Why Do Nails Peel and Split?
The Balancing Act
Natural nails are a composite of keratin cells and the perfect balance of 18% moisture (water) and 5% oil.
- Nails with too much water are spongy and overly flexible like particle board left out in the rain.
- Nails with too little water break and crack like brightly colored autumn leaves.
The Ultimate Water Trap
That magic 5% of oil is all that’s required to trap the perfect amount of moisture in the nails. But not all oils are created equal.
Of course, the best oil is the one your body produces in the nourishing layer of pinkish tissue under your nail plate—the nail bed.
This is tissue very similar to the inside lining of your mouth—and if you’ve ever lost your nail, then you know it’s skin that has tons of nerve endings and hurts like the bajesus! Speaking from personal experience when I was about 8 years old and slammed my thumb in the car door.
My nail turned green and then fell off exposing the tender nail bed, which I seemed to bump everywhere…over 2 months of excruciating pain… but I digress….
100 Layers of Keratin Cells
Your nail is made up of approximately 100 layers of dead, densely packed, flattened keratin cells, which are magnified about 400 times in the photo below. Toe nails have about 150 layers. Keratin is extremely important to the natural nail’s flexibility.
Like A Sponge
A normal nail plate can hold almost one-third it’s own weight in water! I’m sure you’ve noticed that after you’ve been in the shower or bath for too long.
Through a process called diffusion, water and oil travel between the 100 layers of cells as well as the microscopic spaces between the cells.
Water molecules are so small that can travel through and between the cells. Oil molecules are larger and can only go between the cells.
Houston, We Have a Problem
Nails are exposed to two major solvents; water and polish removers.
The average person washes their hands with soap 12 to 20 times per day with harsh, antibacterial soaps.
- Your nails soak up the water
- Soap washes away your nail’s oil
- Water evaporates out of your nail even quicker … Rinse and repeat :D
Because the nail’s oil has been washed away, water evaporates even more. Now your perfect 18% water/5% oil balance is down the drain. You have nails that are dry and crispy, waiting to snap the next time you bump them.
Lacquer Lovers Beware
Peeling and Splitting?
Anything that dries out the nail plate will also lower flexibility and toughness, this includes acetone AND non-acetone polish removers. Many people think that non-acetone removers are safer and less damaging. This just isn’t true. Acetone is the better choice since it dissolves the polish quicker. Less time scrubbing equals less drying damage to your nails.
Acetone and the ingredients in non-acetone remover (ethyl acetate & methyl ethyl ketone) are all safe solvents when used sparingly. When used only once a week, the drying effect is temporary and quickly corrects itself.
Picture your nail’s 100 keratin layers like the paper pages of a book. The paper fibers interlock tightly together very similarly to the keratin cells in each keratin layer of your nails.
The spine of the book is like your cuticle. Brand new, the book pages stack together perfectly flat. Everything lies smoothly.
What happens when the book’s pages get wet? The water gets absorbed into the paper fibers, they relax, and spread out.
And when the pages dry? The paper’s fibers are still spread out so the pages dry warped and the layers of the pages don’t fit nicely together any more.
My Nails Are Tougher Than a Book
But you might be thinking, “Ana, my nails get wet over and over and this little book analogy isn’t right.” And you’re right … up to a point. And the point is when your nails start peeling and cracking.
Too much exposure to water over a period of time weakens the nail plate and leads to all kinds of damage. This is what peeling nails look like under an electron microscope. A little different than the nice, flat picture at the top of this post. Huh?
What’s The Solution?
Well … since I can’t recommend no hand washing, the only other option is to put the oil back in your nails.
Remember when I said not all oils are created equally? Many people have rubbed avocado, canola, mineral, or olive oil into their nails with no progress. The reason is because the oil molecules are too large. They can not get into the keratin layers so they just sit on top.
Although Jojoba Oil has been around since 1822, it gained notoriety in 1971 when the United States banned the import of sperm whale oil which was used extensively in the cosmetics industry. The industry was forced to search for a substitute and Jojoba was discovered to be ideal.
Without getting too geeky on you, most vegetable seed oils are triglycerides. Jojoba oil is made of long-chain fatty acids and fatty alcohols with no side branching. This unique chemical configuration accords jojoba special characteristics unparalleled in the plant kingdom. (Hort.Purdue.Edu)
How It’s Different
Jojoba oil is the same molecular size as the human body’s own oil, sebum. Since jojoba oil contains wax esters and fatty acids that are similar to human sebum, it’s a favorite ingredient in cosmetics and skin products. (eHow.com)
Why It Works
“Oils are absorbed into the nail plate to keep it flexible, but much more slowly than water. Just as oils are absorbed more slowly into the nail plate, it is also more difficult for the oils to escape. Therefore, oils stay in the plate for a very long time and can exert a dramatic long-term influence on the durability of the natural nail plate.”
(Nail Structure and Product Chemistry)
What to Look For in a Nail Oil
As you can probably tell by now, your nail oil MUST have jojoba oil, and preferably near the beginning of the ingredient list.
How To Apply Nail Oil
The First Three (3) Days
Your nails will absorb the oil like a sponge so you will be reapplying frequently
- Remove all nail polish
- Follow the application directions below. When you’re finished, your nails will feel a little oily.
- Periodically through the next hour or two, rub the oil into your nails. Each time you do this the nails will feel less oily.
- When you feel the oil has been absorbed, reapply.
- Repeat step 4 for the first three days. When you get to the point that it takes your nails 4 hours or more to absorb the oil, you can move to the basic daily application.
Basic Daily Application: Two Times (2x) Daily or More
- Uncap the pen, twist end until you see oil in the bristles
- Brush oil all over your nail, cuticle, sidewalls and under your free edge of the nail
- Recap pen
- With your fingers, rub the oil into your nails and fingers up to the knuckle closest to your nail.
- Spend a little time rubbing the matrix (right behind the cuticle)
* This increases the blood flow to where your nail is formed so they will be stronger and healthier.
- Continue using this oil applications with lacquer manicures, acrylic or gel manicures.
* Just as your nails are not solid, neither is lacquer, acrylic monomers or gel. Jojoba oil is absorbed into all of these products and keep them more flexible because they aren’t drying out.
Polishing After Nail Oil
- Using 91% rubbing alcohol or acetone, quickly clean the surface of your nail. This will remove the oil sitting on top of your nail for better adhesion of your lacquer.
- Polish your nails with your favorite base coat.
- Base coat a must!
- Base coats have a high percentage of a resin which improves nail plate adhesion and blocks staining.
- Topcoats generally have high amounts of nitrocellulose to improve wear by coating the polish with a protective shield while increasing gloss.
- Base coats and topcoats are not interchangeable.