Why Are My Nails Peeling in Layers?

July 20, 2020
Samantha Holender
By: Samantha Holender | Makeup.com by L'Oréal
Why Are My Nails Peeling in Layers?

I have the short and stubby hands of a small child, so a gel manicure goes a long way in making me feel polished and my fingers look elongated. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I decided to embrace my naked nails. I started noticing that not only were my once long and strong nails breaking on the reg, but my fingernails were also peeling. The tip of my nail would lift up a layer and slowly but surely make my nail weaker and weaker over time. What the heck?! To get some answers and hopefully rehab my nails before reintroducing gel polish, I spoke with Essie Global Lead Educator Rita Remark. Ahead, find out just why nails can start to peel and how to make it stop. 

Why Are My Nails Peeling in Layers?  

Here’s the good news: Gel manicures aren’t harmful to your natural nail and can’t cause peeling (phew!). That said, when they’re not applied or removed correctly, all bets are off and you’re entering dangerous nail-health territory. “Gels are great at hiding nail imperfections, but the issue of peeling could have been going on a lot longer than you realize,” says Remark. “Over-buffing between gel manicures and prying the gels off your nails as opposed to gently soaking them can thin, harm and separate the layers of your nails.” Whether you’re DIY-ing your gel mani at home or going into a salon, make sure to be gentle with your buffing tools or nail file, and refrain from picking off your polish. 

How to Stop Nails from Peeling in Layers

Tip #1: Don’t Pull Off the Layer

While it can be tempting to rip off the peeling layer of your nail (trust us, we know), Remark advises against it. “It’s admittedly super satisfying to peel off the layer, but it’s important not to,” she says. “The goal is to have the peeled layers slowly grow off of the nail and for it to re-mend on its own.” 

Tip #2: Keep Nails on the Shorter Side 

Due to peeling, the tip of your nail can be really strong on one side, but super weak and at risk of breaking down the center on the other side. Rather than trying to preserve your length, cut your nails shorter. “The tips of your nails are literally split ends, and they need a trim, so keep them short until the layers grow out,” says Remark. “Otherwise you’re putting stress on the nail and promoting more peeling.” 

Tip #3: Apply a Strengthening Nail Polish

To help resist the urge to pick and pull, try using a strengthening nail polish to bond the layers together as they grow out. “Reach for a strengthening polish like the Essie Treat Love Color,” says Remark. “I’m genuinely obsessed with this product and have seen dramatic results on myself and my clients.” She explains that the polish is proven to strengthen and rebuild the nail structure so that even when the polish is removed, your nails are stronger. That said, it’s important to reapply the polish every week to improve the overall strength of your nails.  

essie treat love and color

Tip #4: Don’t Forget About Hydration 

Remark says that unless your nail has been physically damaged, most of the weakness is a result of dehydration. “In a time when we’re hyper aware of handwashing and sanitizing, it’s important to also include hydration into the mix or else you’ll be left with dry nails and cuticles.” She suggests using a cuticle oil, like the Essie Apricot Cuticle Oil, around the nail area to get your nails back on a healthy path.  


Design: Hannah Packer

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