The best route to stronger, longer nails is mostly through simple lifestyle habits, not pricy nail tools. But getting healthy nails also means kicking some bad habits, such as using your nails as a built-in pocket knife. For doable, helpful nail tips, we talked to the experts for the everyday dos and don’ts of nail care. Follow these steps, and you’ll have stronger, longer nails before you know it.
1. Be patient with nail growth
If you’re a chronic nail-biter, you know the victory of finally growing your nails out past your fingertips. Healthy habits plus patience pay off in nail care. But the primary focus should be on figuring out how to strengthen your nails, not solving the puzzle of how to grow nails fast. Stronger nails can lead to longer nails if you practice good nail care, but it all takes time. If you battle brittle nails and constant breakage, it’s smart to keep your nails clipped short until they regain strength; then they’ll have the foundation they need to grow longer.
2. Watch the weather
Winter can be a rough time for skin, hair, and nails alike. Not only can cool, dry weather cause nails to get extra brittle, but Dr. Stern says the extreme swings in temperature from going outdoors to indoors can cause additional damage. The shift from a heated home or office to the chilly open air can cause nail cells to contract and expand repetitively, resulting in a weakening between the cells, leading to breakage, she says. It’s smart to always wear gloves in the winter and, you guessed it, moisturize, moisturize, moisturize to protect both the skin of your hands and your nails.
3. Treat your nails like you treat your hair
It’s the new golden rule. Hair and nails are both composed of keratin proteins, so it makes sense that many of the same rules for treatment apply. Dr. Stern says both hair and nails can become dehydrated and damaged from over-processing. Frequent polish removal, gels, and acrylics do to nails what dyes, chemicals, and heat application do to hair. Just as hydration can help repair hair issues such as frizz and split ends, it can help improve dry and brittle nails. There’s no nail care equivalent to second-day hair, but operating as though there are hard and fast rules for how to wash, care for, and use your nails can help keep them in the same good shape as your hair.
4. Avoid contact with water
Don’t stop washing your hands or shower with gloves on, but do pay attention to ways you can reduce the time your nails spend in contact with water, because excessive water contact can weaken nail structure. (Wet hair is especially vulnerable, and the same caution-when-wet approach you take to handling wet locks can apply to nail care, too.) For example, consider wearing gloves while doing the dishes or other wet work.
You know how soft and bendy nails get after a long bath? Consider this: “The nail is like a sponge. It is 1,000 times more absorptive of water than the skin, for example, and so water can easily diffuse into the nail,” Dr. Stern says. Excessive water exposure can put significant strain on delicate nail cells (called onychocytes), which can lead to brittleness, peeling, and breakage, she says.
5. Moisturize your nails
Moisturizing is a well-known secret to healthy skin, but it’s often overlooked in nail care. While dry, brittle nails can be the result of many factors, they’re ultimately a cry for moisture, so consider proper moisture the foundation of your nail care routine. When applying hand lotion, give your nails a little extra attention. There are plenty of moisturizing nail products on the market, but applying moisturizer is really only half the battle—there’s more to strong nails than a fancy cream or serum.
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