Wish your polish could outlast a few shampoos, keystrokes, or simple chores? Make it stick with these 11 tricks.
1. Never push back dry cuticles. Doing so can crack polish at the base, which leads to chipping, says New York City celebrity nail pro Deborah Lippmann, who offers tips like this in her master class, held at upscale department stores. But if you’re about to change your polish, you don’t want any cuticle skin on the nail’s surface (it can interfere with your base coat) — so loosen ragged edges by rubbing in a softening cream. Then gently nudge cuticles back with an orangewood stick.
2. Don’t soak fingertips. There’s no real reason to do so (at salons, it’s just part of the pampering), and, says Tom Bachick, executive vice president of the Young Nails Company, it can actually have a negative effect: When you soak your nails, they absorb water, which temporarily puffs them up — but they revert to their normal shape when the water evaporates. This expansion and contraction is the top cause of chipping, peeling, and cracking of polish, says Bachick.
3. Get the surface clean, clean, clean. Any traces of moisture, dust, or leftover enamel will get in the way of new-polish adhesion. To pave the way for true staying power, drizzle an old toothbrush with hand soap; then use it to “get into the corners and under nail tips, where oil — the great enemy — may be hiding,” suggests Jan Arnold, cofounder of Creative Nail Design. (Steer clear of lanolin-based soaps, which interfere with adhesion.) Then swipe on an acetone polish remover to temporarily dehydrate the nail plate.
4. Shape up. “To maximize nail strength, tips should be rounded and corners left somewhat square,” says Robyn Gmyrek, M.D., an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Columbia University, in New York City. Filing is healthier than clipping, which can crack the nail plate. Use a fine-grit nail file and work in one direction. “Filing back and forth with an abrasive board will cause the nail’s delicate keratin layers to peel away from each other,” says Elsbeth Schuetz, international educator for Orly.
5. Apply a base coat (no, it’s not just a marketing ploy). Not only does a bottom layer give lacquer something to latch on to, says chemist Doug Schoon, vice president of research and development for Creative Nail Design, but studies show that a base coat sticks to nails better than polish does. For uneven nail surfaces, choose a base that also smooths out roughness.
6. Once lacquer is on, seal it with a slow-setting topcoat. Quick-dry kinds are certainly appealing, but they evaporate so fast, they leave polish soft, mushy, and prone to denting. A slower-acting topcoat leaves a harder, more protective finish. To speed things up without sacrificing protection, use a drying oil or spray over your topcoat.
7. Make the most of metallics. Sure, light shades make chips less noticeable, but you can get an extra couple of days’ wear from a metallic polish, says Schoon. One theory on why this works: Small iridescent flecks thicken enamel, so it forms a stronger film as it dries — allowing it to outlast creamy opaques (whose high pigment content can block adhesion).
8. Or try Revlon’s ColorStay Always On Nail Enamel. This two-step system — which consists of polish and a protective sealant and doesn’t require a base coat — promises to resist chips for up to ten days. The Good Housekeeping Research Institute put it to the test while moving office buildings (talk about active conditions). Despite a few complaints about surface scratches, nearly all of the panelists agreed that it was the longest-lasting polish they had ever tried (50 percent got ten days of wear; one person, 14 days). As one tester put it, “This product has revolutionized the nail polish industry.”
9. Polish should be applied in three narrow, even strokes — one down the center and one down each side — and then be allowed to dry for two minutes before a second coat is applied. The thicker the layer is, the more difficult it is for the solvent — the liquid agent in enamel — to evaporate, boosting the chances that polish will peel.
10. Practice good maintenance. “Everything you touch wears away your polish,” says Lippmann. Every other day, apply a layer of quick-dry topcoat (it’s OK to use on already-dry polish) to form a protective shield and increase shine.
11. Give your polish a drink. The more your enamel dries out, the greater the likelihood that it will separate from your nail. Since topcoats don’t seal in hydration, apply oil to nails and cuticles before bedtime, and slather on a thick hand cream twice a day.