Experiencing nails that are fragile, thin, uneven, or that peel easily? I reached out to two experts, Dr. Charlotte Birnbaum of Spring Street Dermatology in New York City, and Rebecca Jayne, owner of A Nail Affair salon in Red Hook, New York, to get their advice on
how to strengthen nails, and how to avoid brittle nails in the first place. Read on for some key insights from these two experts, plus eight essential tips for keeping your nails healthy and strong.
“Brittle nails are often caused by environmental trauma,” explains Dr. Birnbaum. “This can include exposure to chemicals, manicures, and repetitive [actions] like typing or texting." Some
medical conditions may also cause brittle nails, including thyroid disease, anemia, and atherosclerosis. Jayne adds that for people who get (or do their own) manicures, using certain tools, like an electric nail file, can damage your nails by removing layers of your nail bed. Excessive, too-harsh buffing can also weaken nails.
isn’t to blame? Most likely, what you’re eating. “Typically diet does not heavily impact our nails, and contrary to popular belief, calcium content in nails does not contribute to hardness of the nails," Dr. Birnbaum explains. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies rarely cause brittle nails, because only "very small amounts are needed for optimal function of nails.” That said, the doctor adds that she — obviously — does recommend following a nutrient-rich diet to support overall health.
Now that you're armed with the basics, scroll on to find out
how to strengthen your nails in eight simple steps. We only recommend products we love and that we think you will, too. We may receive a portion of sales from products purchased from this article, which was written by our Commerce team.
If you have dry, brittle nails, moisturizing your hands frequently
can help make them softer and less prone to breakage. Dr. Birnbaum suggests choosing a hand cream that contains lactic acid, an alpha-hydroxy acid that has gentle exfoliating properties, and/or or urea, a humectant that can help draw water into the nail plate. Eucerin's Advanced Repair Hand Cream is a fragrance- and dye-free moisturizer that contains both urea and lactic acid, so it ticks off both those important boxes. It provides long-lasting hydration to hands without making them feel greasy, and better yet, it's sold in a three-pack: Keep one of these lotions by each sink in your house, and re-apply every time you wash your hands.
Massage Cuticle Oil Onto Your Nails
Jayne likes to take oil and massage it into the cuticle area — she says using cuticle oil on the matrix (the foundation of your nail) can help stimulate nail growth. You can try olive oil, or purchase a specially-formulated cuticle oil, like
this one from CND. The best-selling Solar Oil, which contains sweet almond, jojoba, and rice bran oils, soaks into nails quickly, where it then works to alleviates dryness around the cuticles and provides overall nourishment to your nails.
The Solar Oil has hundreds of five-star reviews from shoppers who have hailed it a "miracle" and a "holy grail product." One reviewer wrote, "I have had the weakest nails for years: weak, flexible, and prone to breaking. I’m two weeks into using this oil every other day and [...] I already see a difference. My nails are growing, they look healthy, and they’re strongest they’ve ever been."
Wear Gloves To Protect Your Hands
When you’re washing dishes or using cleaning products, protect your hands and nails with gloves, suggests Dr. Birnbaum. This will help keep your nails from peeling or becoming brittle, and also prevents your skin from getting dry and chapped.
Pick up a pack of gloves, and replace as needed. This
latex-free set comes in multiple sizes and contains two pairs in a pack.
Apply A Nail Strengthener
Treat dry, peeling nails with a nail strengthener, but “stay away from the ones with formaldehyde in them,” advises Jayne.
ella+mila Nail Strengthener helps keep nails strong and healthy with a vitamin E-rich formula that’s free of formaldehyde and other harsh chemicals. The brand is also vegan and cruelty-free, and as another bonus: The elephant on the bottle is super cute. "I don't know what's in it but it works better than anything else I've tried to help my peeling weak nails," commented one reviewer.
Keep Your Nails Neatly Trimmed
Trauma to the nail is often the cause of nail breakage and other related issues. “If your nails are contacting your keys on your keyboard or your phone, it is best to trim them to avoid the repetitive trauma,” Dr. Birnbaum advises. Keep nails clipped and filed, and avoid cuticle trimming at all costs. “Cuticles are your nails’ first line of defense!”
Japonesque set comes with two sharp, lightweight clippers for both your hands and feet (the nail clippers for your fingers has a curve, while the toenail clipper is straight to help you avoid ingrown toenails).
Wear A Safer Nail Polish
For optimal nail health, it’s important to take breaks from getting manicures, advises Dr. Birnbaum. If you are going to get a manicure, traditional ones are less harsh than gels or acrylics, but for her clients who crave longer-lasting manicures, she advises, “Choose soak-off gel manicures (where the gel can be soaked off instead of filed) and avoid acrylic nails. Choose a salon that uses LED lights as opposed to UV to harden gel nails.”
For your own at-home DIY mani, there are plenty of polishes that contain less in the way of harsh chemicals, like
the ones from KBShimmer. Their polishes are all vegan, cruelty-free, and contain no toulene, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), formaldehyde, or formaldehyde resin.
If you love green nail polish, note that the company will donate $2 from each bottle of their
Turtley Awesome shade to The Sea Turtle Conservatory.
Remove Polish Using An Acetone-Free Formula
Though diet isn’t a huge factor in nail strength, Dr. Birnbaum reports that “There are some studies that show biotin and amino acid (especially cysteine) supplementation can improve brittle nails.”
If you decide you want to try a supplement,
these Nature's Bounty daily soft-gels contain biotin, argan oil, and vitamins A, C, and E, which work together to promote stronger hair, skin, and nails. Allergen alert: They contain soy and tree nuts.
"Big difference in nails, skin, and hair. I first noticed a difference in my fingernails. They grew far longer than usual and are much stronger. My nails have not looked this good in decades," commented one reviewer.
Experts: Dr. Charlotte Birnbaum, board-certified dermatologist practicing at Spring Street Dermatology in New York City. Rebecca Jayne, owner of A Nail Affair salon in Red Hook, New York.