10 Expert-Approved Tricks to Make Damaged Nails Healthy Again

They say your nails are one of the things people notice on first impression – which isn’t good news for those of us who struggle to keep our peeling nails in good health. It’s kind of hard to keep things perfectly groomed when our nails tear and polish gritty right after they dry. Not only that, when a brittle nail breaks, it can be quite painful.

If dry, brittle, cracked or peeling nails are bothering you, there are things you can do to restore them to good health. According to our favorite beauty experts, these home remedies that include good old-fashioned TLC and some dietary tweaks could be your ticket to better nails. You just could you never have to visit a salon again (just kidding).

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1. Drink water

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Image: Maaike Bernstrom/Stanley.

Image: Maaike Bernstrom/Stanley.

Just as water is important to your overall health, so are your nails. Drinking water can help hydrate dry, damaged nails just as it does for hair and skin. Having a water bottle on hand can help you get your daily recommended intake. It holds 40 ounces of water and is your go-to for all-day, frozen hydration.

2. Use a skin cream like it’s your own Work

A soothing cuticle cream like Burt’s Bees Lemon Butter Cuticle Creme helps nourish dry cuticles and brittle, damaged nails with vitamin E. Massage the cream into and around your nails every night before bed. But if you’re looking for a less messy alternative, try Bouter London’s Melt Away Cuticle Exfoliator. This brush treatment only takes two minutes to remove dry cuticles.

Courtesy of Butter LONDON.  - Credit: Image: butter LONDON.

Courtesy of Butter LONDON. – Credit: Image: butter LONDON.

Image: butter LONDON.

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Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, founder and director of Capital Laser & Skin Care and Assistant Clinical Professor, Department of Dermatology at George Washington University Medical Center, advises, “Cuticles can become dry from repeated hand washing and manicures, so unless extra protection with a nourishing cuticle cream, they will crack and tear, increasing the risk of nail infection.”

3. Don’t overuse your nails

Your fingernails are not meant to be tools for opening soda cans. Instead, use a pen or other object instead of your fingernails to do these everyday tasks.

4. Wear gloves for work

When washing dishes, cleaning and gardening, wear gloves. Detergents and cleaners are harsh on your nails, causing them to dry out, chip, and peel. Soil and gardening can also damage your nails.

Image: DABOGOSA.  - Credit: Courtesy of DABOGOSA.

Image: DABOGOSA. – Credit: Courtesy of DABOGOSA.

Courtesy of DABOGOSA.

Buy: Rubber Household Dishwasher Cleaning Gloves $8.99

As Dr. Tanzi pointed out, the best way to take care of your hands and nails is to avoid drying them out. “Frequent hand washing with antibacterial soap is too harsh,” she says. “I recommend washing with a gentle cleanser, which will disinfect just as well as harsh products, and a good moisturizer afterwards to lock in hydration. At night, a thicker hand moisturizer with a rich cuticle cream will keep hands/nails looking great.”

5. Eat foods rich in biotin

Make sure your diet includes foods rich in biotin, such as liver, cooked eggs, whole grains, cauliflower, and avocado, among others. In addition to other health benefits, biotin can help strengthen and thicken nails. You can also take a biotin supplement if necessary.

6. Soak the nails in olive oil

For weak, thin nails, soak them in extra virgin olive oil for 10-15 minutes a day for a month and then twice a week. This inexpensive home beauty treatment will help strengthen damaged, weak or peeling nails.

“Applying vegetable oil helps relieve dry and cracked toenails,” confirms Dr. Wenjay Sung, a board-certified podiatrist in Los Angeles. “Unlike creams, oils do a better job of soaking into the nail bed and moisturizing the structural nail bed for longer than creams and gels.”

7. Remove nail polish

Don’t use nail polish more than once or twice a month if possible. And never use nail polish that contains acetone, which can dry out and damage nails. Try Josie Maran’s Bear Naked Nail Wipes.

Image: Josie Maran.

Image: Josie Maran.

Buy: Josie Maran Bear Naked Wipes $12

If your nails have seen better days, a break from nail polish can help support healing. Dr. Sung advises, “For repairing damaged nails, sunlight is sometimes the best answer. Excessive use of nail polish prevents vital sunlight from reaching the nail bed and can prevent the nails from fully healing and regenerating cells. Sunlight is vital for our skin but also for our hair and nails.”

8. Find a miracle cure

Sally Hansen’s miracle treatment for seriously damaged nails works wonders. It stops peeling nails almost overnight. This mineral-rich formula with proteins and antioxidants helps repair dry, cracked, damaged nails. A clear nail polish can also help protect the nails.

Image: Sally Hansen.  - Credit: Courtesy of Sally Hansen.

Image: Sally Hansen. – Credit: Courtesy of Sally Hansen.

Courtesy of Sally Hansen.

Buy: Sally Hansen Miracle Cure for Serious Nail Problems, 2-pack $13.94

“To prevent dry, damaged nails, you’ll want to follow two basic nail care steps,” says Holly L. Schippers, CND Education Ambassador and Empower Nail Art Instructor at FingerNailFixer. “Keep them covered and protected with your favorite nail polish, even if it’s a simple, thin coat of clear polish. Second, moisturize them with a high-quality oil that contains jojoba or squalene, ingredients that allow the oil to penetrate the cuticle and surface of the nail so that the oil can lubricate individual nail cells — improving flexibility and making the nail less susceptible to damage from water and other chemicals. My favorite is CND Solar Oil.”

9. Massage your nails

Massaging your nails stimulates blood flow to the area, helping them grow longer and stronger. Use a moisturizing lotion and massage your hands, cuticles and nails themselves. And as Dr. Tanzi recommended, get into the habit of applying lotion right after washing your hands.

10. Take a multivitamin daily

Vitamins are a key component of your overall well-being and can also help support your nails. So, along with a multivitamin, you might consider a biotin-rich supplement like those from Nature’s Bounty.

Image: Natures' Bounty.  - Credit: Courtesy of Nature's Bounty.

Image: Natures’ Bounty. – Credit: Courtesy of Nature’s Bounty.

Courtesy of Nature’s Bounty.

Buy: Nature’s Bounty Hair, Skin and Nails Gummies $15.53

With nutrients like vitamin C for collagen production and vitamin E for overall skin health, these delicious gummies may help you get the strong, healthy nails you’ve always wanted.

Even when you’ve reached the point of no return—where your nails are a hot, hot mess—there may still be a light at the end of the tunnel. For very severe nail damage, time is what you need, and a lot of it. Schipper estimates that when you follow the steps above, it can take anywhere from 3 to 6 months for completely new, healthy nails to grow. If you’re desperate and need a quicker fix, Schipper recommends a product like CND Rescue RXx, which she says will deposit keratin on the surface and improve the condition of the nails in about 4 weeks.

This article was originally published in September 2008.

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