Slipping on mittens is one way to shield your nails from the ravages of winter. But it’s not the only solution. Keep yours strong, healthy, and pretty with this handy guide.
Cold temperatures bring snowball fights, hot chocolate—and, quite often, craggy nails and cuticles. Since winter’s dry air is especially rough on hands, it’s a good idea to have a weatherproofing plan right at your fingertips.
Why Nails Hate Winter
Two words: moisture loss. “Healthy nails contain 18 percent water on average,” says Erin Gilbert, a New York City dermatologist. “In winter, you’re constantly moving between the hot, dry air indoors and the freezing temperatures outdoors. These extremes can reduce the moisture level in your nails, leaving them dehydrated.” Dried-out nails are more likely to break, split, and chip. Compounding the harsh climate conditions are stressors such as hot showers (water draws moisture from nails as it evaporates from skin) and drying products, like polish removers with acetone, alcohol-based hand sanitizers, and dishwashing liquid. “Washing dishes is just about the worst activity for nails,” says Miami dermatologist Leslie Baumann. Time to break out the rubber gloves.
The Protection Plan
Intense hydration is the name of the game, says Shari Gottesman, the founder of Perfect Formula, a nail-care and color brand in New York City. Nails are made up of flattened dead cells containing keratin, but moisturizers can make them flexible, supple, and less likely to split and break. So when you reach for that rich winter hand cream (which you should apply after every hand washing), get in the habit of slathering your nails, too. If you have polish on, just massage the cream into the cuticles to help stimulate healthy nail growth, says Baumann. (For polish recommendations, see Nail Color Picks.) Look for lotions that contain urea—a humectant that helps hold moisture in the skin, says Gilbert. At night, rub on cuticle oil (in a pinch, olive oil also works). And once a week, step things up with an intensive treatment. Gilbert recommends soaking nails in lukewarm water for no more than 10 minutes, then coating them with cuticle oil and slipping on cotton gloves for at least an hour. (For product recommendations, see Nail Care Tools.)