Are gel manicures wrecking my nails? And do these white spots on my nail beds mean I have some sort of vitamin deficiency? We asked Stacey Steinmetz, a cosmetic biochemist and creator of StimuNail, the first LED device that helps to strengthen nails, to debunk a few common nail health myths for us.
1. Myth: Gel and acrylic manicures damage your nails.
False. “Although the chemicals used can be drying, most physical damage (i.e., peeling or uneven texture) that you see is caused by a poor removal process,” says Steinmetz. Whether you do it yourself or at a salon, remember that every step of removal is key here: buffing the top layer of polish, wrapping each nail in remover until the polish starts to peel at the sides, and gently pushing the remaining polish off with an orange stick to finish.
2. Myth: Ridges on your nail beds are a sign that something is wrong with your health.
Mostly false. “Vertical lines on nails, also called ridges, are a common effect of an aging nail. As nails age they become less able to absorb nutrients and retain moisture levels. That combined with variations in cell turnover cause an uneven appearance,” explains Steinmetz.
However, if your ridges run horizontally side to side across the nail (known as “Beau’s lines”), you may want to have them looked at by a dermatologist to rule out any underlying conditions.
3. Myth: You should always soak your nails before a manicure.
False. “Water actually dehydrates nails and temporarily expands the nail beds, which causes any polish you apply to lift and chip faster,” warns Steinmetz. So, the next time you paint your nails or visit a salon, skip the soak.
4. Myth: White spots on your nails are due to a calcium deficiency.
False. “The white spots on nails are called leukonychia and are often falsely thought to be caused by a calcium deficiency. The most likely cause is minor nail trauma when the nail plate is damaged from everyday bumps and bangs,” explains Steinmetz. “The best thing to do here is to simply wait until the marks grow out with the rest of your nails,” she adds.
5. Myth: Nails need to breathe sometimes.
False. “By the time you can see your nails, they are already dead,” says Steinmetz. (Meaning they aren’t living, breathing things.) “Nails grow from your nailbed and get any required nutrients including oxygen from your bloodstream, not the air around you, so it doesn’t matter if you have nail polish on or not,” she adds.
The real reasons for taking an occasional mani break have more to do with giving them a “breather” from repeat rounds of polish, harsh remover and any artificial glue, if you’re partial to extensions or acrylics, which can dry out your nails especially when worn consecutively for weeks at a time. (More on that below.)
6. Myth: Yellow nails are cause for concern.
Mostly false. “Nail yellowing this is most often caused by wearing a highly pigmented or dark colored nail polish. One of the best ways to prevent yellowing is to wear a good basecoat to prevent polish from bleeding into the nail plate,” reassures Steinmetz. (Ed note: We would still recommend not keeping on the same shade for more than two weeks at a time, as the polish can gradually soak into the top layers of your nails and dry them out.)
If you don’t wear polish regularly and are still noticing that your nails are yellowing—or there are accompanying symptoms like a thickening or crumbling of your nails—then it could be a fungal infection or an underlying condition. A dermatologist can help you determine the cause and figure out a treatment.