Strong, healthy nails not only can make your hands look good but also can indicate good health and prevent discomfort. They are characterized by a smooth texture and uniform color, devoid of any pits and discoloration.
However, dryness, dullness, pits, dents, vertical ridges, discoloration, and weakness in the nails are common problems. Unhealthy nails break easily and it is difficult to grow them. Neglected nails also may turn yellow due to vitamin deficiencies or fungal infections. Poor nail strength is often a result of aging, as with time, the production of keratin slows down. Since keratin is a major protein in nails (also in hair and skin), a lack of it can make your nails weak, dry, and dull.
How to Make Your Nails Stronger
1. Use cuticle serums for moisturization
Healthy cuticles are the key to healthy, strong nails. However, it is quite common to damage your cuticles or push them too far, often increasing the risk of infection in the nail bed. (5) Your cuticles may also get damaged due to medical conditions that lower blood circulation to the extremities, such as diabetes.
To help strengthen your nail cuticles and boost blood flow to them, it is suggested to perform a quick massage. You can use coconut oil, olive oil, flaxseed oil, almond oil, double-duty ointments, hand creams, and skin protectants to massage your cuticles. Invest in a cuticle oil that not only moisturizes the cuticles but also nourishes and repairs them, all of which contribute to improved cuticle health. You can purchase cuticle oils with a high content of shea oil. Simply gently massage your nails with the product for 5–10 minutes. Wear cotton gloves once the product is absorbed and leave it on overnight.
2. Improve your nails hygiene practices
Nail hygiene is often overlooked, contributing to the problem of weak, brittle nails. Therefore, it is vital to pay attention to your nail hygiene and improve your nail care regimen.
The following tips may be useful for improving and maintaining the health of your nails:
Trim your nails regularly to avoid breakage and jagging, which are associated with long nails. To lower the chances of breaking, cracking, or peeling your nails, it is suggested to keep them short and round-shaped. Depending on the rate of your nail growth, you may have to trim your nails weekly or biweekly.
File your nails using a nail file with microfibers in long, swift, gentle strokes to even out any sharp edges that can increase the risk of hangnails, peeling of nails, and tears in the nails. In addition, buff the surface of your nails to smoothen ridges. You can also use a crystal file if you are prone to brittle nails.
Scrub your nails gently using a nail brush. However, avoid vigorous cleaning or using other tools to steer clear of infections. Similarly, advise your manicurist against nail cleaning techniques that have posed nail problems for you in the past.
Go to a registered nail technician for pedicures or manicures. While these treatments can be highly beneficial to your nails, going to unregistered, unhygienic places can do more harm than good. Therefore, make sure to seek the service of licensed technicians and ask them not to remove your cuticles. In addition, ensure that the foot baths are cleaned and the tools are properly sanitized before each use.
Avoid the frequent use of using sanitizers as their alcohol content can cause your nails to turn dry and brittle. (6) It is best to use sanitary wipes instead of sanitizers to clean your hands.
3. Improve your diet to boost nail health
Eating healthy food, or consuming a well-balanced diet in general, is an essential part of maintaining overall good health, including the strength of your nails.
It is also good to know that certain food groups can boost nail health and prevent them from becoming weak and brittle. Modify your diet to include these healthy foods to help overcome and prevent the problem of weak nails.
Some nutrients essential to nail health are:
Protein. Protein is an essential macronutrient that can greatly affect the growth of your nails, determining the speed at which the cells divide. Therefore, you must consume plenty of protein throughout the day. Try incorporating more protein-rich foods such as chicken, turkey, lean pork, eggs, fish, lentils, nuts, peanuts, and dairy products in your diet. Focus on the intake of collagen peptides, a form of protein that contributes to nail strength and improved health. In general, it is advised to consume 2.5–15 g of functional collagen peptides daily, although the recommended levels may vary according to the peptide type and desired benefit. (7)
Iron. Iron is essential for the strength of your nails and can be obtained from lentils, white beans, lean meat, green leafy vegetables, fortified cereals, and potatoes. It is suggested to consume only up to 25 mg of elemental iron, as higher amounts can affect the body’s absorbing capability for zinc.
Vitamin A. Vitamin A is essential for the health of your nails, bones, and teeth. This nutrient can be obtained from milk, spinach, grapefruit, liver, eggs, apples, and yams.
Calcium. While calcium may not affect the strength of your nails directly, it has been shown that people with low calcium levels (associated with conditions such as osteoporosis) are highly prone to weaker nails. (8) Therefore, it is important to consume optimum levels of calcium daily.
Other minerals. Aside from iron and calcium, minerals such as manganese, coppers, and zinc have been shown to contribute to nail health. These minerals can be obtained through the consumption of sunflower seeds and oats.
Biotin. Foods such as sweet potatoes, salmon, leafy greens, avocados, nuts, and seeds are rich in biotin and boost collagen synthesis, helping improve the strength and health of your nails.
Other food items. It is also suggested to consume freshwater fishes, mushrooms, wheat germ oil, sweet potatoes, tangerines, oysters, red bell peppers, and Brazil nuts to help improve the health of your nails.
Water. In addition to improving your diet, it is essential to consume plenty of water, at least 8 glasses every day. This not only boosts the strength of your nails but also prevents dehydration and dryness that can weaken your nails. You can consume coconut water, tonic water, and citrus fruit juices as a part of your daily water intake as well.
4. Consider the use of supplements
If weak nails are caused by an underlying nutrient deficiency, such as an iron deficiency, you can consult your doctor on the use of supplements. (9)
The following supplements are often suggested to improve nail health and can be taken upon consultation with a doctor:
Vitamin B9. Also known as folic acid, vitamin B9 can be found in legumes and whole grains and is essential for cell repair and therefore in restoring nail health. Consumption of vitamin B9 supplements can help strengthen your nails and lower the chances of peeling or breakage.
Keratin. As discussed above, keratin is a protein needed for nail strength. Therefore, the use of keratin supplements and even keratin oil can boost your nail health.
Biotin. This water-soluble vitamin has been shown to boost nail strength. (10) It is suggested to consume about 30 µg of biotin every day, (11) and the requirement can be met with the help of supplements. Biotin supplements can improve nail health in 4–9 months of use.
5. Always apply base and top coats
Base coats and top coats can help strengthen and protect your nails, especially if they are weak or brittle. Base coats help prevent your nail polish from damaging your nails. Moreover, they act as a barrier against breakage and dehydration.
6. Use nail hardeners periodically
You can also use nail lacquers known as nail strengtheners, nail hardeners, and fortifying nail builders to help restructure and strengthen your nails. These strengthening varnishes contain jojoba oil, camellia oil, or kukui nut oil and form a hard, thick, shiny coat on your nails to help prevent nail damage.
You can also use serum strengtheners containing lactic acid, cationic hyaluronic acid, silicone, calcium, methylsulfonylmethane, bamboo extracts, wheat protein, saccharide isomerate, celery seed extract, and urea. These ingredients are absorbed by the nail, providing moisturization.
Also, the application of hydroxypropyl chitosan nail lacquer has been shown to improve nail structures and protect them from physical nail injuries.
Avoid the use of nail hardeners that contain parabens and formaldehyde as they can harm your nails, often causing conditions such as chromonychia, onycholysis, hyperkeratosis, and subungual hemorrhage.
In addition, make sure to use the OTC nail-strengthening hardeners for only a short time and sparingly. If you need nail hardeners for long-term use, consult your doctor for prescription solutions that moisturize the nails while strengthening them.