CONDITION: How To Maintain Healthy Nails

A person with red nail polish applies cuticle oil to their fingernails.
A person with red nail polish applies cuticle oil to their fingernails.
Courtesy of Dreamstime

By Jan Arnold

Nail service longevity and long-term nail health are contingent on the partnership between the nail professional and the client. The nail professional analyzes the client’s need and makes a service recommendation that requires the client's buy-in. The partnership entails several factors such as aligning on the custom service, choosing a product, maintenance schedule, frequency of visit, appointment service time and home care regime. The only way a pro can deliver recommendations is with the participation of the client every step of the way.

Once this is established and the correct service is delivered with precision, the fun begins! Caring for and conditioning the nails at home is vital, and the client needs to be educated and inspired by the fascinating science behind it.

All nail cells are incubated in the nail matrix, which is considered the "mother of the nail." Once a cell is ready to become a nail plate layer, it pushes beyond the proximal nail fold and opens to release proteins and cystines inside. They act as glue to seal each new layer together. In-between the layers are small spaces and voids, where natural oils from the body can evolve out through the nails and skin to lubricate and plasticize them. This process slows with age, with the peak production at around age 15. How unfair is that?! The good news is we can augment this natural phenomenon by conditioning our skin and nails topically.

For nails, this requires a super lightweight and penetrating oil to work its way down, not only through the natural nail plate but also through any product coating that might be attached to the top layers of the nail. The journey of the tiny oil molecules takes time to penetrate through the nail and requires dedication. This includes applying a nightly oil right before bed to prevent being washed away during nightly dishes or showers. During sleep, the oils wind their way through this intricate network of tunnels, going deeper over time with each application, doing its job to protect against brittleness and breakdown. As the oil begins to penetrate the spaces and tunnels, it pushes out water which can break apart the layers. It infuses the nail with plasticizers that add resiliency and flexibility to help prevent a breakdown during impact. Daily conditioning with oil will turn the hardest nail, prone to brittleness, into a tough and resilient unit that will survive the rigors of daily life!

A question we hear all the time is does oil cause product to lift from the nail? Oil benefits a correctly applied and securely adhered nail coating. If there is lifting, everything the client does will accelerate breakdown, including oil, lotion, water, hair, clothing, etc. The goal is to securely adhere the coating to a dry, well-prepped nail to get lockdown adhesion over time. Once this secure bond is made, the oil will lubricate the entire unit—both natural nails and the coating—to work together as one beautiful team, giving and flexing under impact versus breaking apart with everyday activity. Look at oil as the insurance policy to a well-delivered service!

Related: CARE: How To Build Healthy Nails

About the Author

Jan Arnold is the co-founder and style director of CND. She is also a member of Nailpro's 2022 advisory board.

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