9 Easy Ways to Grow Strong, Beautiful Nails

Updated: Jun. 29, 2022

Say goodbye to weak and brittle nails with these easy techniques that anyone can nail. (See what we did there?)

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Keep them out of the water

When it comes to how to strengthen nails, Samer Jaber, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, says to “avoid excessive water exposure, as it can soften your nails.” With overhydration, our nail beds expand as water is absorbed, then contract as the moisture evaporates, leaving them noticeably flimsy and prone to peeling. To keep your nails from getting soft, always wear rubber gloves when you wash dishes, and minimize time spent in hot showers and swimming pools. Aside from keeping them dry, these 14 tips will keep your nails healthy and beautiful.

woman filling nails
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File right

How you file your nails can make or break them—literally. “Filing in one direction, lifting the file each time on the return stroke is the best method to prevent damage or breakage,” says Jin Soon Choi, founder of Jin Soon Hand and Foot Spa in New York City. “The most important thing is to choose the right grade file,” she explains. “If you use a very high grain file, it’s going to cause breakage, but if you use a fine grade file (like 400 to 600 grit) and do not file aggressively, you can file in a back and forth motion.”

chemical nail polish different colors options
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Keep them chemical-free

Warning: You’re not going to like what you’re about to read. Many of your favorite nail polishes, acrylics, and nail polish removers are full of harsh chemicals that cause nail brittleness, dryness, and thinning. So, how to strengthen nails? It’s wise to avoid gel polishes, acrylic nail glue, acetone soaks, and acetone nail polish remover at all costs. “Avoid chemical irritants, as your nails can be damaged from chemical exposures,” says Dr. Jaber. If you can’t resist having your nails painted, stick to non-toxic nail polish, like from Zoya, JinSOON, and LONDONTOWN (which is actually vegan, gluten-free, and cruelty-free), and acetone-free removers that won’t strip your nails and skin of their natural oils. Find out other secrets your manicurist won’t tell you.

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Pamper your cuticles

Though your manicurist may say otherwise, there is actually no reason to cut your cuticles, according to Choi. In fact, your cuticles are part of your skin and serve the important purpose of acting as your nail’s protective barrier. “When you cut the cuticle, it may look great, but it’s going to peel off two or three days later,” she warns. Further, cutting your cuticles may lead to infection, ridges, white lines, and other nail problems. If you don’t like the look of your cuticles, Choi advises gently pushing back the cuticle edge and only snipping hangnails. To keep them healthy, make sure to always moisturize your cuticles with a nourishing oil like L’Occitane Nourishing Nail & Cuticle Oil.

Female hands applying light pink nail polish on wooden table with nail set. Manicure nail paint pink color.
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Give the polish a rest

Many of us are guilty of trying to making our nail polish last as long as possible, says Choi. We hope to extend the life of our color with constant touch-ups, then when the chips become too noticeable to bear, we head straight to a salon for a fresh coat. This all makes sense for cosmetic purposes, but having nail polish on your nails for too long greatly damages their strength and overall health, warns Dr. Jaber. Even the safest nail polishes can leave your nails brittle, thin, and dry if left on for too long. Instead, fully remove your nail polish after five days and allow them the same amount of time to recover before getting them re-painted. Leaving polish on too long is just one of the surprising ways you could be ruining your nails.

Grilled chicken and fresh vegetable salad on a light background, top view.
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Stick to a healthy diet

One of the keys for how to strengthen nails is maintaining a healthy diet. Foods like blueberries that are full of antioxidants help protect your body’s cells from free radical damage, while leafy greens provide the iron you need for nail strength. Magnesium-rich almonds are great for smoothing your nails’ vertical ridges found a study published in the Austin Journal of Nutrition and Food Sciences. Any nutritional deficiency could potentially affect the health of your nails so eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins.

baking soda in a wooden bowl with a wooden spoon, and lemon on a wooden surface
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Do at-home nail treatments

If your nails look like they need some major TLC, do an at-home nail treatment. In the same way your face occasionally needs a super hydrating face mask, so do your nails. Consider dermatologist Dana Stern’s Deep Hydrating Formula, a hybrid gel-oil that hydrates and strengthens nails or Dermelect’s Peptide Infused Nail Recovery System for Damaged or Aging Nails. Erica Marton, a celebrity manicurist, suggests these home remedies: For yellow nails, make a paste of lemon juice and baking soda and let it sit on nails for about 15 minutes to remove stains. If your cuticles are extremely dry, she suggests dabbing them with olive or coconut oil. Here are the subtle signs your hands are begging for TLC.

hand cut nails by using nail clipper
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Always cut your nails

As much as you might love the look of long, beautifully-shaped fingernails, it’s best to avoid growing them out if you want to make them stronger. “Keep your nails shorter, as the longer they are, the easier it is for them to get traumatized,” says Dr. Jaber. Short nails are far less likely to be broken in your everyday life. As an added bonus, it’s also much easier to maintain the appearance of nails when they’re short! Discover more tips to protect your nails.

dermatologist with dermatoscope, close-up hand with dermatoscope
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Visit your derm

If your nails remain brittle no matter how hard you work to repair and strengthen them, it may be time to visit an expert. “If these methods are not effective then see your dermatologist, as there are prescription nail lacquers like Genadur or Nuvail which can sometimes strengthen your nails,” says Dr. Jaber. Now, find out even more ways to get healthy and strong nails.