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There’s something about a good manicure that makes everything in your life feel more put together.
Once upon a time, I could achieve that satisfaction simply by painting my own nails. Eventually I started visiting the nail salon every once in a while, mostly just to maintain my cuticles. But then gel manicures became a thing, and fun nail art started trending that really isn’t worth getting unless it’ll last. Before I knew it, my nails were thin and sad and breaking constantly.
As much as I hate looking at my bare, stubby fingers, I also don’t want to destroy my nails beyond repair, so there was only one potential solution left to consider: press-on nails.
Thankfully, press-ons made a comeback some time after the birth of the gel manicure, and there are far better options than those square-shaped stick-on French sets I got from CVS in middle school. However, now that there’s glue involved, I wanted to verify that they wouldn’t be just as damaging to my poor, frail nails.
How to optimize nail health
“The best thing you could do for your nails is absolutely nothing,” said Rachel Nazarian, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. “Trim them and keep them away from harsh chemicals. Keep them out of water. Hydrate the cuticle.”
Not exactly what I wanted to hear, but on the plus side, Nazarian said that she would prefer press-on nails to gel manicures for the sake of nail health.
“Removal [of press-ons] is less traumatizing to the nail than removal of the gel manicure,” she said. “It’s still a little traumatizing because you still have to remove that adhesion, but you’re not destroying the nail that is required when you take off that gel. It weakens it so much more.”
Marissa Spagnoli is not a doctor or nail technician, but she is a full-time beauty content creator with lots of experience when it comes to nails, and she’s come to the same conclusion.
“I feel like honestly nothing is necessarily good for your nails, like anything you do is gonna somehow affect them, but I’ve seen the least damage using press-ons,” she said. “Honestly, the press-ons have been keeping my nails pretty healthy considering I’m gluing them on myself.”
While the damage caused by scraping off a gel manicure is not permanent (you can grow out your nails and the new ones will be healthy again), Nazarian is also not a fan of the UV exposure required to set the polish or any aggressive cuticle pushing and cutting that often occurs during manicures.
She explained that the nail matrix sits right under your cuticle, which is the area where your fingernails start to grow. Therefore, if you’re too rough with your nail beds or apply too much pressure, it can cause bad grooving, ridging, and other permanent damage to the nail.
The best press-on nails
Since Spagnoli refuses to go out without any nail polish on, she has tested a wide variety of press-on nails to find what looks the most natural. Along the way, she’s figured out some best practices when it comes to application and general tips to keep in mind.
As most instructions say, she advises applying the glue to both the fake nail and your real nail to avoid glue bubbles. Always keep the little tube of glue in your purse just in case one pops off in public (though if you apply them correctly, they should stay put).
For removal, although false nail removers do exist, Spagnoli thinks they’re a waste of money since you can just soak your nails in acetone or sometimes even warm, soapy water until the glue loosens. If the nail doesn’t detach on its own, you can use the small wooden tool that comes in most sets to pop it off.
There are tons of press-on nail brands on the market these days, but Spagnoli’s favorites include the Kiss line that you can buy at drugstores and the ones from Olive & June, which are available through the brand’s own site and at Target.
Of course, I couldn’t just take her word for it — this was my own nail journey after all, so I had to see for myself.