12 Everyday Habits That Are Wrecking Your Hair and Nails

Updated: Nov. 23, 2020

Experts offer solutions to habits that actually can hurt the health of your hair and nails, from eating the wrong foods to sun exposure.

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Everyday habits that may ruin hair and nails

When it comes to hair and nail care, you probably do your best to keep both as clean and healthy as possible. But now that you can’t really get to those hair and nail appointments, you need to make extra effort to maintain your hair’s luster and nail quality. That’s why you’ll want to avoid these everyday habits to better preserve your hair and nail health.

Healthy food clean eating selection in wooden box: fruit, vegetable, seeds, superfood, cereals, leaf vegetable on gray concrete background
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Eating the wrong foods

“Your diet provides the building blocks for the proper functioning of your body and when you don’t give it the proper nutrients, it means that your hair and nails won’t grow or be able to protect themselves the way that they should,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research and assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai in New York City. For example, iron deficiency can lead to hair thinning, he says. Add these foods to your diet for healthy and gorgeous hair and nails.

Smiling woman holding a hair dryer, looking at mirror on her blowing hair
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Styling hair too frequently with hot tools

While blow dryers and styling irons are used in the name of better hair, turns out heat styling can wreck strands, says Liana Zingarino, a hairstylist at Serge Normant at John Frieda Salon in New York City. “Hot tools can both dry out strands and cause breakage—blow dryers are particularly hard on the hairline, while both flatirons and curling irons can thin out the ends.” She suggests using a heat protectant on strands before styling, such as IGK Call Time Styling Primer, and keeping your dryer on the lowest temperature setting.

The man is washing his hair, he use shampoo.

Lathering up with astringent soaps and cleansers

“Some harsh soaps have an alkaline pH that disrupts the outer layer of your skin and nails,” says Dr. Zeichner. Opt for gentle cleansers instead; he likes Neutrogena Ultra Gentle Daily Face Cleanser. When you’re selecting a shampoo, watch out for ones that contain sulfates, which can strip hair of its natural oils, says Zingarino. “They can cause fading and brassiness in color-treated hair as well.” Zingarino notes there are plenty of sulfate-free formulas available on shelves now that will help your locks stay healthy and lustrous. One to try is the Pai-Shau line of tea-infused hair care products.

Hotel swimming pool with stair.
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Swimming in chlorinated water

Pools may be out of the question right now, but you should know they can be tough on your locks: “Chlorine can not only change the color of your hair, particularly if its blonde, but it also can be very drying for the hair,” says Zingarino. “To help combat the effects, apply a hair mask or leave-in conditioner prior to swimming. It will put a barrier between your hair and the chemicals, while also moisturizing and protecting it from the drying effects of the pool and sun.”

Hand in protective glove cleaning a stove

Cleaning the house

Whenever you’re tidying up any room in your home, make sure to protect your hands and nails. “Household cleaners dry out your nails and cause them to become brittle and break easily,” says Shelly Hill, a manicurist based in both Los Angeles and Denver. “Prevent any nail damage by wearing gloves, your number one line of defense—if you’re wearing polish, they will help keep it from chipping.” Here are some simple ways to strengthen your nails.

Sporty fitness woman lacing ponytail and getting ready for urban workout or running. Back view of fit female athlete against black background
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Regularly wearing updos and ponytails

“Consistently putting your hair in an updo or ponytail can cause breakage,” says Zingarino. If you must sport a ponytail when you exercise, try a scrunchy made of a softer material, which will minimize breakage,” says Zingarino. Silk scrunchies, such as the ones from Slip, will help prevent dents and breakage as well.

Woman with a comb in her hand on dressing room.

Brushing wet hair

Step away from the hairbrush when you step out of the shower. The tight pull of a brush, regardless of bristle type, can overstretch the already weak and elastic hair strands and cause breakage. To minimize damage, brush your hair when it’s dry, before you even step foot in the shower, then give it a quick comb through after washing with a Wet Brush, which is specifically designed to minimize breakage to soaked strands.

Garden gloves in plant pot
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Although giving your backyard garden some tender TLC may seem like a good thing for your health—and it is—your horticulture habit can wreak havoc on your nails. In addition to exposing your hands and nails (and the rest of your body) to potential sun damage, you can get a fungus from the soil, says Hill. Wear a sturdy pair of gardening gloves when tending to your garden.

Young woman washing her long hair under the shower standing with her back to the camera rinsing it off under the jet of water with her head partially turned to the side, over grey mosaic tiles

Overwashing hair

“Over-shampooing can actually dry out the hair shaft and disrupt the outer layer, or cuticle, of the hair, while contact between shampoo and the scalp can lead to irritation of the skin on the scalp,” Dr. Zeichner says. It is OK to shampoo the hair daily if it gets greasy or oily, otherwise, hold off and shampoo every few days. Be sure to avoid these other haircare mistakes.

Woman hand finger tapping

Tapping your fingers

“Tapping your hands, a nervous habit, can wear down and weaken the nail, so too can all the typing on our phones that we’re doing,” Hill says. If you can’t break the habit of drumming your nail and don’t want to cut back on social media, try a nail-hardening clear topcoat, she suggests.

Woman lying on the beach. Legs.
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Too much sun exposure

Just as the sun can lead to skin damage, it also can lead to nail damage as well, warns Hill. Chronic exposure to ultraviolet light can cause dryness and brittleness of the nails. Slather on a hand cream with SPF daily to prevent damage. The same goes for your hair, which is made of the same proteins as skin; look for a heat protectant, serum, or conditioning spray that contains UV protection. Eat these foods for prettier nails.

hand cut nails by using nail clipper
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Clipping your own cuticles

Although you may think those extra pieces of skin don’t look good, it’s not wise to try and clip them at home—or at all, for that matter. “The skin around the nail bed actually exists to protect the nail,” says Dr. Zeichner. “If you are not a salon type, then you only need to gently push back your cuticle after you have taken a shower/bath using your own nail or cuticle pusher,” adds Hill. “The cuticle is a protectant from germs and bacteria and acts as a barrier, so if cut it will naturally grow back harder and thicker.” Follow these tips for strong and healthy nails.