Don’t we all wish for longer nails? Having strong, long, well-shaped nails is a sign of health, glamour, and femininity. Long nails help the hands look longer and more elegant, so it’s only natural to desire them.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, many of us actually have nails that don’t seem to grow at all, or they’re so weak and brittle that they break if we just look at them wrong. If that sounds like your nails, we’ve written this guide to help you grow your nails longer and stronger.
First, we’ll discuss the main factors that usually affect nail growth. Then, we’ll go through the best solutions to slow nail growth while keeping in mind that each solution usually correlates with a specific cause. Finally, we included a section on common nail growth hacks that you should actually avoid since they don’t really work and can even be harmful.
In this article:
- Why Aren’t Your Nails Growing?
- The Best Methods to Improve Nail Growth
- Tricks That Won’t Improve Nail Growth
In a lot of cases, a method that helps the nails grow longer only works because it addresses a specific cause. That is why, before we can start talking about solutions, it’s important we first understand the various factors that prevent your nails from growing.
Our nutrition has a huge impact on all of our body’s processes, including nail growth. If your nails are refusing to grow, or they suddenly become very brittle, it’s possible that a nutritional deficit is the culprit. Brittle or slow-growing nails are most often associated with deficiencies in B vitamins (like biotin), iron, calcium, or healthy fatty acids. However, it’s not possible to just predict which nutrient you’re lacking, so make sure to speak to your doctor and run some tests.
Hormonal changes can also impact nail growth, especially when it comes to major ones, like taking birth control pills, becoming pregnant, or undergoing menopause. Other factors that influence hormones include different illnesses, stress, sleep, and certain medications.
In general, higher estrogen levels in the body correlate with better moisturization and stronger nails (so, for instance, when you’re taking hormonal birth control or when you’re pregnant). Lower estrogen levels (like during menopause) can correlate with weaker or more brittle nails, which may not grow as fast.
Nail-biting certainly keeps the nails short. How can they grow if you keep biting them off? Additionally, it does more damage by putting pressure on the nail bed and damaging the structure of the nail plate. In the long term, it can cause damage to the tissue around the nails, causing long-term growth issues. Once you stop biting your nails, the damage to the structure of the nail will usually repair itself, and growth often resumes normally.
Much as with nail-biting, working with your hands can also damage your nails, especially if you tend to use your nails as tools. Everything from exposure to certain chemicals and the friction and pressure of manual labor can take their toll on your poor nails.
Water exposure is surprisingly damaging to the nails. When soaked in water for a long time, your nails actually absorb that water. The nail plate swells from the water, so once that water evaporates, the contraction causes the bonds in the nail to weaken, which leads to breakage and prevents nails from growing long.
A good manicure shouldn’t damage your nails, but constant nail extensions can cause issues, especially in the long term. During the nail extension process, the nail plate has to be filed down a little. Once in a while, when done gently, the nails can tolerate this. However, if your manicurist is too aggressive, it can damage the nail. Additionally, incorrect removal can also lead to nail breakage and other issues.
Lack of sleep absolutely wreaks havoc on our body’s ability to grow, heal, and repair itself. Not sleeping enough is one of the worst things you can do for your health, so it’s no surprise that lack of sleep also impacts nail growth. If you haven’t been sleeping enough (that means between 7 to 9 hours every night), it’s time to fix that.
As we age, the cells in our body stop multiplying as quickly or as frequently. Our body takes longer to heal, and both hair and nail growth slows down. This process is largely inevitable, although by living a healthy lifestyle and practicing good nail care habits, you might be able to help your nails grow a little faster than they would otherwise.
There is a wide range of medications that can impact nail growth. According to DermNet NZ, those medications include certain antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs, lithium, retinoids, and others. If you’re experiencing nail breakage or slow nail growth as a medication side effect, you may want to speak to your doctor.
Once you have a small idea of what’s keeping your nails from growing, here are some solutions that’ll help your nails grow longer and stronger. A lot of these are great tricks to simply keep the nails healthy and protected, no matter what you’re dealing with, while others are meant to target specific nail issues.
As we mentioned earlier, nutritional deficiencies are often at the root of nail growth problems. Before you jump on the biotin bandwagon, however, please make sure to speak to your doctor.
Your GP can refer you to a lab or specialist, so you can have blood work done to find out which nutrients you’re lacking. This way, you can make informed nutritional changes and choose supplements that are actually going to give your body what it needs. Seeing a registered dietitian can also be incredibly helpful since they’ll be able to help you improve your diet and overall health with science-backed tips.
Here are a few of the supplements that may end up being necessary to help your nails grow better:
- Biotin is the most frequently recommended supplement, and it’s a type of B-vitamin. The reality is that most of us get enough of it in our diet since it’s present in a lot of foods. There are a few small studies from the ‘90s that suggest it helps with brittle nails, but we’d still recommend speaking to a doctor before taking it.
- A lack of B12 and other B vitamins aside from biotin can also lead to weaker nails since they’re responsible for iron absorption and the development of red blood cells.
- Following from B-vitamins, a lack of iron can also lead to weaker nails since it’s a key component in red blood cells. It’s important to know if you’re dealing with a B-vitamin deficiency or iron deficiency before starting to supplement.
- Vitamin C is an important vitamin that helps the body absorb calcium and produce collagen. Sometimes, the problem isn’t that you’re lacking in calcium but that your body isn’t absorbing it properly, which is why a simple multivitamin with Vitamin C can be enough on its own.
Much like having your bloodwork done, having your hormones checked can also give you some clues about what’s going on with your nails. If a test does discover some hormone imbalances in your body, your doctor will be able to prescribe medication that will help you regulate everything and help your nails grow back.
The impact of stress on the body is hard to over-stress (pun intended). Stress hormones can mess with our body in all kinds of ways, not to mention that stress and anxiety can lead to nail-biting and picking. Finding ways to limit stress through therapy, exercise, and eliminating stress-causing factors will go a long way towards helping your body and nails regenerate.
Now we get into the easier, more actionable tips. Sometimes, improving nail growth is as simple as not leaving them in water for too long. How to do that? Make sure to wear gloves when washing dishes, avoid submerging your hands in the water when you have a bath, and keep your nails protected from absorbing water by saturating them with nail or cuticle oil instead.
Speaking of nail oils! Keeping your nails and cuticles moisturized is simply part of good nail care, especially if your nails are brittle and prone to breakage. Cuticle oils (as well as simple jojoba or coconut oil) are able to penetrate through the nail plate, where they fill in the gaps between layers of keratin. This makes the nail more flexible, and therefore more resistant to breakage. They also prevent water from absorbing and weakening your nails.
The cuticles also benefit from moisturizing ingredients. Dehydrated cuticles are more prone to hangnails and inflammation, which compromises their ability to protect the nail matrix, which is the base where your nails grow. The cuticles benefit from thick moisturizers more so than they do from cuticle oils since moisturizers are able to actively hydrate them with humectants.
Gloves are the ultimate hand protection accessory, and they’re invaluable if your nails are constantly exposed to external damage. Every type of task that can damage your nails probably has its own appropriate pair of gloves, from disposable gloves in a medical setting to work gloves for construction workers.
A nail strengthener can help prevent your nails from breaking off if they’re especially brittle, and it also offers a good layer of protection against water. Nail strengtheners are often made with ingredients that fortify the nails, like calcium or various proteins.
However, they also contain the same polymers dissolved in acetate that you can find in regular nail polishes. These ingredients are responsible for creating that protective coat over the nail. Because of that, you’ll still want to give your nails an occasional break from nail strengtheners and other polish-like products.
Our tip is to time it so that your nails are always coated in a layer of strengthener when you’re working or cleaning. Then, have a day or two where you only coat them in oils and moisturizers at least once a week.
As we mentioned earlier, certain bad habits like biting your nails or using them as tools are frequent contributors to breakage, and they keep nails from growing. If one of those is the reason why your nails stay short, you have to kick the habit before they can start growing again.
We know that kicking a habit like nail-biting is very hard to do, so we suggest you seek out some help and try a few methods. If your bad nail-picking habit is a result of stress or anxiety, speaking to a therapist and dealing with the underlying cause can help.
Organizations like The TLC foundation offer good resources and support. In the short term, even psychologists recommend that you try getting a manicure or painting your nails. If you go that route, we do recommend sticking to a gentle manicure with the tips we offer below.
If you’re a nail extension addict, it’s possible that the constant pressure of having extensions or the harsh removal process is taking a toll on your nails. If you’ve always had nail extensions, and your nails below won’t grow, it might be time to spend a few months with bare nails.
You don’t have to give up on nail enhancement entirely, however, since we do have some suggestions for how to keep your manicure gentle.
A gentle manicure, on its own, won’t fix your nails, but it’ll make them look fab and help you stay motivated to practice other good nail care habits. Here are the key tips that will prevent your manicure from being damaging to your nails:
- Opt for a soft file with a smoother grain when shaping your nails. Avoid scissors or nail clippers, and remember to always file your nails in gentle strokes only going in one direction – never back and forth.
- Avoid soaking your nails for too long before a manicure, and even consider skipping this step altogether.
- When removing your nail strengthener or nail polish, opt for an acetone-free polish remover that won’t dehydrate your nails.
- Opt for nail-strengthening, formaldehyde-free nail polishes or colored nail strengtheners, and use a nail strengthener as your base coat.
- While you can still trim your hangnails, avoid removing or trimming your cuticles. Instead, push your cuticles back slightly with a soft, wooden stick.
- At the end of every manicure, always make sure to moisturize your cuticles.
Nothing is more discouraging than trying different methods for nail growth without seeing results. Here are some of the commonly suggested hacks that aren’t necessarily going to work.
Just in case we haven’t stressed this enough yet, it bears repeating: supplements aren’t magic solutions that’ll make your nails grow. A supplement will only make a difference if your nutrition was already lacking.
Beyond this, taking the wrong supplement can actually lead to issues, so it’s important that you speak to a doctor or registered dietitian about what your body really needs before starting to pop random pills.
The Internet is filled with DIY hacks and remedies that are said to help nails grow faster. These solutions usually come in the form of soaks. However, soaking your nails in any liquid is actually going to be detrimental to their growth since, as we explained earlier, the nails only become weaker when saturated with water.
If you are a fan of DIY, we do have some good news! While a DIY soak won’t help, you can definitely use your own custom blend of healthy plant oils, like jojoba oil, coconut oil, squalane, and more to make your own custom cuticle oil. You can experiment with different kinds of oils until you find your perfect blend. If your skin can tolerate essential oils and fragrances, you can even add a few drops of your favorite scent.
Photos via @overglowedit, Instagram