6 Things That Happen When You Stop Using Nail Polish

nail polish

I gave up biting my nails 3 years ago after seeing my 4-year-old son chewing away at his own digits. How could I encourage him to break his bad habit if I didn’t do the same? But with biting behind me, I became obsessed with polishing my nails to candy-colored perfection. It seemed like a good tradeoff until my youngest son snapped me back to reality: “Ewww, what’s that smell?” he declared, pointing his nose at the polish I was holding. I froze mid-swipe.

That smell was a chemical cocktail of endocrine disruptors and possible carcinogens I wanted nowhere near my kids, let alone my own lungs. After years of slapping on coat after coat of vibrant varnishes, it was time to give my nails a break. Along the way, I discovered a couple of other benefits to letting my nails go naked.

Your Nails Will Get Stronger
Without the glossy distraction, at first it felt like there was a giant spotlight on my finger flaws. My unflattering nail ridges, uneven half-moons, craggy cuticles, and brutally brittle, weak nails glared back at me. But it turns out it wasn’t my naked nails that were to blame for the blemishes; it was all that polish remover. Nails are made of layers of keratin, similar to hair, and although fingernails don’t actually need to breathe, the strong solvents in polish remover dry out the nail and surrounding cuticle, says Dana Stern, a dermatologist and nail specialist in New York City. “With frequent exposure, the nail can become more prone to peeling, splitting, and general surface irregularities.” Gel polishes may be even worse. A study out of the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine used ultrasounds to demonstrate that gel manicures cause nail thinning.

Nails Lose That Yellowish Undertone
Another thing I noticed when I ditched the polish was how yellow my nails looked. According to Stern, continuous polishing can be to blame for this unsightly shade of yellow. Fortunately, just like cutting back on coffee and red wine makes your pearly whites whiter, a varnish vacation lets nails get back to their natural healthy hue. After only 1 week, mine lost that jaundiced look.

Those Rough White Patches Disappear
When you keep polish on for a long time, the keratin granulation can cause white patches and surface irregularities to appear on the nail, notes Stern. Basically, too much polish and remover strips the superficial layers of the nail, leaving a roughed-up mess. Keeping nails free and clear gives those chalky blotches a chance to fade or grow out.

You Lower Your Chemical Load
There’s a reason mommies-to-be skip manicures. A lot of nail polishes are a chemical cocktail of ingredients tied to miscarriages, birth defects, cancer, and lung diseases, and it’s not just the toxic trio of formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl phthalate that’s to blame. A joint study by Duke University and the Environmental Working Group found that another common polish chemical, triphenyl phosphate (a hormone disruptor linked to early-onset puberty and obesity), can actually be absorbed by the body.

You Get a More Accurate Window into Your Health
Did you know that nails are like a window into your health? Changes in your nails—think discoloration, thickening, or changes in nail shape—can signal rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, liver problems, heart disease, and even vitamin deficiencies. Polish-free nails give you and your doctor a clearer window into your health.

Naked Nails Can Still Stand Out + Be Stylish

buffed nails

After a week of being annoyed by my exposed, naked nails, I discovered something that changed everything: a buffer. Rubbing back and forth with the four-sided tool (start with the rough side and work your way down) gives nails a high-gloss finish as shiny as any clear polish. Top nails with cuticle oil or a dab of coconut oil and—presto!—natural beauty at its best.

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