Do You Need to Take Nail Polish ‘Breaks’?

Nail polish is so much fun. Thanks to the different colors, textures and accents, painting your nails can be the ultimate fashion statement. Whether you’re into giving yourself a manicure at home or you hit the salon for regular gel manis, if you always have your nails painted, it’s probably a good idea to take it off every once in a while.

“For most women, I do recommend taking breaks from nail polish,” Dr. Rajani Katta, a board-certified dermatologist and author of Glow: The Dermatologist’s Guide to a Whole Foods Younger Skin Diet, tells SheKnows. “One reason is because removing nail polish, especially with removers that contain acetone, can cause drying and peeling of the nail plate over time.”

And if you tend to use darker polishes, they can stain your nails. “Another reason (I suggest patients take nail polish breaks) is that some of the dark, highly pigmented nail polishes can lead to staining or yellowing of the upper surface of the nail plate,” Katta says. “Unfortunately, there aren’t any treatments for that staining — it’s a matter of letting the nail plate grow out, which can take months.”

Taking a nail polish hiatus can do wonders for your nail health. “This will allow for your nails to heal more effectively in between (paintings), helping protect them long term,” Dr. Michael Kassardjian, a board certified dermatologist practicing in Los Angeles, tells SheKnows. “When nail polish is left on for a prolonged duration, you can have a buildup of keratin, small white rough patches on the nail that form when the nail polish is removed along with superficial nail cells. Repetitive removal of nail polish (done too often) can also lead to this damage to nail cells and white patches and surface irregularities of the nail may appear.”

Kassardjian recommends taking two to three week breaks to let your nails repair and heal. And if you’re a fan of getting gel manis or pedis, you should know that they’re also harder on your nails than regular polish. “In general, gel manicures can be tougher on your nails, causing brittleness, peeling and cracking, so when possible, it is preferable to do regular polish over gels,” Kassardjian says.

Of course, gel polish is totally different than regular nail polish and can cause a lot more damage. “With gel nail polish, the technician uses a group of chemicals called ‘acrylates,’” says Katta. “These are ‘cured,’ or hardened, with UV light, and they form a film over the nail plate. Removal of gel nail polish can be hard on the nails. It can take 10 minutes or more of contact with acetone to remove gel nails, which contributes to drying, peeling, and thinning of the nail plate.”

If you choose to get gel, make sure you apply a sunscreen before your appointment.  “Use a broad spectrum sunscreen of SPF of 30 or higher to prevent sun damage and extensive UV exposure when using the ultraviolet procedure that seals the gels,” Kassardjian says. “This will help prevent photoaging, but also pre-cancerous and skin cancerous spots to be more susceptible to occur.” This is another reason the more traditional nail polish is better than gels to avoid UV exposure.

To boost your nail health, you can also choose polish that is less damaging. “For women who love having their nails painted, formulations that are labeled as ‘five free’ have fewer of the chemicals that may cause irritation or allergy, such as formaldehyde,” says Dr. Katta.

And if you decide to take a break, take the time to note how your nails are doing. “When taking nail polish and gel holidays, assess your nails and look for any signs of infection, separation of the nail from the nail bed, and discoloration,” says Dr. Kassardjian. “I always recommend patients schedule their skin exams without nail polish, as infections, inflammation, and unfortunately skin cancers, can be hidden under that polish, and for a true assessment you have to look under the nail polish.”

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