and unattractive (like, open-wound-in-your-skin unattractive) results. A piece of skin that splits and peels down the side of your nail, a hangnail is caused by dry skin, which is why they are so common during wintertime. While it's okay to get rid of a hangnail by trimming it using cuticle nippers (we repeat: cuticle nippers, not your teeth), it's best to never cut your cuticles, and, as such, it's best to prevent it from happening in the first place. "The best preventive measure is to protect your cuticles by moisturizing them regularly," says Choi. Lim agrees and suggests applying a rich hand cream, like Jurlique Citrus Hand Cream, as the day goes on and cuticle oil twice a day, morning and night, to keep cuticles soft and moisturized.

If you do find yourself with overgrown and peeling cuticles, Lim suggests the following: "Soften the cuticles with cuticle oil so you can gently push back the overgrown cuticle and gently trim ONLY what is necessary, so any obvious hangnails," she says. "At Paintbox, we love Deborah Lippmann’s cuticle remover! It’s like magic—hangnails instantly dissolve, so you don’t have to push and prod at the skin." Choi emphasizes how you should be pushing skin around the nails with cuticle sticks or tools instead of actually cutting the cuticles. "Thoroughly pushing back your cuticles will make your overgrown cuticles thinner. Then, trim the ragged parts and use a heavy-duty cuticle balm afterward," says Choi, who's partial to Dior's cuticle cream.

Allow nails to breathe

If you've ever worn polish for too long, you may be familiar with white discoloration that appears on your toenails after you eventually do remove the color. "The white discoloration on the nail is keratin granulation which appears when superficial nail cells are removed along with the polish," says Lim. "You can avoid this by not leaving polish on for over a week and gel polish over two weeks." Rubbing cuticle oil onto the nail bed and lightly buffing may get rid of the discoloration; otherwise, it will just grow out with your nail. If the white marks continue to occur, it might be best to temporarily step away from the nail polish brush. "It's great to take a break from wearing nail polish, especially when the weather is cold because cold temperatures remove moisture from your nails and more so when you are wearing polish," says Choi.

Keep it short

If you're struggling to keep your nails long during winter, it might be time to grab the nail clippers and opt for a shorter shape. After all, it looks better having carefully shaped short nails that don't snag or break than uneven nails ranging in different sizes and shapes. "Over time, repeated applications and improper removals may cause the nail to become weak and brittle," says Lim. "Hydration is key—apply cuticle oil every day and keep nails short until the nail is healthy again." Add a strengthening treatment (we recomend Perfect Formula Essentials Duo) to your routine and allow the nails to restore; in time and with hydration, they will be able to maintain their length again.

Invest in accessories

Between harsh temperature conditions and dry air and products (think: acetone and hand sanitizers), your hands will not be safe anywhere. In addition to moisturizing, look for ways to seal and protect that moisture. "Wearing gloves and having a humidifier to help your nails is not a myth," says Lim. "Wearing gloves outdoors will help prevent your nails from drying out from the cold and a humidifier will pump moisture into the air benefiting your nails, skin, hair, and respiratory system." Invest in a humidifier (there are plenty of inexpensive options for personal ones) and a cute pair of gloves that will encourage you to limit the amount of time your hands are exposed to the outdoor elements. Choi agrees, adding that you should be protecting your hands even indoors. "Wear rubber gloves while doing dishes and cleaning. The harsh chemicals and constantly having your fingers in water can really affect your nails," she says."It's all about heavy-duty moisturizing and protecting your hands."

Look into intensive treatments

If your nails look like they've seen better days, indulge in a treatment that's not your average mani/pedi. Many salons offer hydrating soaks and treatments that lock in moisture and hydrate nails, cuticles, and skin. Choi points to paraffin wax treatments, like the Spirit of the Beehive one that she offers at her salons, which involves using warm wax to wrap hands and feet to boost circulation, relax muscles, and increase skin elasticity, for "instant moisturizing results." For those who prefer gel nails, Lim suggests IBX, a nail strengthening treatment that uses the same technology of a gel manicure to sink into the nail to repair and add a protective layer before gel color is applied. "IBX is a great repair and strengthening treatment for weak, brittle, splitting nails and can be done before applying gel polish," says Lim. "We’ve seen truly amazing results on clients at Paintbox that use IBX."

Watch your diet

It's a hard pill to swallow: Even if you tend to eat well (a major contributor to healthy nails, skin, and hair), your diet may still be lacking biotin, a major source of energy and nail strength. While you can focus on consuming more biotin-rich foods like eggs and whole grains, an easy pillow to swallow is a daily supplement that will instantly up your biotin intake. While there are plenty to choose from on the market, our go-tos are Sports Research and Hum Nutrition.