What to do if You Break a Nail

Image of an upset woman who broke her nail.

If you have nails, no matter how short or long, they have broken. It is an unavoidable reality for us all. So how do you treat a broken nail. We’ll provide you with some valuable tips that will help you deal with a break, but first let’s look at why nails break in the first place.

Why Nails Break

There are many factors that can lead to nail breakage, and they can all be prevented:

  • Poor diet. The absence or scarcity of vital vitamins and minerals like biotin, vitamin C, iron, zinc, protein and essential fatty acids can all cause your nails be become brittle, weak, dry, dull and/or flaky. This is because we are what we eat, so to speak. Our bodies rely on the nutrients we receive from foods to fortify it from the inside out.
  • Medications and illness. Certain illnesses and medications can interfere with nutrient absorption and your body’s ability to retain nutrients. As a result, the nails can become weak and break.
  • Biting your nails. For some, this is a nervous habit; for others, biting their nails comes secondhand after a nail has already broken—the nail is broken and without a nail file or nail clippers on hand, some resort to peeling the nail back or off with their teeth. Whatever your reasoning, biting your nails can wear them down as the layers that form the nail are removed, leaving a soft, thin sheet that is not strong enough to deal with the constant use and abuse we put our hands through on a daily basis.
  • Picking at chipped polish. Just as with biting your nails, picking at chipped polish pulls away the fine top layers of the nails, causing them to weaken and be prone to breaks.
  • Improper polish application. Some may not see the benefit in polish, and we don’t blame you—polish often starts to chip within a few days and it can be cumbersome to reapply polish every week. But we encourage you to think of polish as your nail’s best friend, and if you apply it properly, you not only will have stronger nails, but you will cut down on the number of applications. A proper application includes a base coat and top coat.
  • Using nails as tools. How many of us have opened a can of soda or scraped something off a surface with our nails? At times, our nails are the most readily available tool we use as a quick fix to a minor challenge. The problem is that in doing this we put pressure on our nails and push them to their limits. If your nails are already fragile, then a break is bound to occur.
  • Exposure to chemicals. Household products, and even nail polish remover, contain chemicals that penetrate the nail surface and cause them to become dry and brittle. Chemicals can also eat away the top layers of nails, also resulting in them being soft and delicate. Limiting your exposure can help.
  • Not having regular manicures. You may perform your own manicures at home, but the work a professional nail technician does cannot be replaced. During a manicure, your specialist soaks your nails, carefully not to place them in too hot of water and not for too long. Doing so, as you may even notice with your skin after a prolonged soak, can cause the nails to soften. Next, the nails are thoroughly cleaned and old, dry cuticles are removed to allow the nail bed to breath and for nails to grow strong and healthy. Lastly, the nails are filed, essential oils are applied, and then a series of proper base and tops coats are employed as an extra brace.

How to Treat a Broken Nail: Natural and Artificial Nails

The treatment of a nail break is similar for natural and artificial nails. Here’s how it works:

Natural vs. Artificial

Because natural nails are, well, natural, they are more vulnerable to breaks. Unlike artificial nails, which are covered with a strong gel or acrylic, our natural nails are made of a protein called keratin. The aforementioned factors above, more specifically poor diet, can lead to breaks.

But whether a break occurs with your natural nail or artificial nail, you should tend to it as soon as possible to prevent further damage—an untreated break can cause the nail to break unevenly and a tear to occur further into the nail, at times resulting in the flesh underneath it to be exposed. This can lead to bleeding and perhaps infection if bacteria come into contact with the area.

Minor break

So, let’s first say what to do if you have a minor break. In this instance, you will want to use a pair of nail clippers to safely cut away the area that is broken. Then, use a nail file to make the nail leveled and to shape and smooth it out—rough edges can get caught on fabrics and surfaces that can rip them. But with all of this, did you know that there is a proper way to file? When you file your nails, file them towards the center. We often think that filing our nails back and forth is the way to do it, but to the contrary, this causes friction that impairs the nails.

Major break

If you have a major break, say the break occurs toward the center of the nail, you will want to take certain steps depending on whether the flesh is exposed or not. If the flesh is not exposed, but still the break is in the center, you will want to remove any polish with a polish remover. Be carefully during this step as the cotton ball you use to take off the polish can snag the nail. Once this is done, you will apply a substantial amount of nail glue to the tear and the area surrounding it. This will help the broken halves bond together. Let the glue dry for between 10 to 20 seconds. As a further bonding aid, after those seconds have passed, take a cuticle stick and apply light pressure to the cracked area for at least 30 seconds, but no longer than two minutes. Next, buff and smooth the nail. When this is complete, apply a base and top coat. Viola!

If your flesh is exposed, you will want to thoroughly cleanse the nail to prevent infection, then apply a Band-Aid, but not too tightly because you don’t want to cut off circulation or cause moisture to build, which is a breeding ground for bacteria. Let the Band-Aid stay covering the nail for a few days. Our bodies have a miraculous way of healing itself. Once the fleshy area has completely healed and the nail has had time to recover and grow, follow the steps above.

What to do in a pinch: We understand that you don’t always have immediate access to a nail file, clippers, nail glue, etc. So, when you find yourself in a bind, place a Band-Aid over the break, or, if you are really roughing it, place a piece of Scotch tape over it. If you choose to use Scotch tape, apply it lightly—tape has a sticky surface that you don’t want to adhere completely to nail and pull upon removal.

How to Treat a Hangnail

Hangnails are aggravating when they occur. Your first thought may be to bite it or pull at it with great force. Neither of these tips are recommended as they may cause trauma, leading to bleeding and infection. And even more, you may not remove the hangnail completely, leaving you with the same problem you sought to fix, only it’s now more painful and irritated.

Instead, when you have a hangnail, soften it by soaking your hands in warm, soapy water for approximately five minutes. After this period, it is recommended that you clean your hands thoroughly with an antibacterial soap in preparation for the next step: cutting the hangnail off from the base using a nail or cuticle clipper. Lastly, to further help prevent infection, apply an antibacterial ointment to the nail and cover it with a Band-Aid for at least a day or until the area has healed.

What to Do If You Lose a Nail Completely

Persons who are active or who have had an accident/injury, may experience the loss of a nail. It is recommended that you see your primary care physician for proper care to prevent an infection and control pain. However, you may follow these steps in the meantime.

  1. Apply a gentle antibacterial solution to the nail bed to cleanse it, followed by an antibiotic ointment. Hydrogen peroxide-based antibiotic creams, and others you can purchase over-the-counter are also useful.
  2. Apply a pressure bandage to the nail bed to cut off bleeding and to help keep the area clean and free of bacteria.
  3. Aspirin and other easily accessible pain medications can reduce discomfort
  4. Change the bandage and clean the nail bed daily (using step one) until full healing has occurred—this means until the nail has completely grown back.

In all of these instances, except for the case of losing a nail all together, a visit to our nail salon is a solution. Our experienced nail technicians deal with breaks every day and help you not only fix a break, but prevent one.

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