Forget all those chemically-packed potions and polishes. The true secret to beautiful nails comes from within
Are your nails brittle? Do they split, peel, or break at the slightest provocation? If you think healthy nails are out of reach, these natural solutions can help.
Our nails are our fingertip’s 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. Taking a multivitamin can help fill in any nutrients you may be missing.
Certain nutrients can also strengthen your nails if they are thin or break easily. Topping the list is biotin. This little-known B vitamin is readily absorbed into the core of the nail, where it thickens nails and encourages healthy growth. While the recommended dose is a mere 30 mcg daily, most studies of biotin’s benefits use considerably more. In one controlled 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. Once you eat a silica-rich food, it is converted to orthosilicic acid in the body, which increases its absorption. Even so, only about 40 percent of the silica 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. Silica is also found in the herb horsetail, which not only helps nails stay strong, but also treat nail psoriasis, a condition that causes discoloration and pitting.
Sulfur, found in garlic, helps nails grow. You can take garlic capsules internally, as well as crush a clove and add it to your nail polish. After a week, paint your nails with the infused polish for hard, strong nails.
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 bacteria and fungi. To keep cuticles from drying and tearing, massage evening primrose oil or shea butter into them every day.
Finally, for beautifully natural nails, take a pass on most polishes. While a growing number of nail polishes no longer contain harmful chemicals like toluene or formaldehyde, many still use synthetic plasticizers and solvents that can harm the environment and make their way into human breast milk. Instead, try a natural polish or buff your nails to a lustrous sheen.
TIP: NAC HELPS STOP NAIL BITING Taking N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) supplements reduced nail biting in a study published in Archives of General Psychiatry.
aw good buys
NATROL SKIN HAIR NAILS. This mineral-rich complex is formulated with vitamins A, C, B6, and biotin, an ideal combintion of nutrients for gorgeous nails (and hair and skin).
RESERVEAGE ORGANICS KERATIN BOOSTER mixes biotin with antioxidant resveratrol in a unique formulation that promotes the conversion of natural keratin into a bioavailable form.
NUBIAN HERITAGE RAW SHEA BUTTER. Soothe and repair ragged cuticles and soften hands with this luscious 99.5% organic raw shea butter, rich in vitamin E.