Caring for Your Artificial Nails Between Fills

Chances are, if you went to a discount salon for a full set of nail enhancements, they slapped some product on you in 20 minutes, took your money, and booted you out the door.

So…now what?

This article will explain to you how to care for your acrylic or gel nail enhancements, including what to do if a corner chips or if they start popping off.

Sometimes, even if artificial nails are applied correctly, accidents will happen. There are a few things you need to refrain from doing now that you are wearing artificial nails.
1.) Your nails are not as strong as they appear. Do not attempt to open soda cans with them. Many times, in the soda tab vs fingernail war, the fingernail loses. Instead, use a quarter, butter knife, or a car key to open soda cans by wedging it under the tab and popping it up far enough for you to slide your finger underneath and open it fully.
2.) Do not use your nails to clean dirt from hard to reach areas (like between windowsills, for example). Don’t use them for scraping things off of your counter tops. That is not what they’re for. Also, it’s disgusting.
3.) Wear gloves whenever you do anything involving water (other than shower). You want to minimize your hand’s exposure to liquid. Even while swimming or enjoying a soak in a tub, try and keep your fingernails away from the water as much as possible. Water and your nails are not friends.
4.) Be cautious of the lotions and sunscreens you use. Some may interact with the product and cause your nails to yellow or become brittle. Keep in mind that your nails are made of plastic (regardless of whether they’re acrylic or gel). They will break down if they’re exposed to certain chemicals.
5.) Learn to use your knuckles when handling laundry. Pulling wet laundry out of a washing machine can cause a lot of lifting if you use your fingertips, so instead, spread your fingers apart and bend them at the knuckle. Reach in and grab the laundry in between your knuckles and pull it out that way. It takes some practice, but you’d be surprised how much laundry you can actually pick up this way.
6.) No heavy lifting. When you pick up a heavy box, the downward pressure the weight of the box or item puts on your fingertips will put stress on the nail enhancements and cause them to lift.
7.) NO DIRT. Do not dig in the dirt with your nails. If you are a gardener, simple gardening gloves are not enough anymore. You’ll need to wear latex gloves and then your gardening gloves. Pseudomonia is a bacteria that lives in the soil that can cause a big problem for you if it gets under those nails.

I’m sure for a lot of you, those things seem like common sense. You’d be surprised how many people I’ve had come into my office and tell me, “Oh, the girl that did my nails didn’t tell me that!” I think to myself, “She really shouldn’t have had to. It’s pretty obvious that you shouldn’t be trying to use your nails as screwdrivers.”

Anyways, now we’ll move on to how to care for them between maintenance appointments.

If you weren’t already informed, you DO need to maintain those nails. Every 10-14 days, they need to be “filled.” They’re not permanent. Your natural nails will continue to grow underneath the enhancement material and the enhancement will be pushed out, leaving a gap between your “fake” nail and your real nail at the cuticle area. If you choose not to get the nails filled, they will (hopefully) just pop off over time. This can be extremely damaging to your natural nail. In many cases, however, the nails do not just “fall off.” They hold on stubbornly until you break them in a really traumatic, painful way. More often than not, the nails lift excessively and bacteria grows underneath them, causing an infection that can take months to resolve and a green discoloration that must be grown out.

I cannot stress to you how important it is to get your nails filled regularly. If you can’t afford monthly maintenance, you need to take them off immediately. You should never have had them put on in the first place if you weren’t going to care for them properly.

Keep the nails clean. Invest the ten cents in a nail brush. Use it every day in the shower to remove any dead skin and debris from around and under the nails.
Alcohol around the regrowth periodically. You can purchase alcohol wipes from most drug stores. Keep a few in your purse. If you get your hands into something oily or greasy (like ribs or cooking oils), use the wipes to remove the residue from around your cuticle and regrowth area. This will keep those oils from burrowing under your enhancements and causing lifting or introducing bacteria.
Buff away rough spots. You should avoid using a nail file on your enhancements unless you know what you’re doing. Too often, I’ve had clients come in to have a nail rebuilt because they decided to take a file to it to “smooth out a rough edge” and got a little too aggressive. Instead, use a buffing block and gently buff from underneath the nail. A few swipes with the block should be all it takes to remove a sharp edge or rough area.
Invest in a quality cuticle oil. I recommend Avoplex oil by OPI. (I find that SolarOil just isn’t as good and tends to go rancid quickly.) Avoplex oil is specifically made for enhancements. SolarOil tends to be a bit watery, but Avoplex is very thick and a tiny drop is enough to do at least four fingers so it lasts a long time. Oiling the enhancements will help to replasticize them, keeping them flexible and keeping the material from drying out and breaking down. It’s also great for your skin.
Do not hesitate to call your technician if you notice something is “off.” If you feel like any of your nails are loose, call your tech and have her check it out.

Alright, now you know what to do during the two weeks between appointments, but what if something bad happens and you can’t get in with your tech? It’s okay. We’ll cover that too.

“One of them just popped off! Can I just glue it back on?” Can you glue it back on? Yes. Should you? Absolutely not. If you glue that nail back on without properly prepping the nail plate, you are putting yourself at risk for a serious infection. Leave it off and wait until you can get in for a repair.
“Um…they’re turning yellowish green underneath. Is that normal?” NO FREAKING WAY IS THAT NORMAL. If the nails are just yellowish, there’s a possibility it may just be surface staining from something you’re using (like a lotion). Remove any polish or topcoat and buff the nails with your buffing block. If the discoloration doesn’t go away, do not take any chances. Those nails need to come off immediately, with or without your nail technician. Follow the steps in my post, “How to Safely Remove Artificial Nails”. If you think that’s a bit too much for you to handle yourself, head to ANY nail technician and get them off. After they’re removed, leave your hands naked. No polish, no enhancements, nothing. wipe your fingers with alcohol wipes daily until the discoloration grows out. Odds are that you were exposed to pseudomonias.
“They’re gummy and sticky! What do I do?” First, whatever sunscreen, soap, cleaning product, or lotion you just used needs to be shelved until you figure out whether it isn’t compatible with your topcoat or your enhancement material. Next, remove the polish with acetone and buff the nails with your buffing block until the gummy mess is gone. If it’s not gone after buffing, call your tech and have her figure out what happened. Generally, certain chemicals interact with the enhancement and cause it to get gummy, but that tacky layer is easily removed. If it is not easily removed, it is beyond your ability to fix and could possibly have something to do with the product not being properly cured (this is more common with gel nails than acrylics).
“They’re lifting. A lot.” You can’t fix this yourself and you can’t wait to have them fixed either. Your options are to remove them yourself or go to any nail technician that will take you. That lifted product needs to be drilled out and replaced.
“I chipped a corner off!” Chill out. It’s no big deal. Use your buffing block to smooth the rough corners and deal with your lopsided nail for a few days. If you still have the piece you chipped off, you can attempt to attach it, but odds are that it will just be a big mess and will fall off again anyways. Save yourself the aggravation and deal with the funky finger until your next appointment.
“Holy shit, I broke my nail right down the middle and it’s bleeding everywhere. Do we need to amputate?!” Not yet. This is one of those instances where you have two options and both suck. If the break is really, REALLY bad, you can go to a doctor…but I don’t recommend it (at least not until the skin has had time to heal). Many times, doctors have referred patients that experience intense breaks like this to me without treating them. (Yes, really.) So, don’t rush to the ER just yet.
Your other option is to clean it up and maintain it until your finger is ready to be handled. I’ve had this happen to several clients of mine. One actually fell down outside of a nightclub and broke four nails down the middle trying to catch her fall. The fall split her natural nail as well. It was a bloody mess. When she came in the next morning (hungover and miserable), I gently cut off the excess length. I strongly recommend doing this part yourself if you can. Only you know how to handle the nails without causing excessive pain.
After you cut off as much of the excess length as possible, use a Q-Tip to remove the polish. This might take you a while and it might sting, but it needs to be done. Once the polish is gone, soak your fingertips in alcohol. Don’t use hydrogen peroxide.
When the blood has dissolved, bandage the finger. Every day, twice a day, wash the nail with antibacterial soap, dry it thoroughly, and treat it with alcohol. After a few days, the enhancement can be removed with acetone and the broken skin underneath can be treated. It is likely that your natural nail (from the breaking point to the tip) will fall off. Don’t worry, it will grow back soon.
Once the skin is healed completely, you can apply another nail to help protect it (and keep it from looking funky). However, this nail will need to be removed during every appointment and replaced.
This type of injury is exactly why I refuse to do nails with excessive length. This should never, ever happen. Keeping your nails at a reasonable length is the best way to minimize the risk of a serious break like this.

And that’s about it. If you can think of anything I missed or if you have any questions you want answered, post a comment and I’ll be happy to answer and add your question to the post!

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Tina Alberino
Tina Alberino
Beauty industry survivalist, salon crisis interventionist, tactical verb-weapon specialist, and the leader of at least a hundred workplace revolutions, Tina Alberino is known as much for her extensive knowledge as for her sarcastic wit and mercilessly straightforward style. She’s the author of The Beauty Industry Survival Guide and Salon Ownership and Management: A Definitive Guide to the Professional Beauty Business. When she’s not writing, educating, or consulting, she can be found overthinking everything, identifying problems people didn’t know existed, and stubbornly working to change the things she cannot accept.

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  1. My question is how can I both off my gel until I can go get a fill to put another color very very nasty right now it’s been almost 4 weeks

    • You can only soak off gel polish. (Wrap them in foil with cotton pads soaked in acetone for 10-15 minutes.) If they’re hard gel enhancements, you have to file them off. They’re non-porous and will not soak off.

  2. Hi there,

    This evening I went to a new salon to have my solar nails filled. One of the nails was lifting at the bottom. I didn’t want to ruin the nail under it as by putting on a new tip, so I suggested we keep the real nail by taking off the old one and adding a new coat of solar without any artificial tip (and just file the rest on my nails to match). Instead the nail tech ignored me and glued it back down and filled it. They look great, really great, but I can’t shake the feeling that it was totally not hygienic. I am worried of getting some sort of fungus if there is bactria and or moisture caught inside. Any advice? Should I get them removed asap, can I leave it until I go to my regular place for my next fill (11days from now)?


    • Find another salon. The lifted nail should have been removed and replaced. “Solar” isn’t a type of product, it’s a brand of acrylic from Creative Nail Design, one I highly doubt your salon is paying for if they’re the type of place to glue and fill a lifted enhancement. Are you going to a discount shop (super cheap, smells like chemical hell)? If the nails are cheap, keep in mind that the phrase, “You get what you pay for,” is extremely true in this business, unfortunately. 🙁

  3. I didn’t know that about the “solar nails”, interesting. This definitely was a discount place it seemed of heavy chemicals and I paid half of what I usually pay. How urgent is it to get this off? Thank you for the advice, I appreciate it.

    • Not crazy urgent, but you definitely don’t want it glued on there any longer than two or three days. You can file down a bit of it with a 180 grit file and soak it in pure acetone until it dissolves. If you had actual CND product on your fingers, it would break down into a sandy textured paste. If it’s the cheap, MMA-based acrylic (which is most likely considering the price and the chemical smell), the MMA product will take longer to dissolve and will turn into a sticky, gummy mess. Hopefully, the glue will dissolve easily and the remainder of the enhancement will separate from the natural nail with no problems. You’ll have to be patient and use a cotton-tipped orangewood stick to push off the softened product as it dissolves, but it shouldn’t take much longer than 30 minutes, depending on the thickness of the enhancement. Just keep your fingers in it. If it’s MMA and you expose it to the air, the product will tighten and it’ll be even harder to remove.

  4. What about making an article talking about what length is good. I’m a few days away from my fill in for my pink and white acrylic nails and when I got them put on
    I got them at a reasonable length, but I have a habit on chewing my nails due to a anxiety disorder and the length of my natural nails were a little below the skin on my fingers. Now that they are growing they’ve become long and feel as though they are starting to pop off but they haven’t lifted. I go back Friday but need to go Tuesday ( Don’t get paid until friday) my nail technician said if something happened in a week she’d fix them free of charge on a new set, obviously it’s too late to fix them lol. But what length is good actively?. If one pops off I’m fine with a funky nail because I get them filled in this week. But my nails only grow right if I have fake nails, if they do grow without them they are flimsy and fragile. But right now with the acrylic nails on they are feeling a bit fragile and I guess they would be because they are getting longer then I thought they would. Since my nails are growing faster then they used too what time length do you recommend?, the way she charges is 25 for just the pink acrylic fill in and 40 for both of the pink and white acrylic, for the first fill in I just need the pink acrylic. But I need them cut down a good bit so would she have to redo the white also? I can’t have long nails due to my health, I throw up every day for the past 4 years doctors can’t figure it out, so my awesome husband decided to treat me with a pick me up even though our budget is a wee tight at this moment.

    • The general rule for nail length is that the length of the enhancement should not exceed 1/3rd the length of the nail bed. (The nail bed is the skin under your nail plate, where the nail adheres.) Anything in excess of that introduces the risk of breakage and lifting.

      Between appointments, I recommend keeping your enhancements filed. If you were a chronic biter before, your nail beds have likely shortened considerably from the trauma. The reason your enhancements feel loose is because they don’t have much of an anchor to hold on to.

      When your tech said “if anything happened to them,” she likely meant anything NOT caused by your biting, lol. So, don’t count on a free set if you bite them off. Most of us don’t cover that. “Anything,” in this instance, probably refers to “anything out of your control,” like poor adhesion or lifting/breakage due to product breakdown.

      I also recommend staying away from french enhancements. The area where the white and pink meet is where you’re likely to experience breakage, so I don’t advise them for people who are active or who aren’t accustomed to wearing enhancements. Go with the pink or clear acrylic and french gel polish, if you must have french. (Although, most clients with short nails do themselves a disservice with french style nails because they make the hands look stubby.)

    • Yeah, stay away from the pink and white. They’re outdated, they look bad on short nails, and they’re way too expensive for someone on a budget. (Plus, the technique is pretty much obsolete now that gel polishes are a thing.) Gel enhancements are light and flexible but probably won’t suit you as well as acrylic (which is far more rigid). Just keep them short between appointments and that loose feeling you’re experiencing should be resolved, especially as your natural nail begins adhering to the nail bed again.

  5. Great article for nail newbies, thank you! Do you have any recommendations for having to go an extra week between fills? Love my nails and actually filed them from very long (which I loved, but they were definitely a higher risk) to a more moderate length. Anyways, have emergency car repairs this week, and it is when I should be going in to fill. But the car takes precedence over nails! Is there anything specific you recommend I do?

    • Honestly, and I swear I’m not being bitchy here, but I recommend not having enhancements if you can’t afford to maintain them properly on a routine schedule. An extra week is a long time to go without a fill. Lifting and product breakdown can put you at risk for a pseudomona bacterial episode and/or serious breakage. Your attempt to save a few bucks by stretching the appointment out by a week could end in you having to pay to soak off and replace the entire set, depending on how you care for them. From this point on, prioritize protecting them as much as possible–no heavy lifting, wear gloves when exposing your hands to water, no swimming or baths, no gardening, no scrubbing floors or doing anything else that requires you to grip anything tightly or put your nails in a position where they could be jammed.

  6. Hello!

    I just wanted to confirm which Avoplex oil by OPI to buy!

    Avoplex Nail & Cuticle Replenishing Oil with Brush .5oz – 1 pc + Free Cuccio Butter Tuscan Citrus Herb


    Cuticle Oil To Go Avoplex Nail Pen Brush .25oz/7.5ml 2ct + Free Cuccio Tuscan Citrus Herb .33oz each

    Are these essentially the same? lol

    Thanks for your help!

  7. I know this post is a bit older, but I’m going crazy and had to ask. My nails grow quicker than average, so when I had them done a week ago, I requested the enhancements be made rather short. My shape is between almond and stiletto, so it still isn’t ‘short’ short. The tech just wouldn’t take them any shorter, and I figured maybe I’d get used to it. Now, I’m counting down the days before the 10 days is up so I can go back for a fill without seeming like a psycho, despite already having a couple millimeters of outgrowth at my base. I just want my nails the length I asked for, because I have a very demanding job and don’t need to put them more at risk than they already are. What would you suggest?

    • Um, I’d suggest telling her to do the job you’re paying her to do. There’s no adverse affect associated with having your nails too short. There are plenty of adverse consequences to having them too long. They need to suit your lifestyle; not the tech’s personal preference. If they do not suit your lifestyle, you’ll have no incentive to keep wearing them and she’ll lose a client.

  8. I removed nail polish from my acrylic overlays and the acrylic surface is slightly sticky. I used acetone free remover …? I have repainted them with 2 coats plus a seche vite top coat. They have set now but are slightly ‘wrinkled’ and dent easily. I am not due an infil for a week. Should I just live with it ?

    • Remove the polish and buff your nails with a buffer. Cleanse the dust from them using a wipe with alcohol. When they’re dry, reapply your polish. You can’t remove polish from enhancements and stick it back on–you have to prep the enhancement first.

  9. Hi, I have acrylic on my nails then a colored OPI polish then a layer of clear gel top coat. The color wears off of the corners within 24 to 48 hours of getting them done. They said I am the only one that this happens to. I think I am going to have to go back to the SNS dip but have not found a place that does not put everyone’s finger in the same container!!!🤮🤢
    Any suggestions to keep my acrylic with colored polish? I am sick of French! Thank you! PS I got every 2 weeks likes it my job!

    • Gel polish is designed to last UP TO fourteen days–not definitely fourteen days. On average, clients can expect to get 10-12 days before wear starts to show. You already have acrylics. Ditch the gel polish, switch to traditional polish, and start topcoating every 3rd day. Your color wears off because you’re active with your hands. Since that’s unlikely to change, you need to be re-applying clear coats to keep your polish protected. The gel (on top of the acrylic) is absolute overkill and completely unnecessary.

      I can also guarantee you that you are not the only person that happens to, assuming they’re seeing more than 5 clients a week. I’d say probably 2-3 out of 10 of my clients who wear acrylics and have active lifestyles experience the same problem, but it’s resolved by home maintenance between appointments. If you don’t want to deal with topcoating yourself, start wearing gloves more often, but if the wear is due to typing, gloves might not be enough. Be mindful of how much exposure the edges are getting. If you can’t correct the cause, consider changing the shape. (I’m assuming you’re wearing square or square-ish nails. Going to oval or round should alleviate the problem.)

  10. hello! I have a question related to this. My acrylic nail lifted and there was a little bit of blood under the nail. when I went back to the technician she glued the nail on top prevent further damages and so it could grow out. Am I at risk for infection? should I try to do anything else for the nail?

    • Where there’s blood, there’s a break in the skin, which means you’re at risk for infection. That nail should NOT have been glued back on. Instead, it should have been removed so the injury could heal. I don’t know whether you’re truly wearing acrylic (or if you have gel enhancements). If they’re acrylic, the nail should dissolve in acetone in 30-40 minutes. If it’s gel, it will need to be abraded off with a file. The friction from filing off the enhancement will probably be pretty uncomfortable, but I would recommend getting it off sooner rather than later. If you do get an infection, removal will hurt a thousand times worse.


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