Do your beautifully painted digits flake off after a few days? You may be a member of the oily cuticles club.

By Hana Hong
September 24, 2020
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For the past few years, I’ve been a back-to-back gel manicure kind of girl. But not by choice—oh no, my love-hate relationship with ultraviolet light is due to necessity. For me, normal nail polish never lasts longer than a couple days without chipping. If you know how time-consuming painting your nails is, you know that this is not nearly enough staying power to be worth the effort it takes to go through perfecting 10 of them. 

But as my go-to nail technician (shoutout to Paintbox) can confirm, gel nail polish can wreak a whole lot of havoc on your nails. I always make sure to indulge my damaged nail beds with cuticle oils and creams, but celebrity nail artist Jin Soon Choi says that may be why your manicured nails are reaching a premature end.

The term “oily skin” does not just apply to your face, says Herman Paez, director of education at EMMA Beauty. “Like skin, we all have a nail type. In the same way that our skin might be categorized as dry, oily, sensitive or a combination, our nails follow the same categorizations.” The natural oil secretion from your cuticle beds can inhibit even the best nail polishes from sticking to the nail plate.

Choi notes that this is both a blessing and a curse: “It’s a great problem to have as cuticles tend to dry out easily and I am always telling people the importance of moisturizing this area. But on the other hand, an overly oily base can definitely affect the staying power of your nail polish.” 

How to make nail polish last longer

So what’s a frequent chipper to do? “First, you should always make sure to thoroughly clean the bare nail beds. The area should feel super dry prior to application,” says Choi. “The best way to ensure a long-lasting manicure is to reapply a top coat every couple days to freshen the manicure and increase durability. On top of that, use a hand mist (or rub with lemon if you don’t have one on hand) to help mattify and cleanse the cuticle area.”

There are also mattifying nail products on the market that can help. Priming formulas, like Emma Beauty Grip Dehydrator ($4; emmabeauty.com), removes excess oils from the nail plate and creates the proper pH balance for optimal adhesion of nail polish. You can also use a setting top coat, like JinSoon HyperGloss ($22; jinsoon.com), which has UV blocking to protect nails against smearing, smudging, or scratching. 

If you’re not afraid of a bit of sparkle, Choi also recommends glitter topper polish as a good option for those with oily cuticles as they tend to have more grip on the nails. 

Ultimately, it’s all about balance: Moisturized nails are great—just don’t overdo it. A weaker, thinner, and more damaged nail plate can just as easily contribute to a short-lived manicure, so be sure to follow up your at-home hacks with nourishing nail products, especially if you switch up your polish often.