How to Help
The good news is that your clients can take steps to avoid worsening the splitting, and you can help during their regular appointments. “The client should avoid trauma and regularly apply moisturizers; and the nail tech should file the nails’ edges smooth, which prevents nails from getting caught or snagged,” recommends Jeffrey S. Dover MD, FRCPC, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale University School of Medicine and director of SkinCare Physicians in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. Dover adds that a client can consult with a dermatologist about the problem. “Prescription retinoids, such as Retin-A and Renova, applied to the paronychial skin nightly, help most of all,” he says.
However, some experts maintain that you can’t fully fix splitting nails. “You can try to minimize the problem or make it less apparent,” says Schoon. “But nothing you eat or put on your nails is going to make the nail matrix grow the correctly formed nail plate. The best thing you can do is simply keep the nails from becoming more brittle, because it will aggravate this condition.” He suggests not using nail hardeners, since they tend to make nails more rigid, and that can lead to further splits and breaks.
In addition, Schoon recommends that anyone with this condition not change her nail polish too frequently—no more than once per week—as this removes oils from the nail plate. This means that you must make sure your manicures last for the long haul by applying base coat, polish and top coat every time. You may also want to recommend that clients apply top coat to their nails every day or every other day to lengthen the life of the manicure and fortify the nails. Further, a ridge-filling base coat can help to mask the problem by filling in splits and other dips in the nail.
You don’t have to stop there with the recommendations—educating clients about the importance of good habits can also prevent them from exacerbating the problem. "Treatments include wearing gloves when exposed to solvents; frequent daily application of ointments on the nail plates and cuticles; using nondetergent or nonalcohol-containing hand cleansers; and taking daily biotin," recommends Ella L. Toombs, MD, board-certified dermatologist at Aesthetic Dermatology of Dupont Circle in Washington.
"I try to get these clients in for a weekly manicure and tell them to use gloves for any cleaning or long times in water or chemicals," says MJ Sherer from Nails by MJ in Hot Springs, Arkansas. "I also tell them to watch what they’re doing with their nails, such as hooking jewelry, shampooing hair, etc." Your client may even want to skip the polish once in a while in favor of a high-shine buffing service. During services, also be sure to file the nail in one direction (lateral to medial) with a fine-grit file to avoid further damage to the nails, says Toombs. "A nail professional should suggest that the client undergo frequent paraffin wax treatments in the salon and consider wearing vinyl gloves after the application of oil or moisturizers at bedtime," she says. Experts also widely recommend wearing cotton liners (to prevent sweat from sapping moisture) and rubber gloves to ensure that nails and skin retain moisture. Several experts also advocate using Elon nail conditioner. "I keep a tube in my purse and my car," says Toombs.
For clients with nail splitting, you should also take precautions when it’s time to remove your work. Applying polish or enhancements over your client’s brittle nails may be protective, but the removal of them can weaken nails. Schoon recommends diluting nail polish remover with a little bit of water for your clients with brittle and splitting nails. "Nail polish removers work very quickly and efficiently, but someone with this condition doesn’t need that kind of speed," he says. "Be a little more patient and use 10% dilution; it’ll be gentler on the nails." It’s also a good idea to retail some fast-penetrating nail oil for your client to use every day. In the salon, you can also recommend hot oil manicures, Schoon adds. If you’re using soaks in your regular manicures, apply a cream directly afterward to lock in the moisture. Or for clients with splitting nails, you may choose to skip the soak altogether.
By accommodating your clients and making them aware of how they use their hands and nails, you can prevent further damage to already injured nails, and save yourself additional work at your client’s next appointment.
Tracy Morin is a freelance writer and editor based in Oxford, MS.