How to Get Stronger Nails

Have a close look at your fingernails. Do they look pretty and perfect?

Or do you cringe each time you look at your finger nails because of the splits, the dents, the ridges, the unusual shape and the weird discoloration of your finger nails?

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Yes, imperfect nails can be almost beautified through a single salon visit but who has time for that and well, sometimes, covering imperfections with too many coats of nail polish may not be the best solution anyway.

But the good news is that many nail problems can be prevented and treated with proper nail care and a healthy lifestyle – because what doesn’t being healthy not fix? In some occasions, there might be an underlying issue causing the nail problem, in which case you may have to see a medical professional for a diagnosis and treatment.

When are fingernails normal?

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Your fingernails consist of layers and layers of keratin – a protein that you’ll find in your hair too. Fingernails are healthy when they are smooth without any splits, grooves or pits. There won’t be any white spots or discoloration and the color of your nails will be smooth and consistent. You’ll need to know the different parts to understand which parts you’re having problems with.

Sometimes you may notice vertical ridges running from your cuticles to your nail tip – I know I have. These ridges become more prominent as you age.

Physical injuries may lead to spots or white lines on your nail but they grow out along with your nail. These nail problems, although unpleasant, are normal but there are some issues that may be a cause for concern, such as:

  • Discoloration of the entire nail
  • A dark streak under your nail
  • Thickening or thinning of the nails
  • Changes in shape of the nails
  • Bleeding around your nails
  • Your nail separating from surrounding skin
  • Pain or swelling around nails

Make sure you see a doctor as soon as possible if you notice any of these changes taking place and seek appropriate treatment. Here are some common health problems you should not ignore.

Common causes of poor nail health

When we talk about nail health, we don’t only mean the nail itself. There’s a lot more to it, even though it may not seem as important as maybe your hair and skin. Your nails grow out from a tissue below the cuticle called the nail matrix. The nail matrix is responsible for healthy nail growth so all this buffing and shining and beautifying is not going to do you any good unless you take care of the nail matrix as well.

The following are the most common culprits of poor nail health. You’ll notice that external trauma is not always the cause of not-so-sexy looking nails.

1. Lack of iron in your diet

If you aren’t taking care of yourself internally, you can’t expect your body to give you the desired results from the outside.

In this case, not having enough iron in your diet can cause depressed or concave nails – resembling the inside of a spoon.

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Low iron levels or iron deficiency anemia occurs because your diet lacks iron. You need iron to form hemoglobin, the oxygen carrier in red blood cells. We all know what happens when your body isn’t supplying enough oxygen to the organs, tissues and cells in the body. These cells, tissues and organs stop functioning properly.

We can’t leave out your nail matrix as well. Insufficient oxygen being supplied to the nail matrix can lead to poor nail health and stunted nail growth.

If you notice any depressions in your nails, go to a doctor and get a blood test done to check your iron levels. You can rectify this by adding more iron to your diet through lean red meat, green leafy vegetables, and lentils and taking a supplement, if your doctor finds it necessary (more on this later).

I always believe that having whole foods is the best approach but sometimes whole foods aren’t enough. If your doctor recommends that you have a supplement while having iron-rich foods, then you should definitely do it.

2. You don’t moisturize enough

Here’s the deal. If you moisturize in the morning every day then yay you but that’s not going to save your hands. If you wash your hands more than once a day, which I hope you do, you have to reapply lotion more than once as well because the moisturizer gets washed off.

Water dries the skin, including the skin below your cuticles. This causes the nail matrix to dry as well, making the nails susceptible to breakage, cracking and splitting.

The only solution for this is that you drink plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated throughout the day and moisturize your hands regularly. Drinking more water hydrates the skin and improves bodily functions, whereas moisturizer will keep the skin and nail matrix soft and well nourished.

Make sure you use a fast absorbing, moisturizing lotion for your hands. You don’t have to use hand cream specifically but The Body Shop Hemp Hand Protector is amazing for people with dry hands. A less expensive option would be to use a full body lotion such as St. Ives Naturally Soothing Oatmeal & Shea Butter Body Lotion, I absolutely love this lotion because it smells heavenly and it keeps my skin moisturized all day, without leaving my skin greasy. Of course, I have to reapply lotion each time I wash my hands. I keep a bottle of lotion near my sink to make sure I apply it to my hands every time I wash them. My hands used to get super dry during cold and dry weathers but I don’t suffer from this issue anymore.

Make sure you pay special attention to the region above your nail matrix all the way down to your knuckles. Apply moisturizer thoroughly and religiously. You can also try natural moisturizers such as coconut oil, almond oil or olive oil. Use these as carrier oils for any essential oil of your choice. My personal favorite is coconut oil but when it comes to oils, I only apply a very tiny amount to avoid greasiness. I’m a little more generous while oiling before going to bed.

3. Your nail polish habits are all wrong

The number one mistake we all make with nail polish is that we leave it on for too long. As you may have already guessed, nail polishes consist of a lot of chemicals and among those chemicals; there are many that have a drying effect on your nails. This withdraws the moisture from your nails because well, the nail polish has to dry once it’s on your nails. Therefore, it contains many drying ingredients that do the duty.

Some of the most common harmful ingredients in nail polishes include formaldehyde, DBP and toluene.

Your best bet would be to give yourself a few days off nail polish every week. You can have them on for 5 days but remove them afterwards and besides, most nail polishes chip of after one or two days anyway so you need to apply a fresh coat. Allow your nails to rest for two days every week before applying nail polish.

The second mistake we all make is that we apply a base coat before applying a nail polish.

As the name implies, a base coats needs to be applied as a base to protect your nail or whatever mumbo jumbo they tell you about base coat application but the opposite is true. Base coat application can dry your nails and cause further damage. Therefore, instead of applying a base coat, apply moisturizer on your nails and the skin surrounding it. The lotion will moisturize your nail bed and the gaps surrounding it, thus hydrating the areas it touches and preventing further damage from occurring. Remove any excess and apply your normal nail polish. This will prevent your nails from getting weaker and more prone to breakage.

And here’s the most common mistake we all make: We don’t choose the right nail polish remover.

I’ve done it, I’m sure you have too. Chances are that you still are because you don’t know that there is a thing such as a bad nail polish remover – that’s okay, I didn’t either.

Let’s face it, using nail polish remover isn’t the best thing you can do to your nails but you don’t really have a choice. Most traditional nail polish removers consist of acetone, a chemical that strips the moisture and natural oils from your nails while removing the nail polish.

Frequent use of nail polish remover can result in weak and brittle nails. Furthermore, non-acetone based removers are also bad for the nails and can be super drying too.

The solution: look for non-acetone soy based removers which contain natural oils or moisturizers that hydrate the nails instead of drying them.

4. You just can’t stop texting

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Here’s an assignment for you. Check how many hours you spend typing on your keyboard and texting in one day. If it’s a lot, I’m not going to go on about how you should be spending your time smelling the roses but I’m going to stick to the subject at hand and tell you that you’re wrecking your nails by typing and texting all day.

Your nails are constantly in contact with the keyboard or phone screen. Your nails are going to break, split and have rough edges with time because of this.

Fortunately, there is a way to continue typing and texting and still save your nails. Trim and file your nails short so there’s just a tiny bit of that white tip on your finger nails. This will allow you to type with the pads of your fingers and hence, save your finger nails.

5. Your diet lacks B vitamins

B vitamins are awesome. Period. B vitamins, particularly biotin, are required for healthy hair, skin and nails. Most beauty products consist of biotin for a reason. Taking 2.5 mg of biotin daily can drastically improve nail health and reduce brittleness in just six to nine months.

Biotin deficiency is very rare but if you notice that your nails are peeling, breaking or splitting, increasing the amount of B vitamins in your diet may be a great idea. Taking a supplement along with making the necessary diet modifications will give you optimum results.

6. You aren’t leaving your cuticles alone

If you’re like me, you probably didn’t even know that you have to cut your cuticles during a manicure. I discovered that while getting my first salon manicure, it was a day of discoveries for me.

However, did you know that massacring your cuticles isn’t a good idea at all. I once pulled out a cuticle and ended up getting an infection in that area. Painful, purple, swollen and puss-filled – enough said.

Moreover, cuticles act as a protective shield between your nails and skin, protecting your nails from bacteria, water or anything harmful you are likely to touch. When you cut your cuticles, you cut away the protective shield.

The solution: Do not cut your cuticles, ever. Just push them back gently after you shower with a warm washcloth. Moisturize and you’re done.

What You Can Do to Protect Your Nails

There are ways to reduce abuse and damage and improve your nail health in no time. Here’s how:

1. Moisturize!

Like I said before, if you don’t moisturize your nails and cuticles, nails problems such as dry skin and hanging nails can occur and later lead to even bigger problems, some of which include nail peeling, cuticle picking and ultimately infections (trust me you don’t want to go there).

Avoid cutting your cuticles all all costs. Cuticle picking and cutting can be painful and may open the gates for the bacteria to enter your nails.

Instead of cutting your cuticles, moisturize your fingers especially focusing on the nails and cuticles with a hand cream, cuticle oil or any oil of your choice or a lotion and then push them back gently.

2. Drink plenty of water

Water is good for everything, including gorgeous hair, skin, nails and anything else you can think of.  So drink more.

If you don’t have a habit of drinking sufficient water every day, put up a calendar on your wall and starting from today, work on increasing one glass of water every day. Make sure you mark this on your calendar too. You can also download an app that reminds you to drink water, such as Water Your Body or Daily Water.
I’m not going to tell you a specific amount of water you should be drinking but I will only tell you to drink more. If you’re drinking 5 glasses, have 8, if you’re having 8, have 10. Drink whenever you’re thirsty and keep a bottle of water with you handy. And always… always make sure you have a bottle (or two!) with you at the gym or while you’re working out.

Not having regular sips of water during your exercise is a HUGE crime.

Your body gets dehydrated and begins to withdraw fluids from your liver and kidneys, causing post-exercise bloating, among other problems.

Focus on increasing your water intake by having fruits and vegetables such as grapefruit, oranges, watermelons, star fruits and cucumbers. Not only are they full of water, they are super filling and low in calories.

Bonus tip: Drink a tall warm glass of lemon infused water every day right after you wake up in the morning. This is amazing because it cleanses your body after a 5-8 hour period of starvation during sleep, it hydrates you beautifully and it’s good for skin and nails because of the vitamin C kick. Just squeeze half a lemon in a glass of water and drink up! You can also have lemon water throughout the day instead of normal water. Strawberries, cucumbers, oranges, grapefruit, ginger or mint can be added too. I love  ginger, lime & mint flavored water!

3. BUT keep your nails away from water as much as possible

Your body loves water but exposing your skin and nails to water too much can be harmful too. Soaking your nails in water for way too long can cause them to soften and thus, increase their chances of breakage. It’s not good for the skin too because it causes drying so take a bath only once or twice a day and avoid hot water. Hot water is b-a-d for hair, skin and nails.

I usually wear a pair of gloves while doing household chores that involve water, such as washing the dishes, the bathroom and my underwear.

Exposing your nails to detergents is also a bad idea as they weaken your nails so this is another reason why you should wear gloves while performing household chores.

Here’s the golden rule: Drink but don’t soak!

4. An oil soak is fine though

If you really want to pamper your nails, instead of investing in an hour long salon manicure session, give your nails the TLC they deserve by soaking them in oil. Olive oil and coconut oil are amazing for nail health as they provide hydration, prevent drying and enhance nail strength. Other oils that can be added to a soak include vitamin E oil, almond oil, argan oil, castor oil and tea tree oil. You can come up with a combination which best suits your nails or just use whatever you have in your pantry – that’s what I do.

Soak your nails in a bowl with just a little bit of oil for 10 minutes. You can even massage the oil into your finger nails instead of soaking them.

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Bonus tip: Wear gloves after soaking your nails before going to bed. This really softens your fingers. You can do the same for your feet and toe nails too.

5. Keep your nails short and curved

If your nails are long and prone to breakage, your best bet would be to cut them a little short. I understand that what’s sexy when it comes to nail length varies amongst individuals so some of you may not like short but keeping them short until you restore their health will ensure you don’t end up having completely broken nails.

Trust me, I’ve been there.

I used to have long beautiful nails but there would usually be at least one nail that would have been completely broken. My manicurist actually told me that my nails looked ugly and she painted them to hide the… well, ugliness. Plus I’m not a huge nail polish person. I was meeting my long distance boyfriend for the first time that day too but he doesn’t care about nails (hopefully!).

However, even though long straight nails look sexy, if your nails are prone to breakage, you should 1. Cut your nails short and curvy 2. Improve your diet and practice proper nail care habits.

Cutting the nails curvy reduces chances of nail splitting and peeling which is usually caused by too much typing or kitchen work (I usually end up destroying mine while chopping up vegetables for a salad). Curved nails provide a friendlier surface for your daily nail-contact chores plus they look good too – have a look at this one. Furthermore, you’ll be keeping them short so that reduces chances of breakage as well.

Do this until there is noticeable strength in your nails due to improvements you make in your diet and lifestyle.

Another advantage of keeping short curvy nails is that you get to hold on to a little bit of length, which would be otherwise completely peeled off if your nail broke for any reason.

Bonus tip: Never file your nails back and forth, this causes nail splitting and peeling. File in one direction only.

6. Your nails aren’t tools

Avoid using nails for even the simplest of tasks such as scratching off a price tag or scratching your skin (which is bad for the skin as well), opening a soda can or unlocking a door by using your nail as a key – no, this doesn’t work anyway.

Using your nail as a tool for any purpose can put pressure on the tip, which is the weakest part of the nail and increase its susceptibility to break.

7. Work on your diet

Improving your diet can not only beautify your nails, but improve hair and skin health too. You are what you eat, so have beautiful foods that make you beautiful and avoid processed junk and packaged products. Have foods that are closest to Mother Nature.

The Following are nutrients that are amazing for nail health: 

  • Protein – Your nails are made of keratin, which is a protein so have more protein to enhance nail strength. Focus on getting maximum protein from lean meats, poultry, eggs, kidney beans, leafy vegetables, quinoa, tofu etc.
    Biotin – 
    Biotin is a B vitamin that’s found in many cosmetic products for a reason. It promotes healthy cell growth and aids in metabolizing of amino acids that build protein, which in turn helps nail grow faster and stronger. Yes, taking biotin supplements is the easiest approach but you can add biotin in your diet through whole foods such as salmon, eggs, leafy greens such as Swiss chard and whole grains.
  • Iron – Insufficient iron in your diet can result in curved, thin nails that are prone to breakage and splitting. These are common signs of iron deficiency anemia. You can add more iron in your diet by consuming more lean meat, shellfish, leafy greens, lentils and whole grains.

One of the best ways of adding more iron in your diet is having green smoothies for obvious reasons. They are filling, nutritious and iron-rich. They don’t have to taste terrible, just add a banana or a handful of berries and your smoothie will taste great. If you find smoothies too filling, which I do too sometimes, have a green juice. Juice your leafy greens and mix in some fresh apple juice and orange or lemon juice to eliminate the earthy flavor.
I’m not into the whole kale-craze. That was a huge fad in 2014. Even though kale shakes are good for health, they are in no way a replacement for a true, real diet consisting of whole, nutritious foods. And FYI there’s more to life than kale, such as spinach, Swiss chard, celery, cucumbers, parsley, mint and citrus juices.

8. Zinc

Not having enough zinc in your diet is probably a major reason why your nails are not strong enough. Those white spots you see on your nails are also a cause of lack of zinc.

Some amazing sources of zinc include oysters, beef and lamb, nuts and seeds and oatmeal.

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