Raise your hand if you've ever had a gel or acrylic manicure. If you have, you know how incredible they can look when they're freshly done. It's the kind of incredible that makes you want to show off your manicure to everyone—your friends, social media followers, even strangers passing on the street. Unfortunately, you also probably know how damaged manicures can leave your natural nails after removal. I'm talking about chipping, cracking, peeling, bending… basically, all the adjectives you don't want to be associated with your natural nails.
Even if you're not about gel or acrylic manicures, your natural nails could use a little TLC. After all, we tend to subject our nails to a lot. If that's the case, it's time to reach for a nail polish strengthener. Unlike traditional nail polish, these are targeted treatments that help strengthen, repair, smooth, and nourish the nail plate. Over time, they can lead to longer, stronger, and shinier nails. The best part is that they're dermatologist recommended. Keep scrolling to learn more about nail strengtheners and shop the top 12 formulas!
What to Look for in a Nail Strengthener
According to Brendan Camp, MD, a double board-certified dermatologist of MDCS Dermatology, "Nail strengtheners fortify the nail to support its health and ability to grow." He says they often contain beneficial ingredients such as proteins, vitamins, and minerals to prevent nails from becoming dry, brittle, and cracked.
Yes, nail strengtheners really work, but only if you use them consistently. "The regular use of a nail strengthener can potentially improve the overall quality of the nail," Camp says. "Strengtheners are good products to use if your nails have been subjected to many nail treatments that have left them brittle, dry, or slow growing. Because nails grow slowly (it can take three to six months for your fingernails to grow out), they need to be used consistently over time."
While it might sound counterintuitive, less is more, so it's important to follow directions when using these products. "Overuse of nail strengtheners can cause the opposite of the desired effect by causing dryness or irritation of the surrounding skin," Camp says. That's usually due to harsh ingredients like formaldehyde found in some formulas. Luckily, there are a lot of next-gen options on the market. (More on that in a minute.)
The final piece of advice that Camp has to offer? Go beyond nail polish strengtheners if you're struggling with chronically damaged nails. "In addition to nail strengtheners, maintaining a healthy diet and avoiding treatments that can damage the nail and cuticle can improve nail growth," he says. All of these things together should put you on the fast track to stronger, healthier nails.
Best Overall: Olive and June Nail Strengthener
Not only does this promise to strengthen nails by up to 77%, but it also prevents pesky white spots from appearing. I, for one, love that it keeps my nails from bending and breaking, even when I'm not giving them the TLC they deserve. Trust me—it's effective. I noticed a difference in my nails only a few days after using it.
Promising review: "This has saved my nails after a dip that went wrong. Used it every day for a week and my nails are growing out super strong and the damage has been minimized." — Target reviewer
This formula uses botanicals to hydrate and repair nails and prevent them from cracking, splitting, and bending. Plus, it gives the nails a gorgeous glossy finish—it's so glossy you might not even want to wear nail polish.
Promising review: "As a base coat, it helps the other coats adhere to your nails and keeps your manicure chip/peel free for days. It also makes my nails stronger. Prior to using this brand, nail polish would last two days and that was it. The sides and corners would always start lifting and peeling. With Londontown I got a FULL week with my nails looking great." — Amazon reviewer
Camp recommends this two-in-one nail strengthener and cuticle oil. "This nail serum contains hyaluronic acid to hydrate the nail and mastic oil to promote nail growth, resulting in increased thickness, density, and durability of the nail and cuticle," he says.
Promising review: "First of all I will say this product works! The next thing is, I have been using this twice a day for a little over a month and I am beginning to see some real results! My nails were paper thin, split down the middle peeling, and any other bad things that nails do! Now they are actually growing, slowly, they do not bend and are stronger than they have ever been." — Amazon reviewer
If you have the hardest time growing out your nails without one or all of them breaking, this is the nail strengthener for you. It uses garlic extract and selenium to promote growth sans chips or cracking.
Promising review: "When I bought this I was not sure if it would really make a difference. WOW, I was wrong. This is the best nail treatment. If you have a hard time growing your nails, this really works." — Côte reviewer
"In addition to being available in shades other than clear, this nail-strengthening product fortifies the nail with ingredients like biotin, calcium, and vitamins A, C, and E," Camp says.
Promising review: "I used it for a month and can say that the quality of my nails has improved. There is less chipping and the damage from nail extensions has healed." — Ulta reviewer
"Natural elements derived from citrus sources enable this formaldehyde-free nail product to promote the growth of stronger, flexible nails," Camp says.
Promising review: "My nails are very thin and weak. When I saw that Amazon had it, I ordered the product. My nails are definitely stronger!" — Amazon reviewer
This one strengthens nails to get rid of brittleness, but what really sets it apart from other formulas is that it provides a natural-looking tint to the nails for extra brightness and shine.
Promising review: "Glow & Shine is a beautiful sheer pink tint that actually shows up as a pink tint on my nails. The polish strengthens my nails and makes them look naturally pretty." — Ulta reviewer
This highly effective nail strengthener uses jojoba oil and keratin protein to improve nails over time. The former is moisturizing and smoothing. The latter is found naturally in nails, but when applied over top, it bonds to the surface and hardens the nail plate.
Promising review: "I'm pretty hard on my hands (cooking, gardening, cleaning) and I normally keep my nails cut very short. I've been using this for five weeks and my nails are so healthy and strong that I was just inspired to attempt a French manicure on myself." — Amazon reviewer
This two-in-one nail strengthener and base coat contains three AHAs to restore the nail surface as well as vitamins C, E, and B5 and a patented conditioning ingredient. It also has a slight pink tint for a bright and glossy finish.
Promising review: "Love the pink hue and ease of using this nail strengthener. Stays on longer than most polishes." — Revolve reviewer
This one is formulated to strengthen and repair weak nails, especially those that have been damaged by gel and acrylic removal. (If you know, you know.) Plus, it can be used as both a base coat and a topcoat, though I recommend the former.
Promising review: "This stuff is the ONLY thing that has ever kept my nails from bending. And it dries in a flash. Completely worth the money." — Sephora reviewer
You can't go wrong with this strengthening base coat with a nontoxic formula. It uses vitamin E and horsetail-leaf extract to strengthen nails and give them a surge of moisture.
Promising review: "I LOVE this product! It makes my nails stronger and is a great base coat." — Target reviewer
This one is so cool. It not only strengthens the nails and protects them from future damage, but it also adds a fun pop of translucent color for a jelly-nail effect. Who What Wear beauty editor Katie Berohn is a big fan.
Promising review: "Love the color! Gel polish really wreaked some havoc on my nails and I needed something to heal and nourish, but didn't want just clear. Color is very forgiving, I’m terrible at painting my own nails, but the sheer polish looks nice and like I've done a good job." — Target reviewer