Even just switching up your filing technique could make a world of difference

Our poor nails – they do suffer through their fair share of wear and tear. Weathering everything from sun to water, air conditioning and central heating, as well as exposure to the elements can leave them dry and sensitised, making them weak, brittle and more prone to breakage.

If you’ve noticed that your nails have become soft and bendy, can’t make it past a certain length or that you just can’t stop biting them, we’ve spoken to the experts to devise a plan of action to get them looking and feeling their best again. 

From skincare to nutrition and nail strengthening treatments, here’s how to give them a helping hand. 

What causes weak & brittle nails? 

There can be many reasons, most of which aren’t serious. For example, it can be completely normal for nails to become more brittle or softer due to ageing or pregnancy. They can also change as a result of some kind of injury that causes damage.  

Sherrille Riley, founder and CEO of Nails & Brows Mayfair, also highlights the following as common causes: 

• Wearing nail extensions for a prolonged period

• Overuse of acetone (used to remove gel polish and nail extensions) which can really dry and weaken the nails.

•Nail biting

• Over exposure to water

Dietary factors may also have an effect. “Deficiencies in key nutrients including the B-complex (especially biotin and folic acid), vitamin C, zinc, calcium and essential fatty acids can cause nails to become weak, dry and flaky,” highlights nutritional therapist, Jackie McCusker

There may also be instances where nail problems can be a symptom of an underlying health condition such as iron deficiency anaemia or thyroid issues, according to the NHS. Certain medications can have side-effects that affect the nails too. If you’ve tried addressing the above and haven’t noticed improvements, book in with your GP for more advice.

What's the best way to stop biting your nails? 

If you’re a perpetual nail nibbler, you’re not alone. Most of us do it without realising and so finding ways to make it more of a challenge is key. “I recommend applying a product specifically formulated with an unpleasant taste,” says Townhouse founder, Juanita Huber-Millet. Her top pick is Stop’n Grow. Its bitter flavour acts as an effective deterrent. Keeping nails short can also help.

Regular manis (particularly gel ones) may be a good idea too. After all, the better your nails look, the more that you’ll want to keep them looking that way.

How can you strengthen your nails?

Change up your nail filing technique:
File nails in one direction rather than in a back-and-forth motion. The latter can weaken them further and cause them to split.

Apply hand cream throughout the day:
Preferably after each time you wash your hands. 

Use gentler detergents when washing your hands:
Look for formulas that are pH balanced and wear rubber gloves when washing up. “Try wearing nail polish for added protection or invest in a good protein base coat like Sally Hansen Miracle Cure Strengthener,” recommends Sherrille.

Use an acetone-free nail polish remover: Acetone can be stripping and drying. Try Boots Acetone-Free Polish Remover, instead.  

A well-balanced diet:
“A diet that contains high-quality protein, for keratin production (the structural building block of the nail) may help,” says Jackie. “Good sources include fish, poultry, eggs and occasional red meat, in addition to plant proteins such as legumes, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds.”

Jackie also recommends eating a rainbow of vibrant-looking vegetables and fruits. “Brightly coloured vegetables and fruits that are rich in vitamin C (another crucial nutrient for nail health as it is key for collagen production), B-complex vitamins including folic acid, and minerals including magnesium and calcium are also very important for healthy nails.” B vitamins and nutrients such as magnesium can be found in wholegrains, too.

Oily fish such as mackerel, sardines, salmon and anchovies may also be beneficial due to their omega-3 essential fatty acid content. “These are important for helping to lubricate and moisturise the nail bed,” explains Jackie. “Shellfish and mushrooms are also great sources of zinc – which is important for cell replication in the nail base and thus, nail strength.”

Foods that maintain gut health may also be a worthwhile addition. “Biotin (vitamin B7) can be produced by the gut’s microbiome,” explains Jackie. “So eating plenty of prebiotic fibre from a wide variety of vegetables, some fruits (especially berries), wholegrains and legumes may help.”

Supplements: While a food-first approach is best, supplements may provide some extra support. “It is important that digestion and absorption are optimal and sadly this is not the case for everyone,” highlights Jackie.

A good multivitamin and mineral supplement containing zinc and selenium may help. However, always check with your GP or a health specialist, especially if you take medication.

Try an IBX treatment: This 10-minute in-salon nail strengthening treatment is a great mani add-on. “It helps protect the nail bed when wearing Shellac nail polish or other gel polishes,” explains Sherrille. Ideal for damaged, weak, peeling and brittle nails, its conditioning monomers penetrate the nail surface to fill in grooves and ridges and prevent breakage.  

What can help your nails to grow faster?

As well as minimising habits that could be making your nails more breakage-prone (such as overwashing, overzealous filing and harsh products) and a healthy, balanced diet, Juanita also recommends daily use of a cuticle oil and a hand cream such as La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Hand Cream, to help promote healthy nail growth. “I always keep a bottle of it in my bag and regularly apply it throughout the day,” she tells us.

What is the best way to remove cuticles at home?

When it comes to overgrown cuticles, a gentle approach is best in order to avoid damaging them. “After a shower or bath (as the cuticles will be softened), take a cotton bud and gently push the cuticle away from the nail bed,” recommends Juanita. A cuticle cream may also help. More pronounced cuticles? Leave them in the hands of a professional.

To keep cuticles soft and supple (as they tend to look more obvious when dry), massaging a cuticle cream or cuticle oil into nails and cuticles every night may be a worthwhile addition to your night routine. Added bonus – it may help prevent nails from splitting and peeling as well as ward off hangnails too. Which brings us conveniently on to…

10 of the best cuticle creams, cuticle oils & nail strengtheners

These are some of the new, cult and highly rated nail products that are definitely worth trying. You’ll love these other great options, too.  

Best product to stop nail biting

Try: Stop ‘n Grow Stop Biting Nail Solution

• Size: 7.5ml

This bitter-tasting pick is a nail biter’s nightmare – which is what makes it so effective. Odourless, colourless and discreet, it could be the secret to longer, nibble-free nails.  

Best cuticle oil for dry cuticles

Sally Hansen Nail Care Vitamin E Nail & Cuticle Oil Nail Treatment

• Size: 13.3ml

Containing a natural essential oil complex with vitamin E, wheat germ, apricot kernel, aloe and panthenol, this intensely moisturising elixir is both a treat and treatment for dry cuticles and brittle nails. 

Best cuticle oil for damaged nails

Try: Boots 8-in-1 Recovery Oil

• Size: 8ml

If your nails are in need of a bit of TLC after back-to-back gels or acrylics, this SOS treatment could be your perfect pairing. Containing sweet almond oil, lemon oil and castor seed oil, it deeply nourishes to help revitalise parched nails and condition cuticles.

Best nail strengthening polish

Try: OPI Original Nail Envy

• Size: 15ml

Give nails an extra layer of defence with this polish’s fortifying formula. Great used either as a base or top coat, it provides an invisible shield of protection against the elements and the effects of overexposure to water.

Best cuticle oil for dry nails

My Mood Nail Polish Coconut Cuticle Oil

• Size: 10ml

If nails are peeling or splitting or the skin around them is dry, this moisturising oil containing a conditioning cocktail of coconut, passionfruit, candlenut, walnut, baobab and sweet almond oils may help. Need something to help worn out nails recover and rehydrate in between gel manicures? Try My Mood’s Nail Polish Recovery Treatment

Best cuticle oil pen

Nails Inc Vitamin E Cuticle Oil Pen

• Size: 1.6ml

For a precision dose of hydration, this cuticle oil pen hits the mark. Sleek and easy to handle, just brush on, massage in and go. 

Best cuticle cream for dry cuticles

OPI Pro Spa Hand, Nail and Cuticle Cream

• Size: 118ml

Enriched with nourishing cupuaçu and white tea, this silky cream leaves skin softer and more supple to help aid healthy nail growth and prevent hangnails.

Best hand & nail cream

No7 Beautiful Skin Nourishing Hand & Nail Cream

• Size: 125ml 

Rich and speedily absorbed, this luxuriously textured cream formulated with grapeseed, macadamia and almond oils leaves nails more supple and dry skin softer. You won’t want to leave home without it.

Shop more of our great nail strengthening products here.