The Science of Nails

Something to Talk About: Letting Nails Breathe

A notion persists in our industry that nails need to breathe. Learn why this seemingly logical idea is actually a fallacy.

You’ve had the conversation. Your client wants to “take a break so her nails can breathe.” She wants “natural nails.” You know, with strengthener and color. (Apparently nails can breathe through polish.) The truth is, of course, that nails don’t breathe at all. “One hundred percent of the oxygen needed by the nail matrix to create a new nail plate comes from the bloodstream, and zero percent comes from the outside world,” says Doug Schoon, scientist, researcher, and nail-industry educator. “Nothing is gained by removing artificial nail enhancements or coatings for a few months before reapplying them,” he explains.

We believe him, but how do you explain this to your customer? The conversation may sound something like this:

Client: I think I’m going to give my nails a break so they can breathe.

You: Nails don’t actually breathe, though that’s a relatively common misconception that surfaces periodically in the industry. The truth is, our nails receive oxygen through our bloodstream, not the air. No external sources provide oxygen or other nutrients to help their growth.

Client: Then why, when I break a nail, do my natural nails feel so soft underneath compared to when I don’t have any product on them?

You: When we put any type of coating on our nails — from clear polish to a full set of enhancements — the moisture and oils our body produces naturally pass from the nail bed through the nail plate at a slower rate. This increases the moisture level by about 10%-15%. You’ll notice your nails return to a normal moisture level in as little as 12 hours.

Client: Hmm. That’s true. My nail feels flexible when it’s first exposed, but by the next day, it feels strong again. I assumed that meant they needed air. But what about strengtheners and hardeners? If nails don’t receive nutrients externally, why are these products effective?

You: Some products contain vitamins, like vitamin E, that work as antioxidants to protect the keratin in our nails from harsh chemicals, such as soaps and detergents. The products aren’t providing nutritional value, but they do help to prevent breaks. Nail polish and enhancements also reduce the number of breaks because they provide a protective covering.

Client: So you’re saying that since nails don’t need to breathe, I’m not damaging them by keeping them covered. Do you think traditional polish is better for my nails than enhancements?

You: The truth is, no damage should happen to your nails regardless of how you cover them, whether with traditional polish, gel-polish, gels, or acrylics. The danger comes when the nails are filed improperly, and that’s not something that is going to happen here. I prep your nails to remove the natural oils, but never to the point of damaging the integrity of the natural nail. In fact, the only time I might take off a client’s extensions to apply a fresh set is if she comes from another salon where I don’t know what product has been used, and sometimes they are discolored or poorly built. But with my own clients, I can’t think of a reason we would ever need to remove a whole set to start fresh.

You can learn more about the science of nails at

Facebook Comments ()

Leave a Comment


Comments (5)

Subscribe to NAILS & SAVE!

Get a free preview issue and a Free Gift
Subscribe Today!

Please sign in or register to .    Close
Subscribe Today
Subscribe Today