How to strengthen nails and brittle nails causes

A skin specialist reveals how to strengthen your nails and what makes them so damn brittle

12th February 2020 | Author: Victoria Woollaston-Webber

Brittle nails are the worst. Just when you think you’ve grown them to the perfect length, one breaks or tears and you’re left having to file them all back down again. 

It can be tricky to know why they’re fine one minute and brittle the next, which makes knowing how to strengthen nails a bit of a guessing game.

What causes brittle nails and how to strengthen them

To take the guesswork out of it all, Patricia Boland, a skin specialist at Colorescience has revealed the top causes of brittle nails and what you  can do to get them back to full health.

Cheap nail polish remover

When it comes to removing nail polish, this is one area where you really do get what you pay for.

Cheap nail polish removers not only take more effort to get rid of the polish, exposing your nails to harsh chemicals for longer, but cheap removers can also strip moisture from your nails, causing them to become brittle and weak.

If you are using nail polish remover, always invest in a trustworthy brand and not to use it excessively. We recommend Cutex’s Non-Acetone nail remover, but whichever remover you choose, try to find one that doesn’t contain acetone as it tends to dehydrate your nails.

Lack of iron

Weak nails can be caused by low levels of iron, or anaemia.

Iron helps form haemoglobin, a molecule that shuttles red blood cells loaded with oxygen directly into your nail and without this, your nails will suffer from stunted growth.

It’s best to load up on foods which are rich in irons such as spinach, dark chocolate and white beans or take supplements. The Vitabiotics Perfectil Plus Hair supplements are great for boosting your hair, skin and nails if you are lacking some of these vital vitamins.

FURTHER READING: The truth about beauty supplements


Dehydration caused by not drinking enough water is the cause of so many beauty ills. In our How to get rid of dark circles explainer, our resident MUA explains how a lack of hydration could be ageing you prematurely.

And it’s damaging to your nails, too. Not drinking enough water is a major factor in many cases of brittle nails so it’s best to drink throughout the day to keep those hydration levels up.

Lack of moisture

Your nails not only need moisture from the within but also from the outside. The best way to keep on top of this is to apply frequent hand cream and moisturiser throughout the day. Keep it in your bag or desk at work and apply whenever you think about it, but more so after your hands have been wet.

The Clarins Hand and Nail Treatment is expensive (£23 for 100ml) but a little goes a long way, it smells great and it provides a barrier for your skin and nails from the environmental damage. Continued use can also reduce the appearance of dark spots. 

Excessive water

By this, we mean the water that comes into contact with your hands, not the water you drink. Doing the washing up, for example, can take a big toll on your nails as soaps and solvents from the liquid can have a drying effect on your nails.

A simple solution to the household chore side effect is to pop on a pair of gloves which will protect your nails from the bad chemicals and keep them from drying out. The Clarins Treatment listed above can help reduce the damage by providing a barrier, and you can buy eco-friendly washing-up liquids that contain fewer harsh chemicals.

Too many manicures

If you are a nail fanatic, it can be hard to cut down on how many manicures you have each month. If you are constantly powering your nails with acrylics or gel nails, this can damage your nail beds and leave them feeling brittle and weak.

Even if you’re using gels that promise to moisturise your nails, and you have them removed professionally.

Always ensure you take a few months break between each treatment and use a nail hardener instead to build your nails back up to their natural state.

We’re huge fans of nail wraps – you can read more about them in our roundup of the best cheap products every makeup collection needs – and while they’re still not foolproof when it comes to keeping your nails as healthy as they would be without any treatment, they’re a better alternative than repeatedly having gels and acrylics applied. 

You pick your nail polish off

Peeling off nail polish, gel or traditional, doesn’t just remove your coat of nail polish but it also removes part of the top layer of your nails – which causes your nails to thin.

It can be easy to do, especially as your manicure starts to chip, but if you do this an excessive amount it can take months for them to grow back in a healthy condition. If you see your nails have started to chip away, take them off with remover as soon as you can so the temptation isn’t there.

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