Are your nails brittle? Do they split, peel, or break at the slightest provocation? If you think healthy nails are out of reach, forget all those chemically packed potions and polishes. The true secret to beautiful nails comes from within—where healthy nails begin.
Our nails are our fingertips’ protective armor, guarding them against injury and infection. Made up of layers of a hard, fibrous protein called keratin, the nail rests on a fleshy pad of skin known as the nail bed. At the base of the nail bed is the matrix, from which all new nail growth springs. The cuticle, a thin strip of flexible skin, protects the matrix from dirt and bacteria which could result in an infection.
Your nails are an excellent indicator of your inner health. For example, hangnails can indicate a deficiency in protein, folic acid, or vitamin C. White spots can point to a need for more vitamin B6 or zinc. And peeling nails can mean low levels of vitamins A, C, or calcium. Adopting a diet rich in high-quality protein, colorful fruits and vegetables, and whole grains may help prevent future nail problems by giving them the nutrients they need. A quality multivitamin can help fill in any nutrients you may be missing.
If your nails are thin or break easily, there are certain nutrients that can also help strengthen them. Topping the list is biotin. This little-known B vitamin is readily absorbed into the core of the nail, where it thickens the nails and encourages healthy growth. While the recommended daily dose is a mere 30 mcg, most studies of biotin’s benefits use considerably more. In one trial, nails became 25 percent thicker in the volunteers who took a daily dose of biotin—which translated to stronger nails with less splitting. Another study by researchers at Columbia University in New York found that, among people who took biotin for brittle nails, 63 percent showed improvement after six months.
Although rich sources of dietary biotin include egg yolks, cauliflower, peanuts, and lentils, you’ll need to take a biotin supplement boasting at least 1,000 mcg—the minimum amount used in most studies—to see results. But be patient. It can take several months before you notice improvement.
Silica is another nutrient that can boost nail strength and prevent brittleness. A trace mineral, silica is found in a variety of vegetables, whole grains, and seafood. When you eat silica-rich food, it is converted to orthosilicic acid in the body, which helps increase its absorption. Even so, only about 40 percent of the silica that you get from food is absorbed into the blood stream.
Many supplements designed to enhance nail health contain higher amounts of silica than you get from food, and these may be more effective for strengthening nails. You can also get a nail-strengthening dose of silica from the herb horsetail. Horsetail not only helps nails stay strong, studies show that it also helps treat nail psoriasis, a condition that causes discoloration and pitting.
As critical as it is to feed your nails from within, pampering them from without is also important. Tending to your nails not only makes your hands look nice, it also helps protect them from assault from bacteria and fungi. To keep cuticles from drying and tearing, massage a bit of evening primrose oil or shea butter into them every day. It’s also important to keep nails neatly filed—and always file them in one direction only to prevent splitting. Finally, for beautifully natural nails, take a pass on mainstream polish. Most are still packed with synthetic plasticizers, film forming agents, and solvents that can harm the environment and make their way into human breast milk. Instead, try buffing your nails to a lustrous—and nontoxic—sheen. Or try a natural polish made without harmful chemicals such as toluene or formaldehyde.
gaia herbs Hair, skin & nail supportHerbs such as horsetail, alfalfa, and nettles provide a rich source of minerals like silica plus antioxidants for healthy, beautiful nails.
country life high-potency biotin Each capsule provides 5 mg of biotin (1,667% of the RDI), with no added yeast, corn, wheat, or soy. It's also kosher and gluten-free.
suncoat Products water-based nail polisH These long-lasting natural polishes have no formaldehyde, phthalates, alcohol, acetone, or acetate. Choose from an array of beautiful colors.