Acrylic Nails

Troubleshooter: Protecting and Reinforcing a Split Nail

Applying a thin acrylic overlay to a vertical split on the nail can help protect it from further damage, while still allowing the client to wear her nails natural


In the medical world, they’re known as onychoschizia, but most nail techs and clients know them better as splitting nails. Aside from peeling nails, a split in the nail is one of the most common problems many women deal with. And now that the thermostat has taken a dip, the cold weather can wreak even more havoc on your clients’ nails.

During the cold winter months, the nail plate is even more likely to become dehydrated, resulting in peeling and splitting nails, which fray at the edges. As a consequence, the nails may break and become more fragile, and easily catch on clothing, which can cause the client much pain.

So how can you prevent nails from splitting? The most important thing to remind clients is that excessive handwashing with soap and water can take its toll on hands and nails. Constant wetting and drying of the nails causes loss of natural skin oils and internal stresses, which break the nail’s tiny protein plates apart. The plates are ordinarily interconnected by tiny subcellular elements that hold them firmly together. Constant wetting and drying rip the plates apart and allow small splits to develop, usually at the free edge of the nail.

Suggest to your clients that they wear gloves when using cleaning agents and detergents. Have them avoid trauma to the nail, and remind them that nails are not tools and should not be used to pop open soda cans or pound on a keyboard. Also, recommend that they use a hand moisturizer daily.

In the meantime, reinforcing the nail with a wrap or an acrylic can help. Many nail techs like to use fiberglass, silk, or juliette wraps to protect the nail from further damage. Which product you use depends on the client’s lifestyle and your preference.

In this particular case, Kelvin St. Pham, owner of St. K Nail Salon in Gardena, Calif., opted for an acrylic overlay, since our client had a vertical split on the side of the nail and not in the middle [Photo I]. “A wrap will not adhere as well to a split on the side of the nail as it would to a split in the middle,” St Pham says. “If you apply a wrap on the side, you’ll have a piece of it flapping around.”

First, using a nipper, remove the part of the nail that is hanging.

Then, prep the nail by removing any nail polish, oil, and residue from it. Lightly remove the shine from the nail using a nail file and push back the cuticle with a pusher. Make sure to look carefully at the nail to determine what kind of repair will be needed.

Since the nail is not in perfect condition, a nail form will need to be custom fitted. St. Pham makes sure the form fits snugly against the nail by lightly pressing down on it with a scissor tip.[photo below left] You can also use tweezers or an orangewood stick.

Nail techs may opt to apply acrylic only to the area with the split, but St. Pham says it’s a better idea to apply a thin overlay on the entire nail. “If you only place acrylic on the split, the chances of it popping off are higher,” he says.

Next, take a small bead of acrylic and apply it directly on the split. If you’re working with a natural nail client, St. Pham says it’s a good idea to stick to a natural-colored acrylic powder, which was used for this repair. Build up the side of the nail, then apply a thin layer of acrylic on the rest of the nail. Then, take another small bead of acrylic and reapply it to the split for added reinforcement and protection.

Once the acrylic has set, remove the form and shape the nail using a 180-grit file. 

Use the file on the surface of the nail to level it off. Massage in a small drop of cuticle oil and using a 240-grit buffer, remove any roughness from the surface.

Remove any residue from the nail and underneath the free edge. Use a 1200-grit buffer to bring the nail to a high shine. Polish the client’s nail if desired. St. Pham opted to leave the nail natural. 

The client can either return for a fill or let the overlay grow out. Since it is fairly thin, the acrylic won’t be noticeable if she chooses to let it grow out naturally.

Keep in mind that the nail should look completely natural. Nothing should be visible on it. The key is to make one unnatural nail blend in with the other nine nails.

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