Caitlin Iley

15 common nail conditions & how to deal with them

By Callie Iley | 30 July 2023 | Expert Advice, Feature, Products & Treatments

Mariola Kożuszek Natural Nailcare Header

Do you know what to do when you’re faced with a natural nail concern? Scratch shares expert advice and product recommendations for 15 common nail issues…

Nails by Mariola Közuszek of Nails Academy, Luton, featuring Q Better Nails IQ Builder Base in Fresh Beige, available via

Addressing the issue

The natural nail is the foundation of any great nail enhancement, so knowing how to approach common issues if and when they present themselves is key.

Jenni Draper

“The condition of the natural nail can be affected by a variety of factors, such as nutritional deficiencies, exposure to harsh chemicals, ageing, medical conditions, trauma, improper nail care, fungal infections and hormonal changes,” says owner & director of PersoNAILity, Jenni Draper.

“It’s important to take your client on a nailcare journey and educate them on appropriate homecare, while addressing any underlying health issues. In doing this, you and the client together can help to maintain the health and strength of their natural nails.”

Claudia Sear

“It’s important to appropriately recognise and inform the client of a potential issue, and how it might affect the longevity of the nail service, if it’s deemed appropriate to perform one. Clients always appreciate a thorough consultation,” explains Claudia Sear, owner of Claudia Sear – Luxury Eco Nails, Maresfield. “If the client understands their nail health, realistic expectations are set and the opportunity to retail additional services and products is opened up.”

Your right to refuse

As nail techs, it’s important to recognise the issue to decide whether or not to proceed with the service and when to refer to a medical practitioner, as you can recognise medical nail conditions but cannot diagnose or treat them.

Emily Jones

“Don’t be afraid to refuse treatment if you’re concerned about the natural nail health of the client,” advises natural nail technician, Emily Jones. “The client will trust your judgement and be thankful in the long run.

“I’ve had two separate issues with regular clients this year where I’ve refused treatment with their consent, and I think this is something that needs to be normalised in the industry. Covering up an issue with gel polish isn’t going to make the problem go away!”


Key causes of common natural nail issues:

  1. Medical conditions and illnesses
  2. Trauma
  3. Medication or medical treatment
  4. Poor nail care in prep or removal
  5. Poor aftercare
  6. Hormones (e.g. menopause, pregnancy)
  7. Exposure to water
  8. Exposure to chemicals


1. Diabetes

Footlogix Anti-Fungal Toe Tincture Spray, available via

Clients with diabetes can be treated to nail services the same as any other client, but it’s important to be aware of the increased risk of infection due to the weakened immune system. Diabetes can be the cause of ridges in the nails of clients with diabetes.

Nail Knowledge warns against the use of sharp tools such as scissors and E-files due to the potential effects they can have on the client’s health. Be light with pressure and be aware of the temperature of the water during pedicures.

Learn more about how to support clients with diabetes in the salon.

2. Bendy & brittle

Yasmin Hodge of @gelsbyyas uses clear builder gel to add strength to the natural nail.

Are your clients complaining of nails that constantly split, peel or break? Bendy and brittle nails have a range of causes, with Nail Knowledge noting dehydration, nutrient deficiencies, harsh chemicals, water, medical conditions or hormones, ageing and lifestyle habits as key factors.

Emily Jones highlights a strengthening overlay as one of her go-to solutions for bendy and brittle natural nails. “There are so many base coats and overlays suitable for bendy and brittle nails. The options allow me to tailor my treatments accordingly to clients and give the right amount of strength to those who need it.”

With a natural rosy tint for a clean and classic, low-maintenance finish, this strengthening treatment has a vitamin-packed formula to promote growth and aid hydration. Available via

Recovery Base Coat is specially formulated for when nails lose moisture and become brittle and snap easily. Recovery’s hydrating formula allows the nail to retain moisture to improve flexibility and strengthen the nail from within. Available via

Suited to dry and brittle nails, LCN’s Connex Silver Plus bonding agent includes antifungal colloidal silver as it works to maximise the adhesion of LCN gel products to the nail plate. Available via

3. Onycholysis

Onycholysis, or nail separation, is caused by the nail bed responding to irritation from an allergen or damage from the hyponychium being broken, as reported by Nail Knowledge.

A dermatologist must carry out an allergy test to determine the cause of onycholysis. The nail should be kept short with all coatings removed and be oiled regularly.

4. Pseudomonas

Suited to any nail system, wipe the nails using a Lint-Free Gauze Wipe with Nail Plate Cleanser to thoroughly cleanse the nail and help provide greater adhesion for enhancements. Available via

Pseudomonas, also known as ‘greenies’, often occur due to water being trapped between the natural nail and enhancement, but can also be due to poor sanitation.

According to Nail Knowledge, greenies should not be worked over to ensure the infection doesn’t spread – “recent research has shown that secondary infections can occur due to the exposure of proteins within the nail plate. Therefore, reapplication of coatings should be avoided.” Carefully remove any coatings on the nail and leave it bare until the infection has grown out.

Mundo Lint Free Gauze Wipes, available via

5. Discoloured nails

@nails_tark showing off yellow, stained nails from wearing nail polish without a base coat.

Yellowing or discolouration of the natural nails can happen due to a range of external factors such as smoking, fake tan or overlays, but is more likely to occur on damaged nails. Avoid stained nails by using a protective base coat.

Reacting with UV light, Mavala’s Mava-White is an optical colour perfector with a matte finish, combatting stained nails. Available via

This product can be used as a base coat for Yoshi gel polish or to smooth the surface of the natural nail and aid strength. Available in seven shades, it eliminates discolouration and supports product adhesion. Available via

Preventing chipping, smudging and yellowing, Jessica’s Brilliance Top Coat offers a high gloss, shiny finish. Available via

6. Delamination

Delamination, or peeling nails, is an extremely common natural nail concern, which can have a range of causes from hormones, poor product removal and exposure to cleaning products.

“I often work with clients who do a lot of handwashing, cleaning and laundry, so I see many cases of delamination at first appointments,” Claudia Sear shares.

Emma Brock

“The most common problem I see at my nail desk is delamination,” agrees OPI nail boss, Emma Brock. “Dryness or even a minor trauma on the distal edge of the nail plate can cause the bonds between the layers to break.

“If a client presented delaminated nails, keep the nails short and opt for a rounded shape. Encourage the client to moisturise hands and oil cuticles regularly and wear gloves when cleaning, as chemicals and water can weaken nails over time.”

Emma Brock shows a client’s nails before and after treatment.

OPI Repair Mode penetrates the surface of the nails to build new bonds and repair the keratin structure from within the natural nail. Available via

CND Rescue RXx™ is a daily keratin treatment that supports damaged, delaminated nails by adding strength back to nails with keratin protein and jojoba oil. Available via

Fusion contains rubberised resins which fuse the delicate layers of the nail while vitamin A strengthens and conditions for growth. Available via

Glitterbels Square Buffer, available via

7. Nail biting & skin picking

Trauma to the nail and its surrounding skin caused by nail biting and skin picking can be hard to address due to the repetitive nature of the habit. According to Nail Knowledge, nail biting can affect the free edge, hyponychium, nail beds, nail folds and cuticles.

Overlays, nail sculpting and nail art can be effective methods to reduce nail biting. Skin picking is generally seen in clients suffering from stress or mental health conditions, often requiring mental health support away from the nail desk alongside acrylic or gel overlays and nail sculpting.

8. Ingrown toenails

According to Nail Knowledge, onychogryphosis, or ingrown toenails, is a condition where the nail grows into the nail fold, causing inflammation and pain. It often presents due to genetics, shoes, sports, hygiene or due to certain illnesses.

Refer clients with ingrown toenails to their medical practitioner, as the condition requires treatment from a GP.

9. Ridges

Presenting as both vertical and horizontal lines, ridges in the nails can be a sign of an existing medical condition, age, or trauma. It’s important to first identify the cause of the grooves.

According to Nail Knowledge, grooves in the nail should never be buffed away as this can thin the nail plate. Instead, opt for a ridge-filling base coat, or use coatings like gel polish to mask minor grooves.

IBX Strengthen and Repair work together to smooth ridges and repair damage to the nail, suitable for use alone or under enhancements. Available via

Nailcare specialist, Laura Chree of Chreeative Nails, shows off results from using IBX Strengthen & Repair Duo.

“I’ve introduced IBX into my services and it’s a game-changer,” shares Claudia Sear. “The Repair product works like double-sided sticky tape to hold flaking layers together.

“The Strengthen product works inside the layers of the nail plate, crosslinking to itself. This adds amazing strength and prevents further layers from separating.”

Mavala’s Ridge Filler works to even out ridges and grooves on the nail, presenting a smooth surface, available via

10. Splitting

Split nails protected by an overlay, by Emily Jones.

Often seen alongside peeling, splitting nails are most often caused by hormones or trauma to the nail or hormones.

Laura Chree suggests IBX Strength and Repair for split nails to a client who picked off their UV gel polish enhancements and neglected handcare.

Ideal for all nail types, Shaper offers a high-strength protective barrier for the natural nail and can be used to fill cracked nails, fix breaks and shape. Available via

Mavala Scientifique K+, available via

Rhiannon Gilfillan of @rlgbeauty recommends Morgan Taylor Daily Elixir to clients, beginning treatment in the salon to be continued daily at home. Available via /

Sweet Squared Nail Nippers with Double Spring, available via

11. Over filed nails

Often happening gradually over time, over filed nails present as sore, red nails with white patches. If a client presents with over filed nails, keep the nails short with no enhancements, do not continue to file the nails further, perform light cuticle work only and remind the client to apply oil regularly.

“A regular client went elsewhere for enhancements as she wanted extensions for an event, a service which I don’t offer,” remembers Emily Jones.

“At her next appointment, her nails were so sore and tender due to over filing and incorrect removal, so I refused treatment for three months. She is on her third appointment since then, and her natural nails have never been as long and healthy.”

Strengthen, protect and care for natural nails with LCN’s Natural Nail Boost, regenerating the nails using synthetic keratin while supporting hydration and flexibility, available in Clear, Nude Charm and Rose Glimmer. Available via

Packed with amino acids, lipids and vitamins, Mavala’s Nailactan moisturises sensitive, peeling nails. Available via

Removals gone wrong

“The most common nail concern that I see with clients is damaged nails from removing artificial nails incorrectly,” says Jenni Draper.

“This can be from gel nails being removed badly, enhancements nails being pulled off or artificial nails going too long in between appointments. They normally present with ‘rips’ along the nail plate or ridges on the nail bed too.”

12. Damaged toenails

Damaged toenails can present as bruising, or even no nail altogether, caused by trauma to the nail. Depending on the damage being presented, a range of solutions can be presented to the client.

If the client requires a full or partial toenail reconstruction or wishes to hide discolouration, opt for a reconstruction gel product formulated specifically for toenails such as Wilde Pedique Silver Plus, available in five shades via

13. Hooked nails

Hook nail reconstruction by @lunula_emma.

Hooked nails are when the natural nail bends down, creating a claw-like appearance and presenting more issues as the nail grows longer. It’s a common issue following from trauma to the finger, such as surgery.

Overlays can support the nail. The nails can be rebalanced and reconstructed with products such as L&P acrylic, gel and acrygel to add better structure and shape with enhancements.

@houseofnails2017 shows corrected hook nails.

LCN FiberTech Gel in Nude, available via

Glitterbels Nail File (240-grit), available via

Sweet Squared Double Ended Pushie, available via

Magpie 240/240 Oval Buffer, available via

14. Nails affected by cancer treatment

Chemotherapy can cause many changes to the nails. Regular manicures can help delay undesirable effects and manage nail conditions that appear throughout treatment alongside the advice of medical professionals.

Supporting dehydrated, split, flaking and chipped nails, Mavala’s Barrier-Base Coat is developed to protect sensitive nails, preventing yellowing and adding strength to nails. Available via

According to a spokesperson at Mavala, the 10 most common nail troubles during cancer therapies includes:

  1. Ridges
  2. Breaking and splitting nails
  3. Thickened nails
  4. Changes in pigmentation (e.g. hyperpigmentation, staining)
  5. Bacterial infections
  6. Fungal infections
  7. Leukonychia
  8. Onycholysis
  9. Subungual haemorrhages
  10. Inflammation or swelling

Ensure to check with the client’s team of medical professionals before proceeding with any treatments.


The Jennifer Young postgraduate diploma in hand, nail and foot treatment is a certified qualification designed to give spa therapists, beauty practitioners and healthcare workers the understanding, knowledge and confidence to provide treatments to clients going through the different stages of cancer. Find out more here.

15. Dryness & flakiness

Rhiannon Gilfillan

“I’ve seen a lot of dry nails in the salon,” shares Gelish master educator, Rhiannon Gilfillan. “A big factor has been the ongoing ritual of sanitising hands, due to the high alcohol content which is a dehydrator for the nails.”

Morgan Taylor Bare Luxury (Orange & Lemongrass) Scrub, available via /

“I use the Morgan Taylor Bare Luxury range to treat dry nails, with the scrub to help detox and cleanse the hands and nails followed by the massage butter with nourishing oils and plant extracts.”

Gelish Foundation Flex in Light Nude, available via / /

“I follow this with Foundation Flex in shade Light Nude. With vitamin A and biotin, this product will nourish as well as flex with the nail to ensure longer-lasting protection against continuous washing.”

Enriched with natural oils, PersoNAILity’s rich and butter-like Cuticle Balm protects dry and damaged nails and skin. Available via

Rejuvenate dry nails with the Jessica Rejuvenation base coat, with Protein KSW, water, jojoba oil, aloe vera and vitamin E to heal and condition natural nails. Available via