Do Your Nails Need A "Breather" From Polish? 6 Signs To Look For, From Experts

mbg Associate Editor By Jamie Schneider
mbg Associate Editor
Jamie Schneider is the Associate Editor at mindbodygreen, covering beauty and health. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare.
Woman Painting Her Nails
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If the sight of chipped polish makes you squirm, perhaps you opt for regular tune-ups. Not a simple clean-and-file, no, we're talking a full-throttle mani—buffing, polish, the works. But if your bare nails have never seen the light of day, it's worth wondering: Should you let your nails breathe? 

Actually, the myth that your nails need to "breathe" is just that—a myth. "Nails don't actually breathe, as they get their nutrients, oxygen, and blood supply from the bloodstream, not from the air," notes Mary Lennon, president and co-founder of the clean nail care brand côte. That's not to say you should keep piling on services (certain nail products can suffocate the nailbed and cause skin irritation). Rather, when you hear your nails need a "breather," what they really need is a much-deserved break—from rounds upon rounds of harsh polishes, acetone removers, and faux tips, that is. 

So before booking another mani or whipping out the DIY kit, take a look at your natural nails. They may be desperately trying to send signs:

1. Your nails are yellow.

"When your nails become weaker and thinner, you might experience discoloration with your nails, where they turn slightly yellow," explains Amy Lin, the founder of sundays—a nail care brand focused on wellness. "This is a physical sign that your nails may need a breather from polish." Especially if you're using traditional polishes: Those little bottles of lacquer can contain some rather harsh chemicals—namely, formaldehyde, camphor, and toluene—that can weaken the nail plate. 


2. You jump from manicure to manicure.

While regular cleanups are key to keeping those tips strong, constantly hitting the salon can cause some wear and tear. (That's why experts suggest getting no more than two salon manicures a month.) Not to mention, the incessant polish—and artificial glue, if you're partial to gels, dips, or acrylics—means you're constantly covering up any damage. Remember: Your natural nails can offer tons of insight into your overall health; a bare-nailed break can help you notice any warning signs. 

3. You haven't taken off your polish for three weeks. 

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Even if you do opt for a clean polish, Lin doesn't recommend leaving the same shade on for more than three weeks, even if the mani looks as immaculate as the day you stepped out of the salon. "The base coat might wear off, and the pigment might start to stain your nails," she notes.


4. You see ridges or bumps. 

Nail ridges happen for a number of reasons (sun exposure, nutritional imbalances, and overall aging), but if you see bumps or grooves post-mani, those dips might stem from a harsh gel or acrylic removal. These removal processes can roughen up the nail plate quite a bit—they typically require over-buffing and grating the nail to remove any leftover glue and polish, not to mention a good, long acetone bath. If you do notice some dimples in the nail plate, the answer isn't to cover it up with another acrylic-based service (that only perpetuates the issue)—allow your nails to grow out and heal. 

5. They feel brittle. 

Similar to discoloration or yellowing, consider brittleness a tell-all sign your nails are in dire need of some TLC. Again, constantly applying products laden with harsh, drying ingredients (base coats, polishes, quick-dry drops, et al.) can suck moisture right out of the nailbeds. As a result, your nails may feel weak, brittle, and bendy. 


6. You see white spots. 

White spots oftentimes signal a mineral deficiency (most likely a lack of zinc or calcium), but if you notice those dots right after removing polish, "chances are your nails are dehydrated," Lennon says. Typically, it's a reaction to harsh polishes and removers (are you sensing a theme here?), but white spots can also signal physical damage from acrylics or gels.  

The takeaway. 

If you notice any of these signs, your nails are likely begging for a breather. Take a few weeks to grow out your natural nails: Perhaps invest in a cuticle oil (like this moisturizing argan oil) to supply them with much-needed hydration, or if you simply can't stand the look of unpolished tips, make sure you're investing in clean polishes and gentle removers (like this soy-based option). Your nails will thank you.

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