Most of us would like to have strong, healthy nails, and there are numerous nail strengthening products on the market that promise to stop nails from breaking or peeling. But if you're sensitive or even allergic to the ingredients in a nail strengthener, these preparations are strictly off limits for you. There are, however, alternatives to these products so you can have beautiful, resilient nails again.
The problem with nail strengtheners
Nail strengthening products are liquids applied directly to the nail with a brush that dries to a finish similar to a clear nail enamel. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a key ingredient in nail strengtheners -- sometimes referred to as hardeners -- is formaldehyde, which can be allergenic. People may also develop an allergy to another common ingredient in these products, toluene sulfonamide-formaldehyde resin. Other common ingredients, toluene and phthalates, are also known to cause allergic reactions.
Oils and cuticle conditioners
Currently on the market are numerous products sold as "cuticle oils," which are intended to moisturize the skin around the nail. These have the added benefit of conditioning the nails as well, protecting them from dryness and breaking. Brushed on at night, cuticle oils may contain other ingredients beneficial to nails, such as vitamin E. While these products will take a few weeks to give noticeable results, they're a safer option for stronger nails. If you want a product with no other ingredients, you can also try massaging in a drop of pure, natural oil. Cosmetologist Nicole Cothrun Venables recommends grapeseed, Moroccan argan or jojoba oil.
Cream nail strengtheners
A time-tested solution for your brittle nails may be one of the cream nail strengtheners available that are derived from products used on horses' hooves. These creams condition both the cuticle and nail with a combination of moisturizers, proteins and vitamins. While these preparations don't contain the harsh chemicals found in traditional nail strengtheners, they do contain preservatives and some potentially allergenic cosmetic ingredients, so be sure to read the label before using them.
Improve your nails from within
You may have heard that eating certain foods can improve the strength of your nails, but according to MayoClinic.com, that's not the case. However, a few clinical trials have shown promising results improving weak nails with the nutritional supplement biotin. Biotin is a vitamin that occurs in small amounts in many foods, so a true deficiency is rare. You should ask your doctor to recommend a suitable dosage for you if you want to try this option.