As I'm sitting here writing this, I'm annoyed. After getting a lovely gel manicure about a week and a half ago (one that was still going strong up until about two seconds ago), my thumbnail just ripped in two. Or to be more specific and less dramatic, my thumbnail caught on something, ripped, and I couldn't resist going rogue and completely tearing it off so that my left thumbnail is about half the length of the right. (Sorry for that sordid visual.) Of course, this probably wouldn't be a problem if I weren't a nail obsessive who polishes and lacquers up weekly, never picks up a cuticle oil even though I have countless gorgeous elixirs sitting on my night table, and notoriously peels off gel. (If you don't know what that last part is, we'll enlighten you below—it's not good.)
Luckily for me and my apparently weak and now very gimpy thumb, I had just finished picking Mazz Hanna (celebrity nail artist and founder of her eponymous, crystalline nailcare line) about her best tips and tricks for those looking to strengthen their nails. While I didn't think her answers would hit quite so close to home (I've always prided myself on my nails and my favorite nail supplement intake), her intel proved mega-helpful and interesting all the same.
Plus, she gave me one of her signature crystal manicures a few months back, and I've been wistfully daydreaming about the experience ever since. So I'm spilling the dirt! Here, 10 top nail tips for how to strengthen your nails—celeb nail artist approved.
1. Mind Your Diet
Just as we know a well-balanced diet rich in protein and healthy fats is great for our skin and hair health, the same goes for our nails. According to Hanna, one of the most important steps to rehabbing brittle nails is to make sure you're getting enough nutrition and protein, which thankfully, can be as easy as adding some grilled chicken to a salad, vegan protein powder to your smoothie, or reaching for a high-quality protein bar in lieu of pretzels come 3 p.m.
"The best way to keep nails and cuticles strong and healthy is to start from the inside out," Hanna explains. "It’s important to maintain a diet that is nutrient dense and high in protein. Staying hydrated and taking supplements geared toward keeping your nails healthy and strong also make a big difference." (More on that below.)
2. Drink Water, Lots of It
Sorry, we know that nutritionists, celebrities, and other health experts sound like a broken record when it comes to preaching water intake, but for the actual record, there's a reason. It works. Even though it may sound obvious, drinking an adequate amount of water is a basic necessity and will help nails grow fast and strong. That said, even though drinking water will help encourage happy and healthy cells and nail growth, soaking your nails too long in the stuff can weaken them and lead to premature brittleness. (Just some food for thought.)
3. Try a Targeted Supplement
Hair, skin, and nail supplements aren't breaking news (in fact, far from it), but if you choose the right formula, these types of supplements can help strengthen your nails. And you can only imagine my satisfaction when I realized Hanna and I have the same favorite.
"As far as supplements go, I'm obsessed with Killer Nails from Hum Nutrition," she shares. "I noticed a significant difference in just a few weeks of using it." Um, same.
4. Baby Your Cuticles
"My Amethyst Infusion Cuticle Oil is one of my favorite hand-and-nail multitaskers—especially if you're trying to strengthen your nails," says Hanna. "Not only does it help cuticles heal and stay hydrated, but you can also roll it over hands and knuckles for deep hydration that quickly soaks into the skin. The amethyst also aids in breaking bad habits like biting and picking."
5. Choose a Healthier Nail Polish
Yep, they exist! Swapping out your normal polish for less toxic or more nutrient-embellished versions will do your nail game good in the long run.
"For nail polish, I’m obsessed with Orly's Breathable Treatment + Color Collection," Hanna shares. "It’s infused with argan oil, B5, and vitamin C. It has a base and topcoat built in, so in just two coats, you have the perfect long-lasting at-home mani that will nurse your nails back to health. My favorite color for growing out damaged nails is Sheer Luck."
6. Skip the Gel—or at Least Don't Pick Your Nails
As convenient as gel manicures are (They look fab! They last!), they're just naturally harder on your nails, and a regular polish will be a better bet for keeping nails strong and healthy. That said, if you can't resist the temptation of gels or have a job where perfect nails 24/7 are a must, make sure you get them removed professionally, and please, please don't peel and rip them off yourself. In fact, Hanna says it's pretty much the worst thing you can do if you're in the process of trying to strengthen your nails.
"Picking off gel, biting, and picking at cuticles are all recipes for disaster, but if I had to pick just one bad habit, picking off gel takes the cake for being the most damaging," Hanna warns. "When you peel off gel, you are also removing layers of the delicate nail plate, which can lead to long-term damage."
So again, reach for a normal (preferably toxin-free) nail polish and remove it gently at home with an acetone-free polish remover. We're obsessed with the one above from Olive & June.
7. Err on the Shorter Side
This might be common sense, but wearing your nails shorter equates to less opportunity for breakage. Shorter nails are less likely to catch on things and are then far less likely to tear, split, or crack—all unwanted side effects that don't make good for our dreams of bend- and breakage-free tips.
"If you have damaged nails and are looking for a fresh start, your best bet is to cut them down and keep them short for a couple of months," adds Hanna. "Short nails are super chic, and if you have an event that you want long nails for, press-ons have come a long way and are the best-kept secret in the celebrity manicure world. One of my favorite brands for natural-looking press-ons is Kiss—just make sure when you apply them that you use the glue tabs and not nail glue. And of course, don’t rip them off!"
8. Don't Become a Serial Nail Polish Wearer
Give your nails a break, folks! Sure, there's nothing as satisfying or sweet as having a beautiful, fresh paint job, but letting your nails have a week or so to breathe in between manicures (whether they're in-salon or DIY) will help your cuticles regroup and reclaim their health.
Personally, I'm a VERY serial polish wearer and don't feel completely human without nail polish, but when I started doing this, I couldn't believe how many fewer dents and ridges my nails had. It was actually miraculous. A little sad, but miraculous. Instead, treat your fingers or toes to something else luxurious, like a peel or overnight mask. This pedi version from Barefoot Scientist is everything.
9. Give Your Hands a Skincare Routine
Our nails are made of fragile and damage-susceptible cells just like our skin and hair, so it feels pretty unjust that we give them little to no TLC in comparison. So instead, and as Hanna says, we should think of our cuticle care as an extension of our skincare routine, complete with oils, scrubs, and creams. Plus, it can become a weekly ritual that feels relaxing and meditative. "For an exfoliator, I love Oribe's Cote d’Azur Refining Hand Scrub," she shares. "It smells divine and leaves my hands feeling super silky and smooth. I use this as part of my nightly ritual a few times a week before hydrating with my Carnelian Infusion Skin Salve a few nights a week before bed. It has vitamin E, natural beeswax, shea butter, and meadowfoam seed oil, which all work synergistically to create a protective barrier on the skin while simultaneously working to repair damage caused by transepidermal water loss."
10. Wear Rubbers
Well there, yes, but also on your hands when you're handling any chemicals or are cleaning your house. Of course, we'd recommend that you do your best to switch over to cleaner, nontoxic household products, but depending on what you're doing and what kind of elements you're working with, rubber gloves aren't a bad idea regardless. Plus, they'll help protect a precious paint job! Chemicals will essentially weaken your nails (just like chemicals in coloring and hair products will weaken strands), so it's best to avoid exposure and direct contact at all costs.
Next up: Weak, Brittle Nails Are the Bane of Our Existence—These 10 Products Can Help
Erin has been writing a mix of beauty and wellness content for Who What Wear for over four years. Prior to that, she spent two and half years writing for Byrdie. She now calls Santa Monica home but grew up in Minnetonka, Minnesota, and studied writing, rhetoric, and communication at University of Wisconsin, La Crosse. She studied abroad in Galway, Ireland, and spent a summer in L.A. interning with the Byrdie and Who What Wear family. After graduating from UW, she spent one year in San Francisco, where she worked as a writer for Pottery Barn Kids and PBteen before moving down to L.A. to begin her career as a beauty editor. She considers her day-to-day beauty aesthetic very low-maintenance and relies on staples like clear brow serum (from Kimiko!), Lawless's Lip Plumping Mask in Cherry Vanilla, and an eyelash curler. For special occasions or days when she's taking more meetings or has an event, she'll wear anything and everything from Charlotte Tilbury (the foundations are game-changing), some shimmer on her lids (Stila and Róen do it best), and a few coats of the best mascara-type product on earth, Surratt's Noir Lash Tint.