Having beautiful, strong nails can make a world of difference in your overall look. But what if you were born with perpetually flimsy, splitting nails that just won’t grow? Nail strengtheners promise to transform even the weakest nails into hard, resilient ones resistant to cracks and breaks.
But is there any truth to these claims? How do they work, are they safe, and should you use one?
This comprehensive, evidence-based guide takes an in-depth science-backed look at Do nail strengtheners work? – what’s in them, who they might help, application and removal guidelines, risks to consider, and whether they live up to their dramatic marketing promises.
Read on to learn the facts and determine if a strengthener is right for your nail care routine.
Table of Contents
What Are Nail Strengtheners Exactly?
Nail strengtheners or nail hardeners refer to polishes, gels, and lacquers applied to nails to supposedly reinforce and strengthen them. They aim to cure:
- Thin, soft, peeling, brittle nails
- Frequent splits and cracks
- Weak nails that tear easily
- General fragility and damage
Nail strengtheners work by interacting with the keratin fibers that make up your nail plates to form rigid crosslinks.
This hardens the nails and makes the keratin less flexible and more resistant to dents and scratches. They may also contain moisturizing ingredients to condition nails.
Some primary ingredients added to achieve these strengthening effects include:
- Formaldehyde – Hardens nails by creating tough methylene bridges but carries concerning health risks
- Calcium – Structural mineral that builds keratin and protects the protein bonds
- Silk protein – Fibrous structural protein that reinforces nails
- Biotin – B vitamin that promotes healthy nail growth and thickness
- Green tea extract – Powerful antioxidant that protects nails from free radical damage
- Jojoba oil – Deeply moisturizing oil that conditions nails and cuticles
But do these chemical interactions translate to meaningful real-world results? Let’s look at what the research says.
Do Nail Strengtheners Work? What the Research Reveals
Despite the dramatic before and after pictures and claims of miraculously transforming flimsy nails overnight, what does the science say about nail strengtheners?
Do nail strengtheners work? Here’s what studies have found:
- Moderate increase in hardness – There is limited evidence from trials that nail strengtheners temporarily improve resistance to physical stresses like indentation compared to bare nails. However, the degree of improvement varied widely across products.
- May prevent some cracking – Regular use does seem to reduce splits, chips, and peeling versus untreated nails according to several studies. But again, results depended on the product.
- Short-term effects – The hardening effects diminish quickly once you discontinue use. Nails revert to their original state within about 1-2 weeks.
- Can weaken nails over time – While a temporary hardening effect is observed, excessive use or harsh removal weakened and dried out nails in the long term for some test subjects.
- Risks may outweigh benefits – The inclusion of ingredients like carcinogenic formaldehyde poses health concerns that call into question whether the limited hardening effects are worthwhile.
- More research needed – Very limited data from independently funded, unbiased sources. Many key questions remain unanswered.
Who Might Benefit From Using a Nail Strengthener?
So in summary, while nail treatments may offer a small degree of short-term protection for extremely soft, damaged nails, the risks posed by controversial ingredients like formaldehyde should give you pause. Their ability to deliver substantial, long-term strengthening that justifies the risks is unproven.
While the evidence for dramatic strengthening is lacking, some individuals may still benefit from nail hardener products:
People with Very Soft, Brittle Nails
If you’re afflicted with extremely weak, paper-thin nails that peel and crack persistently, a nail strengthener could provide a temporary band-aid solution to addressing the underlying causes. The moderate hardening, especially if using formaldehyde-free formulas, may reduce day-to-day nuisances.
Those with Nutritional Deficiencies
Deficiencies in vitamins and minerals critical to healthy nail growth like biotin, iron, and zinc can leave nails weak and crack-prone. A supplement to correct the deficiency along with a strengthener may help while its effects build.
Individuals on Drying Medications
Certain drugs like retinoids, high blood pressure medications, and chemotherapy can dry out nails. A moisturizing strengthener could mitigate this temporary side effect in conjunction with lots of nail and cuticle hydration.
For Short Term Protection
Polishing nails with a strengthener 2-3 times a week before an event where hands will be on display may offer some protection from embarrassing breaks. Discontinue after.
The bottom line is nail strengtheners will not permanently transform or ‘cure’ problem nails. Nail health must be addressed through proper nutrition, hydration, and avoiding damage. At best, they offer temporary mitigation for very brittle or thin nails while pursuing long-term strengthening solutions through diet, lifestyle, and supplements.
Choosing the Most Effective Nail Strengthening Products
If you do opt to try a nail strengthener, not all are made the same. Here are features to look for in quality products:
Seek out strengtheners made without formaldehyde which has been linked to cancer and allergic reactions. While these may be slightly less effective, avoiding this carcinogen is prudent.
Added Moisturizing Oils and Vitamins
Look for lacquers and gels containing hydrating oils like jojoba, coconut, and avocado which condition nails and avoid the brittle effect overuse can cause. Vitamins A, E, and biotin also support strength.
Strengtheners Tailored for Your Nail Issues
Get products specifically made to target your concerns – peeling, chronic breaking, softness, etc. Avoid generic strengtheners. Build a system for your nail type.
Easy and Gentle Removal
Many nail strengtheners require acetone remover which is very drying and damaging long-term. Seek easier removal gels or ‘peel off’ strengtheners.
Positive Customer Reviews
Check reviews and look for before and after pictures for evidence, the strengthener effectively resolves issues similar to yours without side effects like brittleness or discoloration.
With the right product that avoids harsh chemicals and suits your needs, a strengthener may provide some temporary relief while pursuing long-term nail health.
Using Nail Strengtheners Safely and Effectively
To avoid unintended damage when using nail-strengthening lacquers, gels, or polishes, follow these best practices:
- Don’t overuse it. Follow package instructions for duration and frequency of use. Using it for too long even after nails have hardened can cause dependency and weakness when discontinuing.
- Take periodic breaks. Give your nails “off” weeks where you skip the strengthener to avoid becoming too reliant. The absence allows nails to stabilize their strength.
- Avoid harsh removers. Chemical removers like 100% acetone will erode nails long term. Use gentler acetate-based removers. Or look for ‘peel-off’ gels.
- Watch for brittleness or thinning. Discontinue use if nails become brittle or crack more easily. This is a sign the treatment is causing dependency or drying out the nails.
- Apply properly. Apply to clean bare nails. Don’t layer on top of existing polish or oils which prevents full absorption and hardening.
- Moisturize diligently. Counteract any drying effects by massaging jojoba, coconut, or vitamin E oil into nails and cuticles twice daily.
With careful use under the manufacturer’s recommended guidelines and avoiding overuse, nail-strengthening treatments can be used safely for temporary protection against splits and cracks.
Adopting Good Nail Care Habits for Healthy, Strong Nails
While making permanently weak, soft nails stronger requires internal nutrition and health fixes, adopting smart nail care habits is also key:
- Moisturize nails and cuticles – Massage in vitamin E, coconut, or jojoba oil daily to condition dry, brittle nails and cuticles prone to cracking.
- Avoid excessive filing – Filing too aggressively or too often gradually thins out the nail plate. Use moderately once weekly if needed.
- Wear gloves for wet work – Protect nails from the damaging effects of water, cleaning solutions, and chemicals by wearing rubber gloves during dishwashing, cleaning, or use of harsh products.
- Take biotin – 10,000 mcg biotin supplements support healthy keratin production. Pair with silica for optimal nail-strengthening effects.
- Eat a balanced diet – Getting enough protein, vitamins, iron, zinc, omega-3s, and minerals ensures strong nail growth. Consider collagen supplements too.
Are Nail Strengthening Treatments Worth Trying?
The bottom line based on scientific evidence:
- Nail strengtheners have limited ability to temporarily harden very soft, brittle nails and reduce breakage short term. But benefits diminish quickly once use is discontinued.
- Improper use or overuse long term can permanently weaken and damage nails. Plus controversial ingredients like formaldehyde pose health concerns.
- For those with nutritional deficiencies or taking medications, strengtheners may provide temporary relief while pursuing internal solutions.
- But for most seeking long-term nail strengthening, addressing root causes through diet, lifestyle, hydration, and supplements is safer and more effective.
While not the miraculous cure-all marketed, nail strengtheners do offer moderate short-term protection for problem nails in some cases. But proceed with realistic expectations, limit use per package guidelines, and take precautions to avoid over-weakening nails. Pay attention to nail health more holistically.
The Takeaway: Do nail strengtheners work?
Dramatic marketing makes nail strengtheners seem like the fix for even the most hopeless problem nails. However, science shows they provide only modest short-term hardening that quickly fades without long-term benefits. Plus, their use carries risks of thinning and brittleness, especially with overuse. While some limited cases may benefit, ultimately healthy nails come from within. Focus on nutrition, hydration, avoiding damage, and supplements instead of quick-fix chemicals. Your nails. will thank you.