Your nails are a picture of your body's health. If they're weak, dull or brittle, it's a sign that something might be amiss. Weak nails split and break easily -- it's a major pain if you enjoy getting manicures or playing with pretty polish colors. By avoiding things that make nails weaker, you'll help nurse them back to health. Nails rely on biotin and protein, so to make them stronger, give them plenty of both.
External Causes of Weak Fingernails
Fingernails can get weak and brittle with age, but that's not the only possible cause. One big reason is water exposure. When you bathe, swim or wash your hands, your nails soak up the water. The cells in your nails then contract and expand. This strains and eventually weakens them, so try to avoid soaking nails in water when possible. Cold weather has a similar effect; protecting your nails and hands with thick, warm gloves may help.
Genetics and Nail Health
Genetics are often at play in terms of the health of your fingernails. If one of your parents has brittle nails, you're more prone to getting them yourself. You can't change this, but staying healthy might ease nail weakness. Certain health conditions, such as thyroid disorder or anemia, cause nail problems, too. See your doctor if your nails suddenly turn severely brittle. That's a sign of a possible condition that may need treatment.
Foods for Strong Nails
Protein provides the building blocks for keratin, the substance that your nails are made of. To make sure you're getting enough, munch on seafood, chicken, nuts, eggs and whole grains. Biotin, also called vitamin B7 or vitamin H, is also important for tough nails and hair. Without it, your nails will become thin or weak. Salmon, nuts, lentils, bananas, beans and cauliflower contain high amounts of biotin. If you can't work enough of these into your diet, take a biotin supplement. It takes about six months for nails to replenish themselves, so you'll need to wait four to six months to see results. Your body also needs zinc for healthy nails. The mineral regulates your body's ability to make nail-building proteins. Get some from lean beef, oysters, lobster, green beans, soy beans and cashews.
Nail Polish and Removers
If you get regular manicures, the nail polish and polish remover might be to blame for your unhappy nails. Both are full of harsh chemicals that can leave nails feeling weak and looking dull. Acetone nail-polish remover is the biggest culprit -- it acts almost like a paint thinner, stripping away your nail's natural oils. Non-acetone polish remover is available, but because it's weaker than the acetone variety, you might need to use more of it or rub it into nails more vigorously. That's damaging, too. Let weak nails breathe, free of polish, for about three months to see if it makes a difference.
Nail Care Solutions
Don't let your nails get extremely long -- long nails absorb chemicals and water more readily than shorter ones. Avoid cutting your cuticles, as they help repel water from nails. Keep nails well moisturized with a daily application of nail cream or cuticle oil, and use hand and nail creams that contain the nail-strengthening vitamin biotin. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers may be convenient, but skip them if you've got weak nails. They rapidly dry out nails, leaving them brittle. Use a non-alcohol sanitizer instead, or wash hands with plain soap and water.