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How to Strengthen Your Fingernails

Want to showcase the latest nail art trend? Hold off on that polish. First, you have to build a strong base. Dana Stern, a board-certified dermatologist and nails specialist in New York City, outlines seven tips on how to strengthen your fingernails.

Wear Gloves When Washing the Dishes

You probably can’t bow out of household chores entirely (a girl can dream!), but if you’re exposing your hands to water for long periods of time, like when you’re tackling a sink full of dishes, throw on a pair of rubber gloves first. Fingernails absorb water even better than your skin does, says Stern. And while that sounds like a good thing, it’s really not. “When water is constantly moving in and out of the nail, it puts a tremendous strain on the delicate nail cells,” she explains. Too much water contact can result in soft, weak nails that are susceptible to breakage. (Psst: 10 Instagrams You Need to Follow for Cute Nail Designs.)

Polish to Protect

Layers of nail polish help protect the fingernail and hold nail cells together, but Stern recommends a five-free formula that avoids dibutyl phthalate, toluene, formaldehyde, camphor, and formaldehyde resin chemicals. And whatever you do, don’t skip the base coat and topcoat—they provide two additional layers of protection that you don’t want to miss out on.

Avoid Nail Polish Removers with Acetone

While you definitely get protection from polish, that doesn’t give you free reign to paint and repaint. Stern says constantly doing so could dry out your nails. Why? Nail polish remover is enemy No. 1 for healthy nails. More specifically, the acetone found in many removers dries out the nail and allows brittleness to set in. Stern says to try not to use remover more than twice a week, and when you do, make it a non-acetone one, such as Ulta’s Non-Acetone Nail Polish Remover. And if you’ve got a standing appointment for a weekly mani but notice your fingernails are peeling and chipping, Stern recommends taking a break for 2-4 weeks to let them regain strength. You could also take that time to try Stern’s Dr. Dana Nail Renewal System, which treats weak nails in 10 minutes a week.

Swear Off Hand Sanitizers

Yes, they kill germs, but hand sanitizers also zap moisture from your nails. If you can’t track down soap, Stern suggests using a travel-sized moisturizing body wash instead. (Follow these 6 Simple Steps to Adorable Spring Nail Art.)

Load Up on Cuticle Oil

The cuticle is the nail’s natural protective seal, says Stern, and breaking it weakens the nail and puts you at increased risk for bacterial infections. Everyone could benefit from applying cuticle oil to keep fingernails moisturized, but swimmers should definitely get in the habit. Stern says they’re at risk of brutally dry cuticles, thanks to the chlorine. Coating fingernails with polish and cuticle oil could keep them protected during pool workouts.

Take a Biotin Supplement

The B vitamin has been shown to help strengthen your fingernails, says Stern. Take 2-3 milligrams (or 2,000-3,000 micro milligrams) a day for four to six months. It takes that long for fingernails to fully grow out, and biotin builds a stronger new nail rather than repairing what you’re currently sporting on your fingertips. (P.S. These are the 5 Best Vitamins for Hair Growth.)

Adjust Your Diet

Nail cells are rich in the structural protein keratin, but adding more protein to your diet could add an extra-supportive boost, says Stern. Loading up on biotin-rich foods like eggs, peanuts, almonds, salmon, and Swiss chard could also help, she adds.

Side note: While weak nails are usually the result of genetics, if yours suddenly seem uncharacteristically fragile, it could be a hint that a bigger health issue is going on. “Hypothyroidism, Raynaud’s syndrome, and protein deficiency all can cause nails to be brittle and weak,” says Stern. Set up a time to see a doctor to get them checked out. (Don’t forget to learn these 8 manicure tricks from the pros.)