Chipped Nail Polish From The Shower?

By the end of this article, you’ll understand how I figured out why I kept getting chipped nail polish—and you’ll discover the solution.

Stop Chipping Nails In the ShowerTwo years ago, after writing and publishing my book, What You Don’t Fix …Your Kids Inherit, I was tired. It had been a two year labor of love and I needed a break.

I was drained and only had one question on my mind – “How Do I Stop Getting Chipped Nail Polish When I Shower?”

What I didn’t realize was my simple little question to eliminate chipped nail polish would lead me into a 14 day, 6 hour a day obsession. I had discovered the vast online world of nail polish and nail art bloggers.

The Journey

I started asking the Almighty Internet 8-Ball (Google) all sorts of nail related questions. Google eagerly dished up the answers. One page would lead me to another. One video would lead to another, etc.

Sadly, I found a lot of crap—completely wrong advice, old wives tales, bloggers who can’t spell worth beans, and horrendous videos that were blurry, boring and too long. You can totally relate, right?

Chipped Nail Polish - Water Absorption 2

Where’s The Answer?

While weeding through the mire, I also found tons of great information—little pearls of wisdom and other gems hidden in the thousands of pages I waded through. But still, no one had answered my question, “How do I stop getting chipped nail polish when I take a shower?”

Then, I discovered the first college textbook that I would willing buy and read without being enrolled in college! Nail Structure and Product Chemistry by Doug Schoon.

As I learned about nail structure and how the nails absorb water, my lightbulb turned on!

The Reason

Nails absorb water from both sides—through the nail bed and from the nail plate surface. All exposed areas of the nail plate absorb water.

As I wrote in my article about preventing peeling nails, healthy nails are a perfect blend of 18% water and 5% oil.

Bare nails can hold almost one-third of their own weight in water. Water molecules are so small that they easily pass through and around the 50 layers of keratin cells.

Nail polish is a coating over the top of the nail. Although it looks solid, it is not. Water and oil can penetrate through polish, but at a significantly slower rate than when nails are bare.

Nail polish also protects the nail plate from losing water and oil through evaporation and extensive hand washing, especially when using soap.

Stop Chipped Nails at NailCareHQ
But… !!!

Like most of you, I use base coat and topcoat. I cap my free edges with polish and topcoat. Now the top of my nails are protected. But… the underside of my nails were bare—unsealed.

What Happens In Water

We all have a natural curve to our nails. Once nail polish has dried, it has dried to the same curve. But in water, bare nails soak up water like a sponge causing the nail’s curve to flatten out. Although polish has plasticizers to keep it flexible, the polish is forced into a different shape. That alone might be ok, but there is another problem.

Water Travels Through the Nail

In a 10 or 15 minute shower, excess water travels through the bottom to the top of the nail plate. The water breaks the bond with the polish—especially around the edges—which have received wear and tear from daily life.

Broken Bonds

chipped fingernails from Loodie

Image use with permission from Loodie Loodie Loodie

With the combination of hardened polish bending and excess water traveling through the nail plate, the bond is broken between the polish and the nail plate surface. The result? Chipped nail polish!

Anna at LoodieLoodieLoodie has a great example of this in her crab feast blog post. Her nails were saturated from 2 hours of cracking open crabs. She thought her manicure would survive but look what happened to the right! Her entire coat of polish just slid off in one sheet. Water absorption had completely broken the polish to nail bond.

The Solution

In order to help prevent chipped nail polish in the shower, prepare your nail plate properly before polishing for ideal adhesion, then completely wrap your nails in base coat and topcoat to slow down water absorption.

How to Prevent Chipped Nail Polish

Use the following tips to help you prevent chipped nail polish:

1. Wipe your nails with rubbing alcohol as your first step. This removes the surface oils and dirt from your nails.
2. Use a good base coat, wrapping it around to the underside of your nail. Start with very little polish on your brush. I wipe mine on the inside of the bottle neck. If you wipe on the top edge of the neck, then the polish will harden to the cap during storage.
If your nails are short, you’ll most likely only be able to cap your tips by running the brush along the free edge of the nail. Don’t worry if you get some on your skin—it washes off in the shower.
* Base coat is formulated to bond to the NAIL surface. 
* Color nail polish is formulated to bond with base coat—not nails.
3. Apply one to three thin coats of colored nail polish. Let each layer dry thoroughly for 3 to 5 minutes. When you can’t smell the solvents any more, the polish is dry.
4. Then completely wrap your nails with topcoat all the way to the underside.
* A good top coat is also formulated to bond ONLY to nail lacquer (polish and base coat) and add a high gloss shine.

5. Using acetone and a makeup or artist brush, clean up your polish along the cuticle line.

* This creates a smooth, flush line with your nail. Excessive polish around your cuticle line also contributes to chipped nails.
* Here’s the article I wrote explaining why acetone is the best choice for removing polish.

6. Rehydrate your cuticle lines and surrounding skin with a high quality, jojoba wax ester based nail and cuticle oil

  Apply a new layer of top coat daily or every-other day, wrapping it around your tips. Apply nail oil two or more times per day. More applications may be necessary during summer and winter.

TIP: The ingredients that make a good top coat bond to nail polish and have an incredible shine make it a horrible base coat! Steer away from any product labeled as base coat AND topcoat. It will do neither one well.


After 7 days, remove your polish with acetone. Acetone is actually less drying to your nails than non-acetone because it dissolves the polish quicker.

Soak and Swipe™

I like to unroll a cotton ball and cut it into small pieces about the size of my nails. Thoroughly soak the cotton piece with acetone and apply to pinky nail. Repeat with the other nails.

By the time you have finished to your thumb, soak another piece of cotton. With firm pressure, swipe the polish off—no need for scrubbing! Trust me, this will change your life!

* Before removing the polish, wipe a generous layer of olive oil (or any kitchen oil) around your cuticles and skin to help prevent the dryness acetone causes.
* Use Q-Tip brand cotton swabs to remove the polish on the underside of your nails. I’ve tried cheaper brands and they’re just not as effective, perhaps because they’ve wound the cotton around the stick tighter than Q-Tip does.

In Conclusion

A full wrap of base coat and topcoat completely encases your nails in polish. Water absorption is minimized when you shower and wash your hands. This is the best way I’ve found to prevent chipped nail polish.


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27 Responses to Chipped Nail Polish From The Shower?

  1. LaTanya StClair March 9, 2013 at 12:25 am #

    Excellent info…thanks!

    • Ana March 9, 2013 at 4:53 pm #

      You’re most welcome LaTanya! ~Ana

  2. Anamarie Seidel April 14, 2013 at 11:41 am #

    You’re very welcome Sherri! Yes, your biggest issue is water absorption.

    Please stop washing your hands before polishing. I explain why in this article I just finished: This is also another big contributor to the full nail peel of polish.

    The techniques in that article also talk about all the ways to properly prep your nails for the best adhesion. Huggs! ~Ana

  3. karen May 15, 2013 at 12:20 pm #

    I love all the information …is soo good thank you.

    • Ana May 15, 2013 at 10:03 pm #

      You are most welcome Karen!

  4. Angela May 17, 2013 at 12:15 pm #

    Great info – but what about short nails? mine are too short to get any top coat under there..?

    • Ana May 17, 2013 at 2:26 pm #

      Angela, then you will just want to make sure you cap your edges. Swipe the brush along the exposed free edge. This makes it harder for water to cause your polish to peel at the tips.

      Realize that once you have worn that polish off with daily wear and tear, then the polish could peel. This is why it’s a good idea to reapply fresh topcoat every few days.

  5. Marlana Morgan July 11, 2013 at 11:52 pm #

    Thank you so much for these great nail tips!!! I didn’t know half of this stuff!!!! I am so glad that I found your nail blog/facebook page!!!!

    • Marlana Morgan July 11, 2013 at 11:57 pm #

      Thank you so much for these great nail tips!!! I didn’t know half of this stuff!!!! I am so glad that I found your nail blog/facebook page!!!! and BTW I LOVE the design!!!! Beautiful!

  6. Krystin August 27, 2013 at 11:19 am #

    Finally, a I asked Google a nail care question and received a scientific answer! Thank you:)

    • Ana August 27, 2013 at 2:00 pm #

      You are most welcome Krystin! That’s why I write. There’s too much horribly inaccurate info out there. ~Ana

  7. Prajakta December 13, 2013 at 11:50 pm #


    I read your article & I have to say it makes so much sense. I face the same problem, polish chipping away while I take shower. Normally, I get free time in the night to do my manicure, so at night I paint my nails. They look so pretty at night & next day when I shower, all my hard work is gone in drain(literally)!!

    But, I realize my polish stays much longer when I don’t apply base & top coats to my nails while polishing them compare to when I do apply both base& top coats . Anna, can you please tell me why is it so? cause I feel without the base coat I am kind of risking my nails to discoloration & all other kinds of problems. Any thoughts on this, are most welcome.

    Thank You.

    • Ana December 14, 2013 at 9:56 am #

      Hummm, your polish should not be staying longer without base at top coats. Color formulas are made to bond to basecoat, not nail plates. What may be happening is since you’re getting free time to polish in the evening, you may not be allowing the polish layers to thoroughly dry before applying the next coat. So if you’ve done one or two coats of basecoat, 2 coats of color and one topcoat, it many need more time to dry. If I don’t have a lot of time, I’ll do 2 basecoats one evening and then polish the next evening.

      Also make sure that you wipe your nails clean with rubbing alcohol and a lint free pad to remove dirt and oils before applying basecoat.

      If you follow the directions to my Fab 5 Polish Wrap, you should get longer wear from your polish. Keep applying a high quality jojoba based nail oil regularly several times per day. It penetrates the top layers of the polish to minimize cracking. Hope that helps! ~Ana

  8. Christina January 4, 2014 at 6:45 am #

    do you have a video showing how to completly wrap the nail with base/top coat? aslo what colors are you using in your video above here 🙂

    • Ana March 3, 2014 at 6:12 pm #

      I don’t have a video yet, but I’m working on one now. I couldn’t tell you what polish color I used for this article…it was over 2 years ago and I have over 700 polishes. ~Ana

  9. NIc February 11, 2014 at 10:49 pm #

    That was amazing, I love it when I come across a well researched answer to a question that’s been bugging me forever. Thank you!

    • Ana February 12, 2014 at 12:02 pm #

      You’re very welcome!!!! ~Ana

  10. akek October 9, 2014 at 5:35 am #

    This is crazy good

  11. dieamond January 23, 2015 at 6:30 am #

    How come your nail bed isn’t the least bit red or irritated when your nails are so long? Don’t they ever catch onto something aka turn upwards (yeah sounds painful i know lol) when doing random stuff?

    My nails are so flexible they turn every which way, which is annoying as hell. Went even to see a dermatologist to make sure i didn’t have a fungus or something causing the line of redness on my nail bed.

    He told me it was the lever action from the nails being long and getting caught onto stuff.

    I also have the issue with the shower lol. I had it happen that over half (!) of my polished nails, the polish just slid off in one piece. What do you do though if you have short nails and can’t really go underneath the nail with the base and topcoat?

    • Ana January 28, 2015 at 5:29 pm #

      Dieamond, since I have such a strong c-curve, my nails do not bend upward. This usually happens to people with very flat nails. My nails will bend downward when they meet a hard external force. I have to be extremely careful when changing the sheets on my bed…or I get my husband to do it 🙂

      Make sure you follow the polishing directions at If your nails are short, just cap the tips with polish. Keep oiling your nails daily and you should get longer wear. ~Ana

  12. Makenna January 26, 2015 at 12:49 am #

    I’ve been trying to tell my friends this for literally YEARS, yet no one believes me. You’re doing a God’s work lol

  13. Annette March 24, 2015 at 5:22 pm #

    Hello Ana,
    I have found a way to keep my nails dry while showering and washing my hair! Here goes

    Wear thin vinyl or nitrile gloves (no latex, no powder)- gloves available in the cleaning supplies section of supermarket

    Wrap a rubberband or place a hair elastic around wrists ( if wrists are small, go with rubberbands)

    Shower quickly

    Dry gloves as you would your hands and remove elastics

    Turn bottom of gloves up for drying. I get about 2 weeks from a pair before they develop pinholes.

    This helped me through the 3 day challenge, and now I do it routinely. No circulation problems.

    Thanks for the great oil and all the valuable information.


    • Ana March 26, 2015 at 1:29 pm #

      Annette, thanks for your tip! It will help so many others.

  14. Lee t April 4, 2015 at 5:37 am #

    Wow!!!!! I always feel sheepish when I ask the gal at the salon to cap the free edge but do it anyway, and half the time she forgets and only caps half….Meanwhile…..the top and base should be more than capped! And I’m going to stop cutting the cuticles……so much helpful and biology-based info…thank you so much!!!!! My mani maintainer (me( thanks you…..will be doing more of them at home….Heavens knows I have enough polish!!!!

  15. Sherley A. Ramirez October 20, 2015 at 12:50 pm #

    Hallelujah!!!!!! ? FINALLY. I can’t wait to try this out. I dread ruining my polished nails in the shower! Great article!!

  16. bhavya yadav October 24, 2015 at 10:53 am #

    heyy great article!! Good job .

  17. Recycled teenager March 11, 2016 at 2:13 am #

    Thank you for this very tec and interesting info. I’m a pensioner and had to work hard for a living so not enough time to spend on nails I realise now the damage I have done and am spending more time on myself. After losing 3 stone revamping myself I went to have a manicure. It has made my nails worse than they were before but I realise now I loved them they looked beautiful and made me feel so good I need more but cannot afford. So am reading all I can to do it myself. I really appreciate your article and will be following you from now on. Once again thank you.