Everyone wants longer, stronger, healthy nails, and there’s thousands of products out there promising to do it. As a manicurist who has worked on countless nails over the years and tried countless more products, I’m going to share with you what works – and what doesn’t. It’s all much, much simpler (and cheaper!) than you ever expected.
First, I have to hit you with some nail science:
Each of your fingernails is made up of around 100 layers of keratin cells. These cells are dead, and they do not “breathe”.
Water molecules are so small they can move through and inbetween the keratin cells.
Your body’s natural oils are between these keratin cells, keeping your nail hydrated. The oil molecules are bigger than the water molecules, so they stay between the cells and do not move through them.
When you wash your hands, your nails absorb water, weakening the keratin cells. Soap washes away the natural oils, drying your nails out and causing the water in the nail to evaporate even quicker. Repeat this numerous times a day and you’re left with thin, weak, and/or peeling (delaminated) nails.
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In my professional opinion, exposure to water is the number one cause of weak or brittle nails. There are lots of other variables (medications, or in very rare cases diet), but the most common are water and solvent exposure. A solvent can be soap, shampoo, household cleaning products, nail polish remover, hand sanitizers, etc. Your manicurist doesn’t nag you to wear dish-gloves for no reason! I can usually pick a new mum or a medical professional.
What about nail hardeners/strengtheners?
When it comes to consumer nail treatments, most do nothing except to provide a protective layer on your nail (which stops the nail from absorbing water). But any nail polish will do that. All of those fancy ingredients like wheat protein, silk protein, or hydrolised soy protein are simply long-chain amino acids that link together forming a web, making the product stronger, which makes your nail feel stronger while you’re wearing it. Add in solvents (to make the polish spread nicely), and plasticisers to make the dried product flexible, and there you have pretty much every nail hardener/strengthener on the market. They do nothing for the health of your nail in the long run.
So, what can you do to bring your nails back to life? Well, it’s simple, but it takes commitment. If you follow this plan, I promise you’ll have stronger, healthier, better-looking nails – without taking a trip to the manicurist (fade to me listlessly flicking through a magazine at my manicure table as cobwebs gather on my polish collection).
What you want to do is put that oil back into your nails. What oil should you use? There’s so many out there! Jojoba oil has the same molecular size as your body’s own sebum, so you want to choose a nail oil that is mostly made up of jojoba oil. Anything else in it will just be for added fragrance or skin conditioning. You can buy a big bottle pure jojoba oil, put some in a clean, empty nail polish bottle, and save the rest for your body post-shower. If you want to use a nail-specific oil, just make sure jojoba oil is the first ingredient. Almond, avocado, coconut, and other oils great, but their viscosity is not lightweight enough to penetrate the upper layers of the nail plate.