Eight Ways To Take Care Of Your Nails
There is a special power in having healthy, strong nails, whether you use nail color, don’t use nail polish, or prefer nude nail color. Well-being nails (or even the result of good cuticle care) are one of those not-so-obvious confidence boosters, like wearing a nice pair of underwear just because or spending money on nice socks to wear under your boots.
Whether your nail care is a form of self-care, a treat, or just a daily regimen, keeping your nails in tip-top shape is a worthwhile investment. The good news is that healthy nails require an investment of time, not money.
The best way to get stronger, longer nails is mainly through simple lifestyle habits, not expensive nail tools. But getting healthy nails also means changing bad habits, such as using your nails as built-in pocket knives. For workable, useful nail tips, we discussed with experts the dos and don’ts of daily nail care. Follow these steps and you’ll have stronger, longer nails without even realizing it.
How to strengthen your nails
- Nourish your nails
Moisturizing is a well-known secret for healthy skin, but it is often ignored in nail care. While dry, brittle nails can be the result of a number of factors, they ultimately need moisture, so think about proper hydration as the foundation of your nail care routine. When applying hand cream, pay more attention to your nails. There are many moisturizing nail products on the market, but using a moisturizer is practically only half the battle – strong nails are more important than a delicate cream or essence.
- Leave your cuticles alone
Cutting, pushing back or trying to remove cuticles completely is common practice, but cuticles are not the enemy. In fact, according to board-certified dermatologist and nail specialist Dana Stern, M.D., the cuticle is “the natural maintenance seal of the nail. Messing with your cuticles can do more harm than good – even if the nail technician is a handyman. Dr. Stern says damaged cuticles can leave nails weak and at risk for infection.
Michele Green, M.D., a cosmetic dermatologist, agrees that poorly cared for cuticles can have a domino effect. “When your cuticles get dry or injured, it hurts the nail bed and affects the way the nail grows,” Dr. Green says. She advocates nourishing the cuticle with a cream or cuticle oil to help maintain and strengthen nails.
- Prevent contact with water
Don’t discontinue washing your hands or showering with gloves on, but keep an eye out for ways to reduce the amount of time your nails are in contact with water, as too much water contact can weaken the nail structure. (Wet hair is particularly susceptible to damage, and the same wet hair approach you take when disposing of wet hair applies to nail care.) For example, think about wearing gloves when washing dishes or other wet activities.
Did you know that nails get soft and bent after a long bath? Think about it: “A nail is like a sponge. For example, it absorbs 1,000 times more water than the skin, so water spreads easily into the nail,” says Dr. Stern. Too much water exposure can put a lot of stress on the delicate nail cells (called nail cells), which can cause brittleness, peeling and breakage, she says.
That’s why it’s bad practice to soak your nails before a manicure. According to Dr. Green, this not only makes your nails more susceptible to infection, but it also doesn’t allow nail polish to adhere or last very long.
- Be gentle
According to Susan C. Taylor, a board-certified dermatologist and colored skin treatment specialist, the best nail care is gentle care. First and foremost, Dr. Taylor advocates not invasively excavating your nails. “Sometimes people will take the tip of a nail file and dig underneath their nails to get dirt,” she says. “You don’t want to do that because it can separate the nail plate from the bed underneath, and then you can get a bacterial fungal infection.”
For similar reasons, you should resist the excitement of using your nails as an alternative tool – no matter how convenient it is. (There are many other inventive ways to turn over a can of soda.) If you’re indulging in an acrylic or gel manicure – which you should do sparingly – proper removal is important. “When you peel off [acrylic or gel nails], you’re actually peeling off the nail layer, the nail plate, which can weaken your nails – so that’s a taboo,” says Dr. Taylor.
- Look at nails like hair
This is the new golden rule. Both hair and nails are made up of keratin, so it makes sense that many of the same treatment rules apply. Both hair and nails can become dehydrated and damaged by over-processing, says Dr. Stern. Frequent removal of polishes, gels and acrylics does to the nails what dyes, chemicals and heat do to the hair. Just as hydration can assist in fixing problems like frizzy hair and split ends, it can also assist in improving dull and brittle nails. There is no nail care equivalent to second day hair, but operates as if there are hard and fast rules about how to clean, care for and apply nails that can assist them to hold on to the same good shape as hair.
It’s worth repeating over and over again: the water concordance is the root. “Just like you condition your hair with a leave-in or volumizing conditioner never, I condition your cuticles to promote healthy, growing nails,” says Dr. Green.
- Look at the weather
Winter can be a difficult time for skin, hair and nails. Not only does cool, dry weather cause nails to become especially brittle, but Dr. Stern says the extreme swings in temperature from outside to inside can create additional damage. She says moving from a warm home or office to the cold open air can cause nail cells to repeatedly contract and expand, inviting a weakening between cells that can lead to breakage. It’s smart to always wear gloves in the winter to, you guessed it, moisturize, moisturize, moisturize to preserve the skin of your hands and nails.
- Reconsider your products
Nail files: Instead of those old-fashioned emery boards that Dr. Stern says “form tiny tears in the nail, inviting unity and flaking,” opt for glass or crystal nail files.
Nail Polish Remover: In the best case scenario, you would prevent the use of nail polish remover altogether. But since most of us don’t give up the pleasure of a complete manicure, it’s best to switch to a non-acetone remover that contains moisturizing oils and ingredients.
Nail brushes: Instead of digging under your nails with tools like files, which Dr. Taylor warns against, use a gentle nail brush to purge dirt. Or, for a resourceful alternative plan, employ the extra toothbrush you have lying around.
Nail growth products: Keep transmitting those. “Many of the so-called nail care or nail growth products on the market are actually clear nail polish containing marketing additives that have no scientific validity,” says Dr. Stern.
- Be patient with nail growth
If you’re a long-time nail biter, you know that eventually growing your nails out of your fingertips will be successful. Well-being habits plus patience pay off in nail care. But the main focus should be on figuring out how to enhance your nails, not dealing with the puzzle of how to grow them fast. If you stop taking good care of your nails, stronger nails will result in longer nails, but it all takes time. If you struggle with brittle nails and occasional breakage, it’s wise to keep your nails short until they regain their strength; then they will have the foundation they need to grow.