Anyone that has ever tried to grow their nails will have discovered that it’s a lot more difficult than you might imagine. Nails, after all, have a nasty habit of flaking, splitting or breaking. All too soon, your dreams of perfectly manicured nails are replaced by the sad, tatty reality. But do you have to accept failure, or are things we can all do to keep our nails as strong and healthy as possible? As it turns out, there might just be…
Problems with Nail Growth & Health
The average fingernail grows at a rate of around three and a half millimetres per month. Depending on how long you want to grow your nails, you therefore may well achieve your goal within a matter of weeks. However the problem generally isn’t getting your nails to grow in the first place; it’s looking after them once they’ve grown.
When you consider that long, healthy nails are far more popular among women, the science can start to look rather depressing. For example, studies have shown that men’s nails actually grow quicker than those of women. Worse, men’s nails also tend to be biologically predetermined to be stronger than those of women too. Doctors have found that women’s skin (and their nails also) are thinner, meaning they also tend to be weaker and to snap more easily.
All the same, all is not lost, and scientists have discovered a number of handy hints for keeping your nails strong and healthy…
Experts have shown that water can damage your nails in two different ways. Firstly, when your nails get wet (such as when washing the dishes) they actually soften, making them more likely to bend and break.
Just as bad, however, when they dry out again afterward you’re still at risk. The evaporating water molecules have been shown to take with them some of the natural oils that keep your nails healthy. Regularly immersing your hands in water and then letting them dry out can therefore dehydrate your nails, encouraging them to flake or snap under conditions that they’d otherwise normally cope with.
The message here is that if you want strong, healthy nails then minimizing your exposure to water is an important step. We’re not, of course, advocating you forego your standard bathroom hygiene routine, but taking steps like wearing rubber gloves when cleaning your home can go a long way to preserving this all-important moisture.
Use Cosmetics Sparingly
A variety of popular cosmetics can pose a risk to your nails. Unsurprisingly, bearing in mind the previous point, detergents, soaps and alcohols can all serve to dry out your nails by robbing them of beneficial oils.
Perhaps rather more surprisingly, however, the use of nail varnish is a little more problematic. On the one hand, choosing the right nail varnish or gloss can offer structural support to your nails. At the same time nail varnish can offer an impermeable surface that can prevent damage from scratches and scrapes. On the other hand, nail varnish remover contains high levels of alcohol which can reverse some of your hard work.
Consequently, for the strongest and healthiest nails you might want to consider applying the same covering on a regular basis, painting over the last coat, rather than continually removing and reapplying it. Alternatively, try to find an alcohol-free nail polish remover.
As a final point, your nails will often benefit from highly concentrated moisturisers, just as your skin does. Some people opt to use an intensive night serum on their nails, applied before putting on cotton gloves to prevent any unnecessary drying out or smudging of moisturiser while you’re asleep.
Biotin is also known as vitamin B7. It has long been observed that horses suffering from hoof problems benefit from biotin supplements, and recently this same concept was tested in people. Women suffering from brittle nails were given a vitamin B7 supplement each day for a period of six months before having their nail strength assessed. The experts involved reported that these individuals experienced, on average, an increase in nail strength of 25%.
Other experiments have shown even more positive results. For example, 91% of patients given 2.5mg of biotin per day showed “definite improvement” in finger nail firmness and strength in one study. The experts concluded that “biotin… provides an effective therapy for human patients with brittle nails”.
Eat a Balanced Diet
The building blocks that your body uses to build strong nails all come from your diet. The main ingredient in the structure of your nails is protein, so make sure you’re consuming suitable sources such as lean meat, seafood and dairy products.
At the same time, however, a number of trace minerals are also known to play a crucial role. Of these, iron, zinc and calcium are considered to be the most important. Fortunately, these are all easily sourced from a healthy, balanced diet including fresh fruits and vegetables, seeds and nuts, and the aforementioned protein sources.
In other words, if you want the strongest, healthiest nails possible then now is the time to give up on the junk food and focus on the salad instead.
Avoid Wear & Tear
It’s no surprise that using your nails as a lever to open drinks cans and suchlike can expose them to danger, but in reality studies have shown that almost any kind of wear and tear can weaken your nails.
Worryingly, this even includes filing your nails, which can expose the inner surface of the nail, permitting it to dry out. While a degree of care is essential to keep your nails looking their best, try to avoid being someone who spends half their life gently shaping their nails with files, scissors and clippers. Instead, only shape your nails on occasion, and do so while bearing in mind the other tips included in this article (for example, don’t suddenly go outside and wash your car straight afterward).
It has long been suspected that the health of your nails is related to your health in a more general sense. However it’s not just nail health that is impacted; scientists have found that people suffering from infections actually experience slower growth of their nails. If you’re trying hard to grow your nails, therefore, don’t be disappointed if your nail growth slows while you recover from sickness. Soon enough, the growth rate should recover.
Drink Enough Water
Your nails are normally 18% water, which leads to optimal health. Sadly, this moisture content only has to drop to 16% before they start to become brittle. Making sure you stay hydrated by consuming the recommended 8-12 glasses of fluid each day can ensure your nails are getting the necessary moisture. Remember what while pure water may be best for the body, other sources including tea, coffee and fruit juice still count.
While many of us suffer with weak, brittle nails that easily chip or flake away this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. Now that you understand the key factors that affect the health of your nails you’re in the perfect position to take action. Eat a healthy diet, avoid wear and tear and consider how you’ll retain moisture and you’ll soon be on the road to your best nails ever.