Healthy, strong nails have a special power, whether you wear nail polish, don’t wear nail polish or do you like nude nail polish. Healthy nails (and even good nail care results) are one of the less obvious confidence boosters, like wearing nice underwear just for show or great socks under your shoes.
Whether your nail care is self-care, pampering, or just routine care, keeping your nails in top condition is a worthwhile investment. And here’s the good news: healthy nails take time, not money.
The best way to get stronger and longer nails is primarily through simple lifestyles, not expensive nail tools. Healthy nails also mean breaking some bad habits, like using your nails as a pocket knife. For useful and practical tips, we talked to experts about daily nail care dos and don’ts. Follow these steps and you’ll have stronger and longer nails before you know it.
How to strengthen nails
- Wet your nails
Moisture is a well-known secret to healthy skin, but it’s often overlooked when it comes to nail care. While dry and brittle nails can be caused by many factors, they are ultimately a cry for moisture, so remember that moisture is the foundation of your nail care routine. When applying hand cream, pay a little more attention to your nails. There are many nail moisturizers on the market, but applying the moisturizer is really only half the battle – there’s more to it than a strong nail cream or serum.
- Leave the excess skin alone
It’s common to cut excess skin, push it back, or try to get rid of it altogether, but excess skin is not the enemy. In fact, nails are the nail’s natural “seal,” says dermatologist and nail specialist Dana Stern, MD. Messing up your nails can do more harm than good – even if a nail technician does the work. Dr. Stern says damaged skin can leave nails at risk of infection.
Cosmetic dermatologist Michelle Green, MD, agrees that poorly cared for skin can have a domino effect. “When the outer layer becomes dry or damaged, it can damage the nail bed and affect the growth of your nails,” says Dr. Green. He recommends moisturizing the nails with cuticle cream or oil to protect and strengthen the nails.
- Avoid contact with water
Don’t stop washing your hands or showering with gloves, but pay attention to ways you can reduce the time your nails are in contact with water, as too much water contact can weaken the nail structure. (Wet hair is especially vulnerable, and the same wet care method you use for wet locks can also apply to your nails.) For example, consider wearing gloves when washing dishes or doing other wet work.
You know how your nails become soft and round after a long shower? Consider this: “The nail is like a sponge. It absorbs, for example, 1,000 times more water than the skin, so water can easily spread to the nail,” says Dr. Stern. Excessive exposure to water can put a lot of stress on sensitive nail cells (called cuticle cells), she says, which can lead to brittleness, peeling, and breakage.
This is why soaking your nails before a manicure is a bad practice. According to Dr. Green, this not only makes your nails more susceptible to infection, but also prevents the nail polish from sticking or staying as long.
- Be nice
The best nail care is gentle care, says Susan C. Taylor, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and color skin care specialist. First, Dr. Taylor recommends not digging too hard under the nails. “Sometimes people take the pointy end of a nail and dig under the nails to get the dirt out,” he says. “You don’t want to do that because it can separate the nail plate from the underlying bed, and you can get a bacterial-fungal infection.”
For similar reasons, you should resist the urge to use your fingernails as a backup—however handy they may be. (There are many more creative ways to open a soda can.) And if you enjoy acrylic or gel polish—which you should do in moderation—proper removal is important. “When you peel [acrylic or gel nails], you’re peeling off the layers of the nail, the nail plate, and that weakens your nail—so that’s not acceptable,” says Dr. Taylor.
- Treat your nails like your hair
This is the new golden rule. Both hair and nails are made up of keratin proteins, so it makes sense to apply many of the same rules of care. Dr. Stern says hair and nails can become dry and damaged from over-processing. Repeated removal of nail polishes, gels and acrylics affects the nails, as do dyes, chemicals and applying heat to the hair. Just as moisture can help fix hair problems like frizz and cracked nails, it can help heal