As I’m sitting here writing this, I’m annoyed. After getting a lovely gel
manicure about a week and a half ago (on that was still going strong up until about two seconds ago), my thumb just ripped in two. Or to be more specific and less dramatic, my thumbnail caught on something, ripped, and I couldn’t resist going rogue and completely tearing it off so that my left thumbnail is about half the length of the right. (Sorry for that sordid visual.) Of course, this probably wouldn’t be a problem if I wasn’t a nail addict who polishes and lacquers up weekly like it’s going out of style, never picks up a cuticle oil even though I have countless gorgeous elixirs sitting on my night table, and notoriously peels off gel. (If you don’t know what that last part is, we’ll enlighten you below—it’s not good.)
Just as we know a well-balanced diet rich in protein and healthy fats is great for our skin and hair health, the same goes for our nails. According to Hanna, one of the most important steps to rehabbing brittle nails is to make sure you’re getting enough nutrition and protein, which thankfully, can be as easy as adding some grilled chicken to a salad, vegan protein powder to your smoothie, or reaching for a high-quality protein bar in lieu of pretzels come 3 p.m. “The best way to keep nails and cuticles strong and healthy is to start from the inside out,” Hanna explains. “It’s important to maintain a diet that is nutrient dense and high in protein. Staying hydrated and taking supplements geared toward keeping your nails healthy and strong also make a big difference.” (More on that below.)
Sorry, we know that nutritionists, celebrities, and other health experts sound like a broken record when it comes to preaching exorbitant water intake, but for the actual record, there’s a reason. It works. Even though it may sound obvious, drinking an adequate amount of water is a basic necessity and encourages life—aka nails—that grow fast and strong. That said, even though drinking water will help encourage happy and healthy cells and nail growth, soaking your nails too long in the stuff can weaken them and lead to premature brittleness. (Just some food for thought.)
Hair, skin, and nail supplements aren’t breaking news (in fact, far from it), but if you choose the right formula, these types of supplements can help supplement and strengthen your nails. And, you can only imagine my satisfaction when I realized Hanna and I have the same favorite. “As far as supplements go, I’m obsessed with Killer Nails from Hum Nutrition,” she shares. “I noticed a significant difference in just a few weeks of using it.” Um, same.
“My Amethyst Infusion Cuticle Oil is one of my favorite hand and nail multitaskers—especially if you’re trying to strengthen your nails,” says Hanna. “Not only does it help cuticles heal and stay hydrated, but you can also roll it over hands and knuckles for deep hydration that quickly soaks into the skin. The amethyst also aids in breaking bad habits like biting and picking.”
Yep, they exist! Swapping out your normal polish for less toxic or nutrient-embellished versions will do your long nail game good in the long run. “For nail polish, I’m obsessed with Orly’s Breathable Treatment + Color Collection,” Hanna shares. “It’s infused with argan oil, B5, and vitamin C. It has a base and top coat built in, so in just two coats you have the perfect long-lasting at-home mani that will nurse your nails back to health. My favorite color for growing out damaged nails is Sheer Luck.”
As convenient as gel manicures are (They look fab! They last!), they’re just naturally harder on your nails, and a regular polish will be a better bet for keeping nails strong and healthy. That said, if you can’t resist the temptation of gels or have a job where perfect nails 24/7 are a must, make sure you get them removed professionally, and please, please don’t peel and rip them off yourself. In fact, Hanna says it’s pretty much the worst thing you can do if you’re in the process of trying to strengthen your nails. “Picking off gel, biting, and picking at cuticles are all recipes for disaster, but if I had to pick just one bad habit, picking off gel takes the cake for being the most damaging,” Hanna warns. “When you peel off gel, you are also removing layers of the delicate nail plate, which can lead to long term damage.” So again, reach for a normal (preferably toxin-free) nail polish and remove it gently at home with an acetone-free polish remover. We’re obsessed with the one above from Olive & June.
This might be common sense, but wearing your nails shorter equates to less opportunity for breakage. Shorter nails are less likely to catch on things and are then far less likely to tear, split, or crack—all unwanted side effects that don’t make good for our dreams of bend- and breakage-free tips. “If you have damaged nails and are looking for a fresh start, your best bet is to cut them down and keep them short for a couple of months,” adds Hanna. “Short nails are super chic, and if you have an event that you want long nails for, press-ons have come a long way and are the best kept secret in the celebrity manicure world. One of my favorite brands for natural looking press-ons is Kiss—just make sure when you apply them that you use the glue tabs and not nail glue. And of course, don’t rip them off!”
Give your nails a break, folks! Sure, there’s nothing as satisfying and sweet as having a beautifully fresh paint job, but letting your nails have a week or so to breathe in between manicures (whether they’re in-salon or DIY) will help your cuticles regroup and reclaim their health. Personally, I’m a VERY serial polish wearer and don’t feel completely human without nail polish, but when I started doing this, I couldn’t believe how many fewer dents and ridges my nails had. It was actually miraculous. A little sad, but miraculous. Instead, treat your fingers or toes to something else luxurious, like a peel or overnight mask. This pedi version from Barefoot Scientist is everything.
Our nails are made of fragile and damage-susceptible cells just like our nails and hair, so it feels pretty unjust that we give them little to no TLC in comparison. So, instead, and as Hanna says, we should think of our cuticle care as an extension of our skincare routine, complete with oils, scrubs, and creams. Plus, it can become a weekly ritual that feels relaxing and meditative. “For an exfoliator, I love Oribe’s Cote d’Azur Refining Hand Scrub,” she shares. “It smells divine and leaves my hands feeling super silky and smooth. I use this as part of my nightly ritual a few times a week before hydrating with my Carnelian Infusion Skin Salve a few nights a week before bed. It has vitamin E, natural beeswax, shea butter, and meadowfoam seed oil, which all work synergistically to create a protective barrier on the skin while simultaneously working to repair damage caused by transepidermal water loss.”
Well there, yes, but also on your hands when you’re handling any chemicals or are cleaning your house. Of course, we’d recommend that you do your best to switch over to cleaner, non-toxic household products, but depending on what you’re doing and what kind of elements you’re working with, rubber gloves aren’t a bad idea regardless. Plus, they’ll help protect a precious paint job! Chemicals will essentially weaken your nails (just like chemicals in coloring and hair products will weaken strands), so it’s best to avoid exposure and direct contact at all costs. Next up: I Paint My Nails Twice a Week—Here Are 9 Products I’m Actually in Love With