From the crown of our heads to our toenails, no part of the body is immune from the aging process. It’s easy to see gray hairs or fine lines; it’s another to catch subtle changes like weak, brittle nails.
Unfortunately, we’re most often alerted to this issue after suffering a painful nail split or break. Then, we’re stuck playing catch-up on the offense, trying to reverse a problem whose symptoms have already come and gone.
Professional manicures are a possible solution, but it’s a time-consuming and expensive commitment. It makes more sense—logically and financially—to stop the problem before it starts.
So, we reached out to several nail and nutrition specialists to figure out how to strengthen weak and brittle nails once and for all.
Addressing The Problem From The Inside Out
As we age, our nails’ growth slows, and breakage becomes more common. While it can be tempting to look for solutions from the outside-in, the experts suggest doing the exact opposite.
“Nails are made of keratin, which is the same material that the body uses to create hair and the top layer of skin,” Sally Moore, owner of The Happy Sage, explains. Paleo Diet Coach Heather Rayle adds that this brittleness is “caused by the [keratin] protein layers in the nail being insufficient to support nail health.”
There are several ways to replenish the nutrients needed for strong, healthy nails.
Adding More Protein To The Diet
“Make sure to eat sufficient protein,” Rayle says. “Ensure the diet includes foods or supplements with sufficient vitamins (B Vitamins, in particular). Red meat and spinach are good sources of these nutrients.”
When it comes to nail health, less is not usually more. “Nails are the last parts of our body to get nutrients,” functional nutritionist Christine Garvin explains. Amino acids from protein serve as the building blocks of our nails, “keeping them nice and strong” and preventing peeling, breaking, and cracking.
Alternatives To Protein
If you’re not a fan of or choose not to eat red meat, there are still ways to strengthen your nails. Rayle and Moore recommend collagen supplements as an alternative to extra protein for meat-eaters and vegetarians alike.
Despite how easy this solution is, Moore says it’s often overlooked. “Collagen is our most abundant bodily protein. However, we start to lose collagen slowly from our twenties. By the time we reach our fifties, we have lost up to a third of it.”
This lack of collagen causes “nails to lose their flexibility and flake or peel.” To combat this issue, Moore recommends taking “collage supplements in drink, gel, tablet, capsule, or powder form.”
Moore says it’s critical to make sure your collagen is hydrolyzed. This means “the collagen is broken down into microparticles and can easily be absorbed by the body. There are many collagen supplements available made mainly from bovine or marine sources. However, marine collagen is said to be best for nails.”
Don’t Skip The Vitamins
Collagen on its own can be helpful. But if you want guaranteed results, Moore suggests taking a Vitamin C supplement, too. “There is good evidence that Vitamin C can enhance the potency of a collagen supplement,” Moore says. “Make sure you take a high-quality, food state form of vitamin C.”
Additionally, Garvin recommends a B Vitamin Complex. This “helps pick up the slack of depleted B vitamins from stress, which every perimenopausal woman I work with deals with on a daily basis.”
However, none of these nutritional supplements matter if your body can’t absorb them. That’s why Garvin always looks at this critical bodily function when addressing her patients’ nail health.
Ensure Your GI Tract Is In Tip Top Shape
“If you don’t digest well, you aren’t absorbing nutrients well, and your nails will get the short end of the stick,” Garvin explains. Garvin checks her patients’ stomachs’ HCL levels and their pancreatic (digestive) enzyme outputs.
These factors make a “massive difference in nail strength after a couple of months,” Garvin says. It also helps “get rid of the ridges that indicate low stomach acid.”
Finally, Garvin suggests promoting healthy bacteria production in the GI tract to support the health of the gut lining. Effective nutritional supplements include glutamine, slippery elm, or aloe.
Improving Nails From The Outside In
The nutrients we put into our bodies certainly have noticeable effects on our nails. But it’s also important to consider how we treat the outside of our nails. No amount of spinach in the world will save your weak, brittle nails if you’re not helping the process from the outside.
More Massaging, Less Snipping
Dr. Jeffrey Hsu knows the importance of treating the outside of our nails well. He recommends making it a habit “to massage the proximal nail fold [or cuticle].”
You don’t need an arsenal of nail-specific products to utilize this technique. Hsu says any moisturizer, olive, or coconut oil will do. Moore adds that you should look for natural products that contain butters, oils, and waxes.
“Massage this into your nails twice a day,” Moore advises. “The wax helps protect the nails, and the oils and butters feed the nails, helping to prevent the nail layers from peeling. The actual massaging of the nails stimulates blood flow, helping nails grow quicker and stronger.”
Note that Moore and Dr. Hsu said to massage, not snip. “Do not push or cut cuticles!” Dr. Hsu warns. “It’s a horrible habit. The cuticles are there for a reason, serving as a barrier to protect nails. By ridding the nail barrier, you are weakening the nails.” (Sorry, Russian manicure—I knew you weren’t right for me.)
Using The Right Products
Nail strengthening products typically work better on the offense, not the defense. We’ll often use a product for as long as it takes for the symptoms to disappear, and then our motivation wanes. Sure enough, the problem rears its head not long after.
Therefore, it’s important to make this a part of your daily routine—noticeable nail problems or not. If you treat these products as preventative measures instead of reactive ones, then you will enjoy greater results.
Dr. Hsu told Suggest that he will sometimes prescribe his clients Genadur, a clinical, hydrosoluble nail lacquer. But he also recommends the ISDIN SI-NAILS nail strengthener as a comparable OTC alternative.
The ISDIN nail strengthener contains three heavy-hitter ingredients to promote nail health. Silanediol Salicylate promotes silicon, one of the predominant minerals in the nail. Additionally, Pistacia Lentiscus Gum promotes keratin, while hyaluronic acid locks in cuticle moisture.
After one month of use, consumers reported their nails were 100% smoother, 97% harder, and 93% less brittle. The product is easy to apply, too—just swipe it on like normal nail polish.
The Bliss Kiss Simply Pure Cuticle & Nail Oil Pen is a Suggest favorite. The low price tag might have been what reeled us in, but the jaw-dropping results are what kept us here. This small-but-mighty pen repairs peeling, brittle nails in just three days.
Moreover, it completely eliminates hangnails within five days and reduces the look of wrinkles. Years of smoking, exposure to the elements, and working with my hands left my nails looking parched and pruney. This oil pen softens and smooths all of that damage away.
The Simply Pure pen also helps prevent damage to nail polish, gel, and acrylic nail enhancements. Whether you prefer to go bare or rock a full manicure, this product will provide full protection.
To Sum It Up
Weak and brittle nails never seem like a major problem until they’re here. It’s easy to forget how often we use our nails (or how unpleasant hangnails are) until we’re forced to deal with them. Don’t wait for the problem to get worse; take steps to prevent it now.
There is no one-fix solution to weak and brittle nails. The only way to keep nails healthy is to utilize a combination of efforts. With a mix of proper nutritional health and the right products, you can enjoy the smoothest, shiniest, and strongest version of your nails.