Chipped Nail Polish From The Shower?

Posted by Ana on May 1st 2013

By the end of this article, you'll understand how I figured out why I kept getting chipped nail polish—and you'll discover the solution.

Stop Chipping Nails In the ShowerTwo years ago, after writing and publishing my book, What You Don't Fix ...Your Kids Inherit, I was tired. It had been a two year labor of love and I needed a break.

I was drained and only had one question on my mind - "How Do I Stop Getting Chipped Nail Polish When I Shower?"

What I didn't realize was my simple little question to eliminate chipped nail polish would lead me into a 14 day, 6 hour a day obsession. I had discovered the vast online world of nail polish and nail art bloggers.

The Journey

I started asking the Almighty Internet 8-Ball (Google) all sorts of nail related questions. Google eagerly dished up the answers. One page would lead me to another. One video would lead to another, etc.

Sadly, I found a lot of crap—completely wrong advice, old wives tales, bloggers who can't spell worth beans, and horrendous videos that were blurry, boring and too long. You can totally relate, right?

Chipped Nail Polish - Water Absorption 2

Where's The Answer?

While weeding through the mire, I also found tons of great information—little pearls of wisdom and other gems hidden in the thousands of pages I waded through. But still, no one had answered my question, "How do I stop getting chipped nail polish when I take a shower?"

Then, I discovered the first college textbook that I would willing buy and read without being enrolled in college! Nail Structure and Product Chemistry by Doug Schoon.

As I learned about nail structure and how the nails absorb water, my lightbulb turned on!

The Reason

Nails absorb water from both sides—through the nail bed and from the nail plate surface. All exposed areas of the nail plate absorb water.

As I wrote in my article about preventing peeling nails, healthy nails are a perfect blend of 18% water and 5% oil.

Bare nails can hold almost one-third of their own weight in water. Water molecules are so small that they easily pass through and around the 100 layers of keratin cells.

Nail polish is a coating over the top of the nail. Although it looks solid, it is not. Water and oil can penetrate through polish, but at a significantly slower rate than when nails are bare.

Nail polish also protects the nail plate from losing water and oil through evaporation and extensive hand washing, especially when using soap.

Stop Chipped Nails at NailCareHQ
But... !!!

Like most of you, I use base coat and topcoat. I cap my free edges with polish and topcoat. Now the top of my nails are protected. But... the underside of my nails were bare— unsealed.

What Happens In Water

We all have a natural curve to our nails. Once nail polish has dried, it has dried to the same curve. But in water, bare nails soak up water like a sponge causing the nail's curve to flatten out. Although polish has plasticizers to keep it flexible, the polish is forced into a different shape. That alone might be ok, but there is another problem.

Water Travels Through the Nail

In a 10 or 15 minute shower, excess water travels through the bottom to the top of the nail plate. The water breaks the bond with the polish—especially around the edges—which have received wear and tear from daily life.

Broken Bonds

chipped fingernails from LoodieWith the combination of hardened polish bending and excess water traveling through the nail plate, the bond is broken between the polish and the nail plate surface. The result? Chipped nail polish!

Anna at LoodieLoodieLoodie (image use with permission from Loodie Loodie Loodie) has a great example of this in her crab feast blog post. Her nails were saturated from 2 hours of cracking open crabs. She thought her manicure would survive but look what happened to the right! Her entire coat of polish just slid off in one sheet. Water absorption had completely broken the polish to nail bond.

The Solution

In order to help prevent chipped nail polish in the shower, prepare your nail plate properly before polishing for ideal adhesion, then completely wrap your nails in base coat and topcoat to slow down water absorption.

How to Prevent Chipped Nail Polish

Use the following tips to help you prevent chipped nail polish:

1. Wipe your nails with rubbing alcohol as your first step. This removes the surface oils and dirt from your nails.

2. Use a good base coat, wrapping it around to the underside of your nail (not just capping your tips).

  • Base coat is formulated to bond to the NAIL surface.
  • Color nail polish is formulated to bond with base coat—not nails.

3. Apply 1 - 3 thin coats of colored nail polish. Let each layer dry thoroughly for 3 to 5 minutes. When you can't smell the solvents any more, the polish is dry.

4. Then completely wrap your nails with topcoat all the way to the underside.

  • A good topcoat is also formulated to bond ONLY to nail lacquer (polish and base coat) and add a high gloss shine.

5. Using acetone and a makeup or artist brush, clean up your polish along the cuticle line.

6. Rehydrate your cuticle lines and surrounding skin with a high quality, jojoba based Nail and Cuticle Oil

7. Apply a new layer of topcoat daily or every-other day, wrapping it around your tips. Apply Nail Oil two or more times per day. More applications may be necessary during summer and winter.

TIP: The ingredients that make a good topcoat bond to nail polish and have an incredible shine make it a horrible base coat! Steer away from any product labeled as basecoat AND topcoat. It will do neither one well.


After 7 days, remove your polish with acetone. Acetone is actually less drying to your nails than non-acetone because it dissolves the polish quicker.

  • Before removing the polish, wipe a generous layer of olive oil (or any kitchen oil) around your cuticles and skin to help prevent the dryness acetone causes.
  • Use Q-Tip brand cotton swabs to remove the polish on the underside of your nails. I've tried cheaper brands and they're just not as effective, perhaps because they've wound the cotton around the stick tighter than Q-Tip does.
  • However, NOW (the video below is old) I would use Simply Peel™ to help with clean up so I would not have to use acetone!

You can see how I clean up and rehydrate in the following YouTube Video:

In Conclusion

A full wrap of base coat and topcoat completely encases your nails in polish. Water absorption is minimized when you shower and wash your hands. This is the best way I've found to prevent chipped nail polish.

What Do You Think?

What was something new you learned from this article?