Am I going to regret getting nailed?
March 25, 2013 11:07 AM   Subscribe

I was born with awful nails that are super thin and break off halfway down the nailbed. It's incredibly painful, annoying, and unattractive. I'm thinking about getting them overlaid with acrylic or gel (possibly with very short tips added) at a fancy spa so that I can finally have normal-length nails that are functional, painless, and not hideous. Is this going to fix my problem? Am I going to regret this decision?

Before anyone asks, yes, I have tried correcting or preventing this problem in the first place. This has been something I've dealt with my entire life and I actively started to address it in my teens, so I'm almost at 20 years of experimentation. Here are all of the things I have tried for months/years at a time:
-taking vitamins (prenatals, biotin, evening primrose oil, multivitamins, fish oil) -- been doing this for over a decade
-moisturizing my hands with rich hand lotion and rubbing oils on the cuticles/nail surface including Solar Oil, sweet almond oil, jojoba oil, and Lush lemony flutter cream -- every day
-nail protein treatments and strengtheners including Nailtiques, Nail Tek, OPI Nail Envy, and some garbagey ones from Sally Hansen -- tried each for year-long stints
-wearing nail polish every day
-NOT wearing nail polish at all for years at a time
-dietary changes including going vegetarian for a decade, vegan for 6~ years, and for the last few years I've been inching more towards a Paleo-style diet
-I drink TONS of water every day, always 48 ounces and often upwards of 60 ounces.

I've also talked to dermatologists, my GP, and manicurists about this and everyone agrees I just have genetically shitty nails. I get bloodwork done regularly and the only vitamin deficiency I have is vitamin D, but had this problem even when I wasn't vitamin D deficient. I also have incredibly strong toe nails, healthy hair and smooth skin so I don't think there is something internally out of whack that is causing me to grow bad fingernails.

The problem itself is pretty simple. At any given time I have two or more finger nails that have broken about halfway down the nail bed, leaving the sensitive skin/tissue underneath exposed. It's incredibly painful and makes my fingers look bloody, scabby, and disgusting. I'm a pretty girly girl so in addition to the pain, it's also kind of embarrassing and really ugly. Also, it sucks to not be able to do things that require even a little bit of nail, like pulling apart a keyring or peeling a sticker off a piece of fruit.

Most recently a manicurist suggested that I consider getting acrylic or gel overlays which would add a layer on top of my nail and maybe allow them to grow out to a normal length, or I could add some (very very short) tips to get them there immediately. I know that acrylic and gel aren't really good for nails, but as long as my nails don't continue to break underneath this layer, I don't really care. Could this actually solve my problem, or will it make things much worse? What should I know about taking this approach?

And yes, I would only go to a nice salon where everything is autoclaved and where the technicians use high quality products to minimize health risks.
posted by joan_holloway to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (21 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I'd try a Shellac manicure before you go the acrylic route.
posted by juliplease at 11:10 AM on March 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

This is a bit like getting super worried about whether to have a haircut, except its a hair cut that you can totally reverse if you don't like it.

Its just acrylic nails. Try it. If you like it, keep doing it - yes, it will make your nails even weaker if you do it a lot, but you probably don't care because your natural nails aren't in good shape regardless, so keeping them weak and covered is better than weak and uncovered.

If you don't like it, have them removed. If your nails have been a bit damaged, they'll grow out.
posted by Kololo at 11:11 AM on March 25, 2013 [12 favorites]

If you increase your protein intake, I'll bet your nails get better. I eat a ton of protein, and I have very strong nails that grow fast. But, if this isn't the way you want to go, I'd go for acrylics. Don't let the manicurist make them too thick, as that's the sure sign of fakes.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:13 AM on March 25, 2013

Yes I think this sounds like a good idea for you.
Your current nail situation sounds painful and unpleasant. I've had gel/shellac (actually, have gel right now!) and it has not negatively impacted my nails.

I've never had acrylic but I think that might be what you should go for.
Acrylic is better at filling in and creating new nail/shapes than gel is, and is more substantial. If you want to have a real nail-like protective layer, acrylic is what you want. Gel just thickens and smooths over what you already have.
Plus I'd be kind of worried about the intense UV light for setting the gel on your sensitive broken nail skin. Sometimes when I have a hangnail cut, the light can feel burny.

When the fake nail part starts growing out, you will have a definite ridge where your new nail is exposed and it might look a little weird but I think that is a small price to pay.
Go back a few weeks after you get them done to either get that part filled in or discuss what to do next.

You don't want to get to a stage where you have 75% your nail grown out and the tip 25% is acrylic, because then you could break it off at the weak point where it transitions into your natural nail.
posted by rmless at 11:14 AM on March 25, 2013

My mom is a crazy bad nail biter, and probably, oh, 18 years ago? maybe? started getting acrylics (she gets tips put on, but very short ones, such that they just look like normal nails).

Pros: Her nails always look great. They are strong. She always has them. She doesn't chew on them when they're made out of plastic.

Cons: The process is time consuming. She always has to get them done. She can't change up her nail color on a whim, so she tends to stick with neutral colors so nothing clashes (this is less important if you don't care about such things). She's been shelling out 30 bucks every two weeks for the last 18ish years to take care of it.

I think, all in, it's the best decision for her, because her nails look like what you describe without them. I say go for it.
posted by phunniemee at 11:16 AM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Gels need to have a nail to adhere to, so you should probably just get acrylics. Just make sure you go to a decent place for the initial applications, then you can get "fill ins" at the place around the corner from the grocery store, no biggie. You'll need to get new acrylics every month or two, depending on the rate of your nail growth. Just be careful to not "pick" at the acrylics - which is why I can never have them, I'm constantly picking/prodding them, making them prone to snap off (and usually take a top layer of nail with them, gross).
posted by banannafish at 11:17 AM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I advise gel over acrylic. In my experience, acrylic nails are much more likely to pop off, leaving the natural nail even thinner while it grows out, which, btw, takes foreverrrr

For either one, your manicurist will file down the top surface of the nail to create a gritty texture that will make the glue/gel adhere better. Some manicurists use a file, and some use an electric dremel file. I have average nails, and the electric file always takes off WAY too much of the natural nail. If/when the acrylics pop off (or the gel peels off), you're left with a very thin, soft nail until it grows out. I find it uncomfortable. If I were in your position, I would ask them to not file down the surface of your nail AT ALL, at least for the first time you do this.
posted by homodachi at 11:24 AM on March 25, 2013 [3 favorites]

My mom has nails similar to you. She started getting acrylic a year or two ago and seriously, it changed her life. [I was blessed with strong, healthy nails, so I don't totally get it, but she loves her nails and will never go back to bare nails.]

She goes to a regular salon -- they tend to be more experienced and better at it than spas, and cheaper to boot. She went to a few different places until she found a nail place she was happy with.
posted by DoubleLune at 11:44 AM on March 25, 2013

I had acrylic nails for years. I stopped doing them when I got pregnant.

The thing that sucks about acrylics is that you have to go and get them redone every 2 weeks or so. And towards the end they start looking sort of crappy. And you have to go every 2 weeks, spend an hour there, and play like $20-30+. Your nails underneath will be yucky if you get them removed.

I did shellac once last year and even though they looked awesome for a few days, getting them off was tough and the nail sucked underneath.

Personally, for cost reasons, I'd consider getting a regular manicure instead.
posted by k8t at 12:01 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think you want acrylics. A gel manicure is more like a kind of polish. If getting a manicure was like getting a computer, a gel manicure would be like updating the software on your existing computer whereas acrylic nails would be more like a hardware update. Sorry for the lousy metaphor but I think that it's helpful. When I destroyed my nails, I got a gel manicure and yeah, it helped me grow them out but I still didn't have nails until they grew. I've never gotten acrylics but I've done the DIY kits at home (badly).

I'd consider finding a place that's easy for you to get to - near your home or office - and plan on going once every 7-10 days for maybe a month or two. After that, evaluate your results. I don't have nail problems; I just bite my nails but I've been getting weekly manicures for maybe two months and my nails look great. I've nearly stopped biting and I recently went more than two weeks without getting a manicure and I didn't start biting again. Good luck!
posted by kat518 at 12:05 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I can't afford the time or money of the continuous upkeep of having spa-done gel or acrylics, but my formula for keeping my thin, always cracking nails is two coats of good polish + 1-2 layers of glitter polish followed by a top coat. That many layers is the closest to a gel that I've found without investing in the gel process- but you can also now buy the stuff to do gels at home if you're interested in going that route. If you aren't someone who can wear glittered polish every day to the office, then I would start with gel and if that isn't enough, move up to an acrylic manicure.
posted by haplesschild at 12:11 PM on March 25, 2013

Thanks for the responses so far! I like the suggestion of just trying it and if I hate it I can get them removed. My main hesitation is whether there is some serious damage that I could end up doing to my nails that will make things a million times worse. So far it sounds like the answer is no?

Just some clarifications:

When I say gel I am NOT talking about a gel manicure or shellac. I have had gel/shellac manicures and it didn't solve my problem because it's the same thickness/level of protection as regular nail polish. There is a gel overlay fake-nail-creation process that is just like acrylic except it's made of a gel polymer (?) instead of acrylic. I've been told it looks and feels more natural than acrylic because your nails aren't totally rigid and the layer that is applied is a bit thinner than acrylic, which tends to go on really thick and heavy.

Protein intake is absolutely not an issue. As I mentioned, I am eating a paleo-style diet and consuming at least 100 grams of protein a day (in the form of lean meats and fish, nothing processed at all). My nails look just as crappy as they did when I was eating 50 grams.

I get pedicures every 2 weeks as it is, so I don't mind adding this to my routine.
posted by joan_holloway at 12:15 PM on March 25, 2013

I have your nails, and I have done all those things on your list. Trust me, no amount of protein is going to change the crumbiness of your nails. Not even the mythic nail boost that supposedly comes along with pregnancy has improved my nails. And yes, I have hair that grows like mad (and can be dyed repeatedly while staying strong & healthy-looking) which is often commented upon.

I did the gel manicure thing for a while and it did give my nails some much-needed thickness and strength. This was the only time I've been able to grow my nails more than a couple millimeters. The problem was getting the gel off to do changes in color or the like. I'd gotten the gel nails done with glitter embedded in them, so removing the gel involved soaking in acetone and then scraping and/or sanding the remaining gel off. After a few months of this, what remained of my natural nail was thinner than ever and literally transparent. I stopped getting gel manicures at this point and let myself have some recovery time. They didn't take too long to return to normal, I just made sure to put on cuticle oil and leave off the nail polish for a little while.

This may not be as much of a problem with the straight-up gel because there won't be particles embedded in it. I have also heard that glitter can act as an abrasive on the nail and sand it down further. It was expensive and time-consuming because even if I wanted to keep the same color, the new nail growth would have to be filled-in with gel, too.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 12:19 PM on March 25, 2013

Okay, I was referring to a gel manicure in my previous comment, so it sounds like that's out.

If you're going to get overlays, roughing up the surface of your nail will probably be necessary to get them to stick. I would still advise having a serious talk with your manicurist about minimizing this step; at the very least they should do it with a handheld, non-electric file. That way, if you think they're removing too much of the nail, you can ask them to stop. The dremel file is SO FAST that there's no time to be like "heyyy, hold up a bit!"--it's already happened.
posted by homodachi at 12:21 PM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

You say you've tried gel manicures, but have you had it done correctly? I have peeling, brittle nails that peel off down below the nail bed. They looked horrible all the time and often hurt. I found a salon that did Gelish (not shellac) correctly. I get a coat of Gelish Vitagel then the base, then two coats of color an then the top coat. Each coat must be cured 90 seconds and lots of salons skimp on that step and only do 60 seconds. I do the manicure weekly and my tech NEVER uses a drill on my nails (I love her, she's so great!)

I would suggest NOT doing the acrylics because they really have to rough up your nail a lot more than for the Gelish and it will take a while to grow out if you don't like it. Give te above Gelish protocol a try, if it doesn't work then see if you can find a salon that does NexGen nails.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 12:44 PM on March 25, 2013

Sorry, should've linked - NexGen Nails.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 12:46 PM on March 25, 2013

I have the same problem -- nothing has worked for it (not protein, gelatin, dietary changes, oils, special treatments, etc.). I tried acrylic and gel nails separately and just could not stand the way they felt on my fingers. They smell and feel toxic and my nails feel like they are suffocating under them and I just can't deal. Also, I bite them off.

So... I just have short, stubby looking fingernails and deal with it. I don't wear polish or anything. It's not so terrible. Maybe be girly in other ways?
posted by 3491again at 1:31 PM on March 25, 2013

I used to have acrylics and now I do the Shellac or gel thing once in a while. I think acrylics or acrylic gels sound like they would be fine for you. It kind of sounds like they can't make your nails any worse, unfortunately, and you'll be able to pop pop tabs like a pro!

I don't think it will solve your problem, other than protecting your natural nail from breaking by basically giving it a little coat of armor, but it probably won't make it worse. Your nails won't be any stronger when they're bare, but when you have the tips on, they'll be pretty sturdy.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 5:27 PM on March 25, 2013

Thank you everybody! It was super helpful to hear the advice about asking the nail tech to go gentle on the filing down part. I promise to go to a place that specializes in this and I won't do the hideous pink french manicure with flowers painted on (but if I can find someone in Seattle who can draw a nyan cat on my ring finger nails, that'd be pretty sweet...)
posted by joan_holloway at 5:53 PM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

One possible thing to watch out for: the chemicals that are used for acrylics / gels are no bueno for a lot of headache sufferers. If you are at all prone to headaches, be careful and maybe arrange to take a fresh air break in between hands?
posted by charmcityblues at 6:13 PM on March 25, 2013

I have similar nails to those that you describe. I use NexGen nails and love them. I have used acrylics before, but they never worked as well as the NexGen nails. I agree with PorcineWithMe. Use NexGen Nails. Good luck! I know I am posting several months later, but I really believe in this product. Here is the link:
posted by ShanaDanaElise at 2:19 PM on September 18, 2013

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