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The Beauty Memo

How to get stronger, healthier nails

For naturally beautiful nails, you need more than just a nail file and hand cream. MALENA HARBERS explains why an amplified approach to hand care will make all the difference for longer, stronger nails


Good nail care starts with the cuticle

“Oils and creams should be massaged into the cuticle area daily, just like you apply moisturizer to your face every day, especially in the current hand-washing climate,” says New York-based dermatologist and nail specialist Dr Dana Stern. As the nail’s protective seal, the cuticle keeps water, moisture and germs out of the delicate nail plate, where nail growth stems from. “When the cuticle is dry and dehydrated, this seal is compromised, causing all sorts of problems for nail health,” says Stern. This is why, she insists, the best way to care for your cuticles is to gently push them back in the shower using a washcloth and moisturize them once nails are dry. “Avoid cutting the cuticles at all costs,” affirms London-based celebrity manicurist Kate Williamson. “Only loose skin and hangnails should be snipped off at the base. If you’re tempted to pick at a hangnail, apply a healing balm like Doctor Rogers Restore Healing Balm and put an adhesive bandage over it.”

Williamson also suggests using an exfoliating hand scrub once a week to stimulate nail growth and increase collagen to the area, which will also help with moisture absorption and hydration. “Oils and balms are best at restoring moisture in the nails and cuticles because of their rich texture,” explains Stern. “Creams tend to slip off the nail plate, but they’re better than nothing at all.” She recommends using formulas that are high in phospholipids found in sunflower oil and Brazil nut oil, which increase nail flexibility and combat brittleness. Massage your desired product into cuticles, over the nail itself and into the skin around the nail for a total hydration hit.

Refine your tool kit

Not all nail files are created equal. “Cardboard emery boards cause microscopic openings and splits at the tip of the nail that lead to peeling and cracks,” says Stern. She’s a fan of glass or crystal nail files instead, because they create a clean edge and can be used in any direction over nail tips. Clean them with soap and water and a scrubbing brush to remove debris after use. A nail buffer is a great tool to stimulate nail growth. Celebrity podiatrist Bastien Gonzalez swears by a chamois leather cloth to buff his Reverence de Bastien Nail Brightness Pearly Buffing Cream into nails to boost blood flow, nutrients and oxygen to the nail beds. “Do this twice a week to keep tips healthy, and more often if you want the shine to last,” he says. Using an ultra-fine 600-grit buffer on its own will also do the trick; start from the base of the nail, moving the buffer towards the free edge in short, gentle strokes – but remember, less is more here to avoid thinning the nail. Finally, nail-polish remover can dry cuticles out, making brittle nails worse. “Look for formulas that are acetone-free or contain oils like soy, which tend to be more moisturizing,” says Gonzalez.

Polish with purpose

Nail polish can actually help nails grow longer. “It protects the nail from water absorption and keeps the cells that make up the nail together, so they are less likely to fray and split,” says Stern. But don’t leave color on until it chips. “After three days, your basecoat essentially breaks down and the pigment in your nail polish will be absorbed by your nail,” says Gonzalez. Remove the color, apply a cuticle oil overnight and re-apply color the morning after. Gel nail polish can last two to three weeks, “but studies have proven that regular gel manicures can result in nail thinning,” warns Stern. She suggests sticking to gel manicures and pedicures for vacations or special events only, and being vigilant about its proper removal for optimum nail health.

Consider supplements

Your nails grow from the inside out, so what you eat matters. Gonzalez recommends adding omega 3-rich seeds and avocado as well as paprika powder, which is packed with nail-friendly beta-carotene and vitamins E and B, to every meal. “As a simple rule, for good nail health your diet should be made up of a rainbow of colors,” he says. To boost any vitamin deficiencies, Williamson suggests supplementing with calcium, collagen and vitamin B. “Even with the best nail care, if you’re not getting the right nutrients, your nails will suffer,” she says.

Do damage control

It’s a myth that nails need to breathe in between polish jobs. “They receive oxygen and nutrients from your bloodstream, not air,” says Stern. But it’s worth leaving fingernails bare for at least two weeks and up to six for toenails if they are peeling, splitting, discolored or have rough, white patches at the surface – a sign that the polish was left on long past its prime. For stains, “scrub nails with a mix of lemon juice and water to lift color,” suggests Williamson. “A generous amount of oil will improve the nail state, as the drier the nail, the more likely it is that staining will happen.” For severely dehydrated digits, increase buffing to three times a week and consider using a foot balm on your fingernails for an even deeper hydration, says Gonzalez, as these tend to be more intense.

The model featured in this story is not associated with NET-A-PORTER and does not endorse it or the products shown