Hard As Nails


My name is Alessandra, and I have brittle nails. But “brittle” (evoking either peanut, almond, or bones of the elderly) isn’t even really the right word. They’re sort of flimsy, my nails; they split, they crack, and the white part that extends past the finger—which the internet tells me is called the “free margin” or “distal edge”—oftentimes peels and chips. And I’ve subsequently developed a terrible habit of trying to even them out by tearing them further, the end result of which is these jagged talon things that weakly scrape around. So, they’re weak. My nails are weak. This is all part of why I try to get manicures on a weekly basis, even though I stick to the same color (what up, Jin Soon Nostalgia!), and in spite of the fact that I suffer a mild-to-moderate boredom-induced panic attack waiting for them to dry every time. (Are you ever as aware of how much you like to use your hands as when you’re momentarily prevented from doing so? I am always overcome by an urgent need to text someone during those 15-odd minutes of drying time. Hot tip: you can type on an iPhone with the pad of your finger without messing up a wet manicure! It just takes practice. And aestheticians will give you dirty looks.) In the summer, my nails grow quicker but still require regular upkeep to stay in tip-top shape, and in the winter months, they’re just a mess. An annoying, visually unappealing, and semi-upsetting mess that is always aggravating—professionally, I’m on a keyboard all day, which means my fingers are always in my sightline.

So, what’s a girl to do, bankrupt herself on mani maintenance? If that’s your chosen route, you can stop reading, and I applaud you and your well-manicured self. For the rest of us, there might be another way, maybe a few different options (!!!). For one thing, there are vitamins:

I feel like I’m consistently reading in some beauty magazine about how a healthy diet full of avocados and seven almonds a day and jumping up and down in a small circle will result in better skin, hair, and nails. There’s some science to back up claims that a diet or supplementary routine rich in vitamin B complex, plus C, A, E, and D will make you better all over, and I am fans of all of those (yay, vitamins!). But, friends, my mother has weak nails, too, no matter what she does (though when I called to ask her about it, she noted that they were much stronger while she was pregnant. “I think it had something to do with these big folic-acid horse pills I had to take,” she said. “My hair was great too!”). My older sister’s nails can never grow past her fingertips. I’m calling genetics on this one.

So, let’s talk topical aids: nail strengtheners! Seemingly every nail company makes them, but there’s only a small clutch of those that have ever worked for me—and please note, like anything worth having, they require repeated use and a wee smidge of that old virtue, patience.

If you have exactly the same problem as me: Duri Rejuvacote’s tagline is “from dying nails... to nails to die for.” And while, ahem, I never thought of my nails as “dying” before, repeated use of Rejuvacote—I use it as a basecoat under a color, but it can also be worn alone for a nice, glossy finish—has left my nails feeling stronger, without any more peeling or small rips and overall looking fiiiiiine (pronounced “foiiiiiiiyyne”). Two thumbs up.

For the OPI addict: OPI Nail Envy strengthens your nails and comes in a few makes. For this story, we pulled the Original and Sensitive and Peeling formulas, both of which are effective, though benefits took a bit longer to appear than with Rejuvacote or Nailtek (see below).

If you’re more concerned about your nails being stained, or “yellow, peel-y, and damaged”: Essie Protein Base Coat extends the duration of your manicure and protects your nails, but it has an off-white opacity thing going that I’m not personally wild about. However, I’d be into it if I had a yellowing issue. So if you do, don't listen to me. About that. Feel free to listen to me about everything else.

If you’re more into mending your nail-fences: Fortified with nylon fibers and hemp seed oil, Duri Hemp Seed Liquid Wrap has been known, when applied to a severely (i.e. down to the quick) split nails, to hold things together, as if created by some sort of mystical nail goddess. I prefer this to regular nail glue, which some salons will try to say is a good idea (not having it).

The pro-tip product: Nail Tek XTRA was recommended to me on a photo shoot by a manicurist who’d taken pity on my situation. She swore by it, and ITG’s own Elizabeth has been XTRA-ing recently and is very pleased with the results. “My nails generally can bend pretty easily,” she told me, “but they didn’t after applying that.” Well, Nail Tek, I value flexibility in my friends and boyfriends (especially when it comes to movie choices/restaurants/schedules), but not in my nails. Very good.

Do you like the idea of being a human doll? …Right down to the tips of your porcelain fingers? Then Duri Porcelain Nail Foundation’s for you! Fine, it doesn’t make you doll-like really, but it does give your nails an un-earthly tint and a serious wallop of strength, which is kind of ironic, because I don’t really think of porcelain as a material that signifies strength. (Have you ever broken a plate? For example…) But if my nails ever became even three-quarters as strong as a plate, I’d be happy. Anyway, this stuff is good and it works. I use it as a base coat because it’s a little robin’s-egg blue in the bottle.

—Alessandra Codinha

Photographed by Emily Weiss at Vivienne Westwood's Spring 2013 show; products photographed by Elizabeth Brockway.

Let’s Talk About It! JOIN IN
  • Jannike

    I just used Duri's Rejuvacote for the first time, and I have to say...I don't know what magic chemicals are lurking in it and I'm afraid to look...but it works. Well.


    • NeenaJ

      Don't look! The ingredients are frightening. I use Nailtiques Formula 2.

  • Anna Christensen

    Sally Hansen

  • Anna Christensen

    Sally Hansen does this amazing prod that makes your nails grow crazy fast and get strong. I normally leave my nails the hell alone because they are too bizarre looking to bother doing anything with, but I once attempted Sally and got some pretty impressive talons. Have you looked into hair skin nail tablets or colloidal silicon? http://www.covetmag.com

  • Loni

    I have a system. Base coat, Nail Envy by OPI, then Essie nail polish only (I just don't ever get the same long length of wear from any other company). Then here is the trick, Dabu Nail Hardener. The weirdest oldest, something you'd find in your grandmothers closet, miracle top coat. It prevents chipping like no other. Seriously. It just sort of fades your manicure. Oh an also bonus, this duo has saved my nails and brought them back after my year long addiction to gel manicures.

    More on the greatest top coat ever here: http://oneproductatatime.com/2012/12/31/stealing-from-your-grandmas-beauty-closet/

  • http://nomadic-d.blogspot.com/ Nomadic D.

    I have the same problem as you, flimsy weak nails that tend to flake off in layers. Well, I used to have that problem. My solution has been Nailtiques, Formula 2. This stuff is AMAZING. I've tried Nail Tech and I didn't like it as much (though I don't think it was the XTRA), and other formulations of Nailtiques didn't work for me either. But if I'm good about regularly using my formula#2, my nails are seriously beautiful. I even get compliments on them, which always surprises me and cracks me up. I cannot recommend the stuff enough.


  • http://www.vintageobserver.com/ Couteau

    Dip your nails in warm olive oil for 3 or 4 m. It's surprisingly effective.

  • NailProNYC

    No Nailtiques I and II?? The best!

  • Former Flimsy Nail

    My weak pealing nails had been like this for as long as I can remember and my parents would always moan at me for not looking after them. Until, I discovered OPI Matte Nail Envy Nail Strengthener, it's literally the best thing I have ever used. I've been slathering it on religiously for the past year and I get compliments on my nails left right & centre, even from manicurists and make-up artists on photo shoots. I use 2 coats and make sure it's dead set dry before anything else gets added. The beauty of it is that it's matte so if you want a plain nude nail you don't have a shiny gloss to contend with.
    Highly recommended by a former flimsy nail.

  • Shirin

    Iron deficiency is a huge cause of brittle nails, I had it and have been beefing up my intake of dark green veges and it's made a difference!

  • tcrust

    Has anyone tried Pink Gel Coat? Just wondering about the results?

    • sam

      the green strengthening treatment by the same brand is better

      • tcrust


    • JJ

      Gives nails very pretty pink color and makes whites whiter BUT it left my already brittle nails very dry and in worse condition than when I started. Having much better luck with O.P.I. Nail Envy.

  • http://www.radartothescene.com nobody girl

    I swear by Nailtiques Formula 2 Extra Strength. A microscopic bottle is $10 but it's worth it!

    • TJ

      I have to second the Nailtiques Formula 2+. My nails tend to tear and peel, leading me to bite to the skin. Using the 2+ for about a month and my nails look as good as new.

  • Pixel_Queen

    Essie "Feed Me" is a terrific moisturizing base coat. I highly recommend it. I follow that with two coats of "Instant Artificials," which is a colorless thickening base coat (it looks pink in the bottle, but dries clear on the nails) and then my polish. Top it off with Seche Vite quick dry top coat. Glossy, fast, works with almost every polish except Zoya. No more 15-minute drying time. You can get on with your life in five minutes.

    Most important: moisturize the cuticle area several times a day. I use CND Solar Oil for this, but there are many products from which to choose.

  • Anna

    I really would recommend biotin to anyone dealing with weak nails. I started taking biotin to help my hair grow but have noticed it's made my nails much stronger as well! It's cheap and there are no known side effects (the pills are just a high dose of vitamin B complex).

    • Pixel_Queen

      Biotin was great for my nails, but I had to stop taking it because, unfortunately, it also made my facial hair grow extremely fast. My dermatologist told me that this was a common side effect.

      • Anna

        Oh god! Now I'm totally worried that will become a problem for me. :/

        • Pixel_Queen

          It seems to happen to a lot of people, but maybe you will be one of the lucky ones. Here's hoping!

  • Lucy Apted

    Thank you for the useful hints, my nails are ruined from constantly having them in water at work!


  • sybar1te

    yeah, i'm gonna vote nailtiques formula 2. you must follow their convoluted instructions exactly, but that's the only thing that works for my normally-so-weak-they-rip-off-horizontally nails.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=621425764 Heather Smith

    prenatal vitamins took care of my weak hair. I'm not pregnant, but figured all of those vitamins would be good for me (i buy the gummy, chewable kind, because....sour-patch kids for vitamins are great!). REALLY changed the consistency and strength of my nails. Finally able to grow out a bit of "distal edge."

  • http://twitter.com/ebmonson Elizabeth Monson

    I use Nail Magic. My nails are pretty strong to start out with, but still helps.

  • http://www.rachelphipps.com/ Rachel Phipps

    Like Rejuvacote, as I have 100% the same problem I use Nail Magic, a beauty secret passed down by my Grandmother - I think I've only had one split nail this year, rather than one every few days! http://www.theglossyguide.com/2012/10/my-no-1-magic-beauty-product-nail-magic.html

  • http://www.nailgirl.net/ Lexie

    There are so many nail blogs out there with heaps of resources on how to have healthy nails! Nail strengtheners won't do the trick if you're not filing your nails in such a way to help prevent peels - remember to file in one direction only, and use a fine grit file (180++) to minimize chance of peels.

  • Kate

    Burt's Bees Lemon Butter Cuticle Cream immediately after polish remover, wait awhile for it to soak in (I like to take a shower) and then a strengthening base layer (any one!) helped me rehab my nails back from gels. I swear by the lemon butter, it works wonders.

  • Sara

    I would like to know which one of the OPI nails envy is best as I have the very same issue with my nails.

    • ITGAlessandra

      Sensitive and Peeling! It's formaldehyde free!

      • Sara

        Thanks! I'll give it a try then!

  • Cate

    Dr. Cynthia Bailey says the nail strengtheners/hardeners can actually make the problem worse! Just thought this would be pertinent to the discussion... http://www.drbaileyskincare.com/blog/cracked-dry-brittle-and-splitting-fingernails-dermatologists-tips/

  • lifeonthesquares

    the essie protein base coat IS truly amazing! will have to try your other suggestions.

    XO, Stefanie
    Life on the Squares

  • Julia

    Viviscal is the only thing that helped my nails. It's technically for hair, but it made a HUGE difference. Like, my manicurist actually commented on it.

  • samantha chan

    try out sally hansen hard as nails! that really worked for me

  • teechuk

    Freakin loved this article! Well written and hilarious! I love ITG

  • http://livingchicbrooklyn.com/ Neahle Ize`

    I have the same exact issue and no matter how much water I drink or vitamins I take, they ALWAYS peel. Definitely will be trying the Duri Rejuvacote in hopes it helps me out!


JINsoon Nostalgia Nail Lacquer
Nailtek Xtra
Essie Protein Base Coat
OPI Nail Treatments
OPI Nail Treatments Nail Envy Natural Nail Strengthener