by Aubrey Almanza
view feature on RD.com
Say goodbye to weak and brittle nails with these easy techniques that anyone can nail. (See what we did there?)
Keep them out of the water
When it comes to strengthening fingernails, Samer Jaber, MD, of Washington Square Dermatology, says to “avoid excessive water exposure, as it can soften your nails.” With overhydration, our nail beds expand as water is absorbed, then contract as the moisture evaporates, leaving them noticeably flimsy and prone to peeling. To keep your nails from getting soft, always wear rubber gloves when you wash dishes, and minimize time spent in hot showers and swimming pools.
How you file your nails can make or break them—literally. You’ll want to cut your nails with clippers first, then shape them with a fine-grit cushion file rather than a metal file, which is rougher on the skin around your nails. “I personally prefer the file grade #180, a medium grit file that’s strong enough to get the job done, but soft enough to leave the nail smooth and the surrounding skin unharmed,” says Fernanda Lacerda, co-founder of MB45 Studio, a new manicure-blowdry bar in lower Manhattan. “And filing in one direction is always the key to healthy nails,” she adds, as sawing back and forth with the file can weaken the nail’s edges and set you up for rips, tears, and peeling.
Take Biotin supplements
Biotin, a water-soluble vitamin, is the only supplement scientifically proven to strengthen nails, according to Dr. Jaber. In one study, researchers tested the effects of biotin on women with brittle nails, and found a 25 percent increase in nail thickness, reduced splitting of the nails, and normalizing of overall brittle nails after six to nine months. Sometimes the best nail supplements are actually touted for hair. “Hair and nails have a lot in common, and supplements designed to treat one oftentimes result in improvements in the other,” says Whitney Bowe, MD, a board certified dermatologist in NYC. “For example, I have a number of patients who are taking hair growth supplements like Qilib or Viviscal, and are pleasantly surprised when their nails are less brittle!” Qilib Hair And Health Reinforcement Biotin + Multivitamin contains 5,000 micrograms of biotin, which is 1667 percent of our daily requirement. Biotin is nontoxic and has no known side effects, but you may want to double check with your doctor before beginning a daily regimen.
Keep them chemical-free
Warning: You’re not going to like what you’re about to read. Many of your favorite nail polishes, acrylics, and nail polish removers are full of harsh chemicals that cause nail brittleness, dryness, and thinning. If you want to make your nails stronger, it’s wise to avoid gel polishes, acrylic nail glue, acetone soaks, and acetone nail polish remover at all costs. “Avoid chemical irritants, as your nails can be damaged from chemical exposures,” says Dr. Jaber. If you can’t resist having your nails painted, stick to nontoxic nail polish, like from Zoya, Jin Soon Choi, and LONDONTOWN (which is actually vegan, gluten-free, and cruelty-free), and acetone-free removers that won’t strip your nails and skin of their natural oils.
Pamper your cuticles
Though your manicurist may say otherwise, there is actually no medical reason to cut your cuticles, according to webmd.com. In fact, your cuticles are part of your skin and serve the important purpose of acting as your nail’s protective barrier. Further, cutting your cuticles may lead to infection, ridges, white lines, and other nail problems. If you don’t like the look of your cuticles, have the manicurist gently push them back with a wooden stick instead of trimming them with clippers. To keep them healthy, make sure to always moisturize your cuticles with a nourishing oil like the Omega Labs Cuticle Oil or LONDONTOWN Kur Nourishing Cuticle Oil.
Give the polish a rest
Many of us are guilty of trying to making our nail polish last as long as possible. We hope to extend the life of our color with constant touch-ups, then when the chips become too noticeable to bear, we head straight to a salon for a fresh coat. This all makes sense for cosmetic purposes, but having nail polish on your nails for too long greatly damages their strength and overall health. Even the safest nail polishes can leave your nails brittle, thin, and dry if left on for too long. Instead, fully remove your nail polish after five days and allow them the same amount of time to recover before getting them re-painted.
Stick to a healthy diet
One of the keys to having strong nails is maintaining a healthy diet. Foods like blueberries that are full of antioxidants help protect your body’s cells from free radical damage, while leafy greens provide the iron you need for nail strength. Magnesium-rich almonds are great for smoothing your nails’ vertical ridges, and the calcium in dairy is an important mineral for helping them grow. Incorporate fish oil, vitamin D, and plenty of coconut oil into your diet as well for optimum nail health.
Do at-home nail treatments
If your nails look like they need some major TLC, do an at-home nail treatment. In the same way your face occasionally needs a super hydrating face mask, so do your nails. Consider dermatologist Dana Stern’s Deep Hydrating Formula, a hybrid gel-oil that hydrates and strengthens nails or Dermelect’s Peptide Infused Nail Recovery System for Damaged or Aging Nails. You can also try homemade remedies: For yellow nails, a great DIY nail treatment involves exfoliating with lemon juice and baking soda. If your nails are extremely dry, dip your fingertips in olive oil. (Here are the subtle signs your hands are begging for TLC.)
Always cut your nails
As much as you might love the look of long, beautifully-shaped fingernails, it’s best to avoid growing them out if you want to make them stronger. “Keep your nails shorter, as the longer they are, the easier it is for them to get traumatized,” says Dr. Jaber. Short nails are far less likely to be broken in your everyday life. As an added bonus, it’s also much easier to maintain the appearance of nails when they’re short! But not too short—here’s how bad it is to bite them!
Visit your derm
If your nails remain brittle no matter how hard you work to repair and strengthen them, it may be time to visit an expert. “If these methods are not effective then see your dermatologist, as there are prescription nail lacquers like Genadur or Nuvail which can sometimes strengthen your nails,” says Dr. Jaber.