Beauty question: How do I deal with brittle nails?
Healthy diet, moisturiser and avoidance of harsh products can all help strengthen finger nails
05 MAY 2011
One of the most common reasons for nails becoming brittle is buffing with a fine-grained buffer. Although this is not a problem as an occasional practice, it is an abrasive process which, over time, essentially erodes the nail, leaving it thin and weak, so you should be very wary of over-frequent or over-harsh buffing.
People whose jobs involve contact with harsh and corrosive chemicals, or whose hands are constantly in and out of water can also suffer with weak nails, particularly if they don't use moisturising lotions to re-hydrate and restore the chemical balance of the nail.
And, of course, certain vitamins or minerals may be lacking from our diet and this will soon show up in our nails.
Starting with that last point, it's clear that a healthy, varied diet, rich in fruit and vegetables and with plenty of protein, zinc and iron, is the best base from which to start. Bear in mind, though, that fingernails grow slowly – about 3.5 centimetres a year – and nutrition affects the emerging nail, not the part that is already visible, so you won't see an immediate improvement.
There are also specific vitamin supplements which can help, especially those containing B vitamins or the amino acids cystine, lysine and tryptophan. Your pharmacist or beautician should be able to tell you what is available. Again, you need to persevere as these work on the nail as it is forming, so it will be a couple of months before you appreciate an improvement.
While you are having problems with weak nails, wear them short to make them less vulnerable and less likely to catch and chip.
If you have to keep putting your hands in water, get used to the idea of using rubber gloves. They may not be very chic, but your hands and nails will thank you.
Avoid harsh products, including acetone-based nail polish remover, which will dry the nail, and apply a moisturising cream at least twice a day, focusing on the cuticle area.
There are a number of products on the market which aim to strengthen and protect the existing nail. Some are applied like polish, while others are creams that are massaged into the nail, which may have the incidental effect of stimulating growth.
Remember, nails grow slowly: a change in diet and the use of vitamin supplements are an investment for the future. It is also possible that weak nails are indicative of a more serious problem such as an unhealthy liver; if you have any other symptoms of poor health, check with your doctor or dermatologist.
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