When it comes to expressing ourselves, we can sometimes feel oppressed by fashion.
We all fall into the traps of wearing black to look slimmer, avoiding stripes or maybe feeling too old for bright colours.
What we wear should reflect the person we are, but that is not always the case.
When it comes to your nails, it is a different story!
Your nails are not fat, thin, tall, short, old or young and so you can feel much freer to have some fun with them.
You can use any colour, pattern or design that reflects your mood, without feeling that you have to conform to the fashion norms.
This means that many people turn to some form of fake nails to help them out.
This might be to make them stronger, longer or for the luxury of having someone else make them look beautiful.
However, it is often reported that false nails can damage your natural nails. So, is this actually true?
The structure of the nail
To understand how to look after your nails, you should understand how they are structured.
The nail is comprised of the nail root, bed, plate, eponychium, paronychium and hyponychium which each have their own function.1
The nail bed contains blood vessels, nerves and melanocytes and extends from the nail root. The nail grows from the root along the nail bed and material is added to the underneath of the nail to make it thicker.
The nail plate is the nail itself and is made of keratin. The nail begins to grow under your skin as new cells are formed, pushing the older ones through your skin.
The nail that you can see is actually made of dead material, and any sensations of pain you may experience are actually from the skin under the nails.
Fake nails do not stop your nails from breathing
One argument that is often made against wearing any kind of nail enhancements is that it stops your nails from breathing.
As the nail is dead matter, this is irrelevant as it does not need to breathe, so you do not need to worry about periodically exposing them.
You can find out more about the structure of your nails in our article ‘What are nails made of and why do we have them?’
What are acrylic nails?
One popular choice for long fake nails is to visit a salon for acrylic nails.
These nails are a mix of powder and liquid monomer, which is shaped onto your nails and sets in a hard form.
Want long acrylic nails? The length of your nails can be extended by adding tips to the ends of them, using acrylic nail glue, before applying the acrylic.
Acrylic powder nails are all the same colour and can then be painted with nail polish to create the look that you want.
Your nails will look beautiful when you leave the salon, but obviously your natural nails will continue to grow, leaving a gap at the bottom of the acrylic.
This means that every few weeks you will need an infill appointment to get these gaps filled.
Are gel nails better for you?
As a client, the main difference that you will notice between gel and acrylic nails is the application process.
There is no mixing of liquid and powder, instead a coloured gel is applied to the nail in layers.
If you opt for gel polish, this will be applied from a bottle that looks a lot like nail polish. These gels are then cured for a few seconds in a UV lamp to help them harden.
When your nails begin to regrow, gel nails can be infilled whilst gel polish is removed and re-applied.
Many people believe that gel nails are better for them, however, as long as you look after them and they are removed properly, neither should cause you a problem.
Acrylic nail removal and gel nail removal
When people say that false nails damaged their natural nails, they probably experienced the greatest number of problems from the removal of those nails.
Both acrylic and gel nails usually need to be soaked in acetone until the enhancement is soft enough to be gently removed, and this will often involve a degree of filling.
Damage occurs when the enhancement has not been softened enough or the nail has been filled too much, damaging the nail plate beneath.
Other problems occur when the nail breaks off or is picked or chewed.
If you have ever done this, you might notice white marks on your nail, because you have not only removed the covering, you have also usually taken a layer of your natural nail with it. This thins and weakens the nail, leading to them becoming brittle and easy to break.
Fake nails can help to give you expressive freedom, and most do not inherently damage your nails as long as you care for them in the right way. Remember, they’re jewels, not tools!
Expertly reviewed by:
Reviewer: Manisha Taggar
Manisha started her career at a Cosmetics distributor as a Regulatory Technologist followed by a Regulatory Affairs Officer, ensuring the regulatory compliance of cosmetic products from colour cosmetics to skincare. After 3 and half years in this role, Manisha joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019. Manisha specialises in Cosmetic products, both own-label and branded lines, ensuring that these products and all relating marketing material comply to the EU Cosmetics Regulation.
Last updated: 3 December 2020