For some, breaking a nail comes with a grappling sense of disappointment. Especially if you’re dead-set on growing out those tips, an accidental split may have you throwing all your length-and-strength progress out the window. Tragic, perhaps, but it doesn’t mean you have to grab the nail clippers and start fresh.
Yes, you can salvage a break and keep on track with your nail goals. Here, experts weigh in on how to fix a broken nail in a snap.
How to fix a broken nail: 3 ways.
Depending on the nature of the break, there are a few things you can do once you notice a split nail:
1. Cut and file.
Hear me out: If you can, the best thing to do is simply snip off the broken nail and file it down. Sigh. “If the break has happened in an unusual spot, it might continue to break, so cut and file might be the necessary option,” explains Amy Lin, the founder of sundays—a nail care brand focused on wellness. So in order to stave off future damage, it might be best to sacrifice the length in favor of nail health. Evelyn Lim, chief educator of Paintbox, agrees: “It’s better to have the nail natural without any sort of procedure,” she tells mbg.
That said, you’ll likely have to file the rest of your nails down to keep them all looking even—which, for those partial to long tips, might feel more painful than the break itself. We hear you.
2. Invest in a clear nail tip.
If the thought of filing down your entire mani has you cringing, not to fret: Lin says you can apply a clear nail tip on the split nail, leaving the others alone. Simply cut the split nail at the break, file it down, then apply the clear tip on top. Cut the tip to your desired length, apply your polish, et voilà! No one will ever notice the split natural nail underneath. Once it reaches the same length as your other tips, free your finger of the faux nail, and it’s like the unfortunate break never occurred.
If your nails fall on the more brittle side, you might want to choose a different adventure here. “Tips are a little heavier on your nails,” says Lin, and they don’t work for everybody. It’s much better to keep them free, especially if they’re already a bit weak.
3. Try the tea bag method.
Typically, when someone heads to the salon with a broken nail, a technician might apply what’s called a silk wrap—they’ll cut a sliver of silk to the exact shape of your nail and fill in the break. A touch of nail glue, and it looks brand-spanking-new.
But just in case it’s not so easy to stop by the salon (say, a pandemic has made it a touch more difficult to attend appointments), both Lin and Lim mention you can replicate a silk wrap in the comfort of your own home—not with silk, but with a tea bag. Here’s the three-step guide:
- Cleanse your nail plate with an alcohol wipe, then use a file to slightly scratch up where the break hits. “That way, the tea bag adheres better,” Lim says.
- Cut a tiny piece of the tea bag and place it directly over the split. Apply a thin layer of nail glue until the tea bag is saturated and turns translucent. (If you don’t have nail glue on hand, Lin says a clear base coat can act as an adhesive.)
- Let the nail dry completely. Then you can buff, cut, or file any excess tea bag on the edges of your nail. “Just a light buff should be fine,” Lim explains. Either follow with polish, if you so choose, or go bare-nailed—the tea bag should be translucent enough that it remains unnoticeable on the nail plate.
Tips and warnings.
It’s incredibly simple to revive a broken nail—but it can be just as easy for things to go awry. Specifically if you choose the tea bag method, there is some maintenance to mind: First, make sure the tea bag is fully saturated and translucent. “If it’s not, it may create an air pocket, which you don’t want. It doesn’t look good, and if any dirt or bacteria gets underneath, it can grow or lead to infection,” Lim warns.
That said, you’ll also want to monitor the tea bag weekly (i.e., taking off your polish to inspect) to make sure there are no air pockets. Don’t panic if you do see a bubble of air—it happens!—just soak the tea bag off completely and start fresh, says Lim. “Keep [monitoring] until the split or crack grows out to an area where you can safely trim it off.”
Just because you have a broken nail doesn’t mean you have to snip them short. A cut-and-file might be the best plan of action to keep your nails healthy, but you can certainly salvage the break in the short term with clear tips or the tea bag method.
Of course, once the broken nail grows out, you’ll want to make sure you’re tending to your tips correctly. A one-off split is nothing to write home about, but if your nails are prone to breaks, you may want to try some long-term remedies.