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