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Teabag Patching - For When You Can't Let Go

I broke a nail on Saturday.  As usual, it was in somewhat awkward circumstances.  There were no veggie burgers or squash involved this time.  It was my steering wheel again.  At least this time was bloodless.  Cars are a nail danger zone in general.  One of my worst breaks in recent-ish memory happened when I reached for the seatbelt and missed....but then another of my worst was caused by over-exuberant buffing while angry (wretched irony!), so you never know when a nail disaster will strike.  It's good to know how to fix it, if you're not ready to nub down or if it's too low to safely trim or file.  I learned about this technique from the girls on the MUA Nail Board and I think I did my first patch by following Nail Corner's tutorial.  It's been just a bit over a year since my first patch and I've had more practice with it than I'd have liked.  I've developed my own twist on it and since this break was somewhat stable, I wasn't in the rush I've been in with some previous breaks.  It's as good a time as any to do a tutorial.  There are a LOT of photos here, since I wanted to show every step in detail.

Here's what you'll need:

  • 4-way buffer
  • emptied, unused teabag
  • ethyl cyanoacrylate "super" or nail glue
  • small, sharp scissors
  • tweezers
  • toothpick
  • acetone and a cleanup brush (not shown)
The brand of teabag does matter.  I like Lipton.  It's stronger than some, but thinner than others.  You don't have to sacrifice the tea if your bag has a staple.  There's usually plenty of slack past the fold to clip a big enough piece and still use the bag for a cup.  I did empty this bag out, but almost every patch I've ever done in about a year has been from this one bag.  I still have plenty left too.  I keep it in its packet so it stays in good shape.

The brand of glue doesn't matter, as long as it's ethyl cyanoacrylate.  I like Krazy Glue for its packaging.  The tube in the photo above has been in use off and on for at least most of this year, if not since the end of last year.  I did have one dry up recently, but it was my partner's tube so I can't necessarily blame the tube itself.  He may not have closed it as securely as I do.  I like the way this style of packaging applies too.  It goes on very slowly and evenly without suddenly bubbling or bursting out like the metal ones do.  Doesn't seal shut like the brush ones either.

Survey the damage-

No two breaks are exactly the same.  The success and longevity of your patch will depend largely on the nature of the break.  The polish hides the full extent of the break, so it has to go.  Use a gentle method.  This isn't the time for a scrub tub.  I used an old cleanup brush and a paper towel to remove the polish without putting stress on the break.  Once it's naked, you can see just what you're dealing with.

I was somewhat lucky with this one, aside from it not tearing any skin.  (I know it looks like it's below the skin, but it's just slightly past it.)  More importantly for patching, it's less than half-way across the width of the nail.  The smaller the break, the lower the stress on the patch when you use your hands.  It's also easier to replace smaller patches.  When a patch is extensive, I will generally refresh it instead of removing it.  It gets full of shimmer and starts looking really gross after a few polish changes.  With something like this though, I'll be able to soak the patch off in acetone and redo it as needed without worrying about further damage.

note- If your nails are wet when the break happens or get wet before you begin the patching process, let them dry for 30 min or longer if possible. If the break is extensive, patch it ASAP, but allow drying time otherwise. A wet nail may flatten out and will stay flat if patched while wet.

Size the bag-

Some people cover the whole nail in bag material, but I think that's excessive.  There's also more risk of bubbling or wrinkling and the finished patch may look thicker than the other nails.  I cut a piece to fit generously instead, considerably wider and a bit longer than the break itself.  I put it against the bare nail to size it up and make sure it won't stick off the edge awkwardly.

Stick it down-

Align the break with the rest of the nail as smoothly as possible and apply glue to cover the break and a bit of the surrounding nail.  Once you do this, you will not be able to realign, so be sure it's as even as you can get it.

Carefully place the piece of material with the tweezers.  Make sure it lines up well with the skin and/or free edge, but covers the break well.

Use the toothpick to push it down and stick it to the first coat of glue.

Carefully apply glue over the whole patch until the material becomes transparent, then extend the glue to cover most of the upper nail surface.

Use the toothpick to spread the glue around and rough it up a little.  The bag should be stuck down somewhat firmly by this point, but be careful not to dislodge it.

I do this so it dries faster.  I should try it sometime without this roughing step just to see, but you know how habits are.

Let the glue dry-

I can't say just how long this takes.  It's at least ten minutes, but may be more depending on the weather and the amount of glue used.  You can tell by sight when it's dry.  It goes cloudy and the patch material will be more visible again.

Buff it-

Give the surface of the glue a few passes with the first step of the 4-way buffer, being VERY careful to avoid hitting the surface of your nail where exposed.  After you've evened it out a little, smooth it with the second step of the buffer and gently buff to hide the edge where the glue stops.

Check to see if you have any patch material or glue hanging off the edge, buff that smooth too.

If you'll be applying polish, it doesn't have to be completely perfect, but try to get it nice and smooth.

If you'll be doing a clear coat only, get it as smooth and even as you can, since imperfections will be more obvious.

Apply base coat-

Apply your regular base coat over the nail as you normally would.  The patch should barely be visible.

Give the skin around the nail a slight pull to be sure it's not glued to your nail.  If you feel any resistance or hard spots on your skin, remove the glue with acetone and a cleanup brush.

You may want to use a ridge filler for complete smoothness, but I don't find it necessary.   From here you can move on and apply the polish of your choice.  Patch complete!

Because I was applying polish over it, I didn't take the time to get it 100% perfect, but you can see it looks pretty normal.

You can see the break itself, but you can only just barely see the patch material.  Once polish is applied, you'd never know it was there at all.

Color Club Poetic Hues - not flattering, is it?

Patch maintenance-

I like to reinforce my patches with more glue whenever I change my polish.  Acetone softens the glue and can compromise the strength of the patch.  By adding more glue with each new mani, I've kept a patch going for about a month.  They don't look too good by then, like I mentioned above.  My last patch was stained an odd pink color and full of shimmer by that age, but the break was so extensive that I knew the tip would come off completely if I tried to remove and re-patch.  A previous one got a very crinkled look to it after about twenty days and the nail broke about a week later.

If you feel comfortable that the nail can remain stable through the removal process, replacement after a few polish changes will keep the break protected more securely and keep the nail looking less weird when not painted.

Patch removal-

Whether you're replacing it or removing it to file past the break, the process is the same.  Soak the patched nail in acetone for a few minutes, then push the patch gently with a plastic cuticle pusher or orange stick.  If it doesn't slip off with gentle pushing, continue to soak in acetone until it is soft enough.  Do not scrape!  It will eventually loosen enough to slide off.  Be patient to avoid damaging your nail.

If you're replacing a previous patch, the steps will be the same as applying it the first time.

I both hate and love patching.  I love being able to save a broken nail for a while, but I start hating it after a few polish changes. I think I'm gonna let this new break grow past the fingertip, then remove the patch and shorten my nails.  I think...


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