After 25 Years of Biting My Nails, I Think I’ve Finally Found a Solution — See My Before & After Photos

“When a [natural] nail is brand new, when it’s fresh, it looks really shiny, so you have to take some of that shine off to allow for the product to adhere better,” she says, explaining an early step in the application process called delamination when overfiling can happen. “Overfiling comes from using too coarse of a file, or using it on too much of an angle. If you’re filing on a 45-degree angle, you’re going to get a dip in the nail. That’s why you’ll see those red lines; we [professionals] call them ‘rings of fire.'” Properly-applied extensions can also keep current nail damage from worsening.

“I think having a nail enhancement on [brittle nails] does wonders honestly, because it prevents them from splitting,” says Kandalec, referring to both gel and acrylic tips. “Nails splitting and breaking from the nail bed is pretty common. If you have an enhancement on, it prevents that, so that when you take them off, [the nail has] mended itself back.”

During the aforementioned appointment, my nails clearly had a lot of mending to do. My cuticles were torn up as per usual, and I’d bitten them so extensively that I’d compromised the quick of my nail. Rachel Westbay, MD, a board-certified dermatologist, says that this part of the finger is necessary for maintaining nail health and that extensions could give them the space to recover.

“The ‘quick’ is an informal name for the hyponychium. It’s located beneath the nail plate at the junction between the free edge [of the nail] and the skin of the fingertip, and it forms a seal that protects the nail bed,” she explains. “Extensions give length to the nail plate, and thus make it more difficult to access the hyponychium with biting, allowing the area to heal.” She adds that the quick isn’t just important for nail health, but for our health in general

“The biggest risk of cutting or biting your nails too short is infection, because this damages the hyponychium, the important structure at the end of the nail that protects the nail bed from the outside world,” says Dr. Westbay. “Particularly with biting, the oral cavity can introduce many organisms to the nail that are not normally supposed to be there and cause infections like paronychia. Also, because the nail bed is loaded with nerve endings, exposing the nail bed from small incidental trauma can cause significant discomfort.”

The Gel-Extension Application and Refill Processes

I met Kandalec at her endlessly cute atelier for my first nail restoration appointment and to chat through the rest of our game plan, which would take about nine weeks total. It would begin with a new set of gel extensions using CND’s Plexigel Builder, a proprietary bonding liquid that Kandalec would shape into an extension and cure instead of applying an acrylic tip with hard gel applied on top. While Kandalec notes that she loves using both gel and acrylic to create extensions, gel extensions are a great option for maintaining extensions on nails prone to breaking: Since gel is more flexible, it’s less likely to lift or break. That would be especially ideal for me, who is prone to playing with and picking off extensions showing any sign of lifting. 

Before the process.

Kandalec sculpting my extensions using forms and self-leveling gel.

“The most common consequence of prematurely pulling off gel or acrylic is a condition called true leukonychia, which describes the white spots on the nail plate that are the result of trauma. Fortunately, this is not permanent and resolves over time, provided no further trauma occurs,” confirms Dr. Westbay. “It can also cause onycholysis, which is separation of the nail from the underling nail bed. This makes the affected areas appear white, but the white is from air being allowed to enter beneath the nail. Furthermore, premature and traumatic removal can cause the nail plate to thin and dehydrate, leading to brittle, soft and friable nails.” According to Kandalec, gel extensions can also allow for more gentle application for the skin around the nail.