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11 Best Nail Strengtheners to Repair Brittle, Peeling Nails

Pro tips and product picks to harden weak, chipping nails.

best nail strengtheners

Nails can become brittle and weak, then start to chip and peel due to many factors from exposure to water via hand washing or sanitizing, gel nail polish removal, habits like nail picking or biting, and more. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, 20% of people have brittle nails (they are more likely to occur in woman over 60, but anyone can develop the condition). In a poll of over 1,300 panelists at the Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab, brittleness was the biggest nail concern, affecting 76% of people.

Nail strengthening treatments and hand creams can help with brittleness and keep nails looking strong and healthy. Here are your options:

  • Strengthening varnishes, which leave a shiny, hard coating on nails, enforces tips, making them appear thicker and can protect against damage.
  • Serum-like strengtheners absorb quickly and typically contain moisturizers to rehydrate dry, brittle nails.
  • Efficacious hand creams contain humectant ingredients, like urea and lactic acid, emollients such as lanolin, and occlusives like mineral oil and petrolatum, which work in tandem to enhance the hydration of both nails and skin.

    When selecting a nail strengthener, avoid formaldehyde. "Formaldehyde will initially harden nail but over time, the nail becomes paradoxically brittle and the ingredient can also cause severe allergic reactions," says Dana Stern, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City and nail expert for Nu Skin.

    Below, the best nail strengthener and hardeners that really work, including GH Beauty Lab test winners, dermatologist-recommended picks, and GH tester panelists' go-to formulas:

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    Best Overall Nail Strengthener
    SI-NAILS Nail Strengthener

    Unlike other nail hardeners that are more like lacquers, this Good Housekeeping Beauty Award winner has a serum- like texture that absorbs quickly into nails without leaving any film or coating on nails. It has been clinically shown to significantly improve the appearance, roughness, and thickness of nails in 28 days, when applied daily. Consumers also noted positive improvements in smoothness and found nails were harder in four weeks.

    Best Value Nail Strengthener
    Hard As Nails Hardener
    Sally Hansen
    Sally Hansen

    This “tried and true” drugstore formula from Sally Hansen, originally developed in 1957, has definitely stood the test of time with our panel voting it their favorite nail strengthener. “I've been using it for years and it seems to do a great job of keeping my nails hard,” one panelist marveled. Film formers, like nitrocellulose, impart a hard, glossy barrier on the nail preventing it from any damage. It's available in two variants of clear and tinted, which can help lessen the look of discoloration.

    Best Nail Strengthener for Dry Nails
    Advanced Repair Hand Creme

    The key to keeping brittle nails strong is to keep them hydrated with an efficacious hand cream, like this GH Beauty lab test-winning formula from Eucerin, containing key ingredients like urea and lactic acid. This nourishing cream contains both and was the best hand cream in our recent study, increasing skin hydration by 51% over six hours. 

    Best Nail Strengthener for Peeling Nails
    Nail Renewal System
    Dr. Dana
    Dr. Dana

    This 3-step Dr. Dana nail system, created by a dermatologist, includes a glycolic acid exfoliator, a buffing wand, and a hydrating serum that work together to improve the appearance of brittle nails. A study showed consumers saw smoother nails after one application and less peeling, brighter nails after two weeks of use. Apply once a week for optimal results.

    Best Nail Strengthener for Weak Nails
    Nail Envy Sensitive and Peeling

    A formaldehyde-free version of OPI Nail Envy, another panel favorite, this strengthener contains several nail-shielding ingredients to prevent breakage, plus softening kukui nut oil. Apply two coats the first day and one every other day for best results. 

    Best Nail Strengthening Base Coat
    Strong Start Nail Treatment

    Essie's double-duty formula is a strengthening base coat, meant to be applied under your nail lacquer. "I like it because it is a 2-in-1 product that combines strengthening benefits along with my base coat, so I don’t need a separate step," one panelist commented. If using it solo, the brand recommends applying two coats.

    Best Nail Strengthener for Ridges
    Makeover Ridge Filler
    Dermelect Cosmeceuticals

    This nail treatment from Dermelect contains film-forming polymers to seal nails against damage and light pink pigment to conceal any discoloration. “It adds a sheer wash of color while helping my nails,” one panelist commented. The product claims to “replenish hydration to dry, brittle nails” with Pentavitin (Saccharide Isomerate).

    Most Popular Nail Strengthener on Amazon
    Hard As Hoof Nail Strengthening Cream with Coconut Scent Nail Strengthener, Nail Growth & Conditioning Cuticle Cream Stops Splits, Chips, Cracks & Strengthens Nails, 1 oz
    ONYX Professional
    Onyx Professional

    Not only is Hard As Hoof a popular pick on Amazon but it is also a favorite among our panelists. With a blend of hydrating ingredients like glycerin, urea and jojoba oil and purported strengthening ingredients like silk and calcium, this cream "strengthens and moisturizes", one panelist commented. For best results, apply three times a day to keep hands and nails quenched.

    Best Nail Strengthener for Thin Nails
    Nail Strengthener
    ella + mila
    ella mila

    Unlike other strengtheners, Ella + mila is scented with a sweet fragrance that has notes of “watermelon” and the formula “lasts longer than others," a panelist commented. This product does require a four-week commitment for best results, as it is applied once per week for two weeks and then increased to every three days for another two weeks.

    Best Strengthener for Brittle Nails
    Sapphire Strength Mega Growth Nail Polish

    This clear, glossy Nail-Aid nail strengthener contains calcium, which is purported to strengthen nails. It imparts a "strong coating and helps make nails stronger," a panelist commented. Brush two coats onto nails allowing each coat to completely dry before applying the next, using every three days for longer-lasting protection.

    Best Nail Polish Strengthener

    It may look like a polish, but Orly's treatment claims to strengthen nails with "collagen, wheat protein, keratin and bamboo extract" while imparting a sheer pink tint to nails. "Orly makes my nails stronger without making them brittle and too hard," one panelist commented. Apply one to two coats daily and remove completely after seven days for best results.

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