Do Nails Breathe? Should I Take Polish Breaks?

Do nails breathe?


“Hey Ana, I need your help to settle something. I had a little argument with a friend of mine a few days ago. My friend says she usually takes a month off from painting after a manicure chips off to air it out, but I said it takes a few days, maybe a week at most. Who’s right?” ~Annika



Do Nails Breathe Removing Polish


Neither of you.

This is another huge old-wives tale and I have no idea where it started.

Fifty (50) layers of flattened, dead keratin cells don’t breathe. Dead is Dead.

My best guess for this silly belief is that when using your acetone, it strips oil and water from your nails, making them feel dry and tight. If you do this process repeatedly without proper hydration, your nails are going to feel and be really dry.

The misnomer would be that people thought it was the polish causing the dryness, when it’s really the acetone or non-acetone remover causing the dryness.

So then, when they left the polish off to “so called breathe,” their nails soaked up water while doing chores and washing hands. This causes your nails to feel better temporarily.

Where nails are concerned, rehydration means oil…not water. Our nails don’t have any trouble soaking up water because the molecule is smaller than oil. And the only oil molecule small enough to penetrate the nail plate is jojoba oil.

Rehydrating your nails with oil doesn’t happen in 10 minutes. It takes 3 days.

“Oil is absorbed into the nail plate to plasticize it (flexibility), but much more slowly than water. Just as oils are absorbed more slowly into the nail plate, it is also more difficult for the oils to escape. Therefore, oils stay in in the plate for a very long time and can exert a dramatic long-term influence on the durability of the natural nail plate.” ~Doug Schoon, Nail Structure and Product Chemistry.

The Opposite Truth

A better practice after removing a manicure is to give your nails 2 to 8 hours to rehydrate with a jojoba based nail oil. Then, when you’re ready to do your manicure, remove the surface layer of oil with rubbing alcohol and move on to your basecoat.

The great news is that nail polish actually helps prevent your nails from drying out! It helps trap the oil in your nails and helps prevent excessive water absorption, especially if you completely wrap your nail tips with top coat.

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10 Responses to Do Nails Breathe? Should I Take Polish Breaks?

  1. Jenna February 27, 2013 at 1:27 am #

    Wow, thanks for posting this! I knew nails were keratin and, as you said, DEAD. But I still wasn’t sure whether there was any validity to the whole “airing out” idea. Thanks so much for clearing this up!

    • Ana February 27, 2013 at 2:54 am #

      You’re welcome Jenna! I’m so happy you found this article helpful!

  2. Jollyolly May 15, 2013 at 8:37 pm #

    Thanks! I had my suspicions about the ‘airing’ out since I knew enough that the nail is dead and a pretty useless practice. But I didn’t know about oiling with jojoba and its benefits! So much to learn!

  3. Wendy Caudle September 25, 2013 at 12:14 pm #

    Huffington Post just published a “15 things you didn’t know about Nails” and they stated that nails need to breathe. Honestly, if i were a Newspaper, i think i’d want to get my facts straight before publishing.

    • Ana September 28, 2013 at 1:56 pm #

      Wendy, thank you soooo much for bringing this to my attention! Even nail professionals are questioning Doug Schoon about this on his Facebook Page. It’s time for me to write another article.

  4. Amy July 14, 2014 at 8:34 am #

    I had no clue that this wasnt true, I know keratin is ‘dead’ but I’ve always been under the assumption that airing was good for your nails. Thank you Ana for teaching a valuable lesson!

  5. Nicole September 15, 2014 at 6:11 pm #

    Had no idea. Can’t wait to see how my nails do using this method 🙂 great article!

  6. Carol Villarreal January 30, 2015 at 5:58 am #

    Hi Ana, I have begun wearing polish, always…I started with a good manicure and as one would chip, only replaced that polish – makes it easier than polishing 10 nails at home…until I need my cuticles clipped, I will not go for a professional manicure and was wondering if it’s OK to keep nail polish on always and not even do the jojoba oil treatment you spoke of? Blessing, Carol

    • Ana February 14, 2015 at 8:29 pm #

      Carol, it is perfectly fine to wear polish all the time. It provides temporary strength and prevents water absorption, which leads to peeling.

      Using a jojoba wax ester based nail oil also penetrates into the edges of your nails not covered by polish. I’ve discovered that regular use of oil over my manicure extends the life of my manicure by several days before getting one chip, and reduces premature cracking in the polish.

      As for going to the salon to get your cuticles clipped, you might want to read my article about proper cuticle care. What they are actually cutting is live skin. The only way to properly remove the cuticle is with gentle scraping.

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