Autumn leaves have started to fall. Calm winds gently creep in and so does the cold weather, resulting in dry, cracked skin and nails. So, as I was unpacking my woolen clothes and warm socks a couple of days ago, I looked at my hands: dry and chapped nails? Many of us face the same problem. With loss of moisture our nails get dry and dull, lose their luster and shine and get brittle, too. There are lots of products out there likely to give you harder and stronger nails, but they are not all the same. As a biotechnologist and cosmetic scientist, I shall explain nail science and product technology. Let’s take a closer look at nail-strengthening products and which are the best for you.
Some ‘Nailed Down’ Facts
Nails are composed of layers of keratin (≈18% water; <5% lipids), a protective protein manufactured by the body. Our nails grow continuously, but with time, however, the growth rate slows down as we age. As a matter of fact, it takes 160 days for a fingernail to regrow completely. Fingernails grow faster than our toenails. The following figure illustrates the structure of the nail:
Dry Cuticles And Nail Growth Problems
When the body does not receive enough of nutrients needed to create healthy keratin, the result may be dry and brittle nails that crack and break easily. Dry, brittle nails can also be an inherited genetic trait. Vitamins and nutrients like biotin, vitamin B-12 and iron are important for nail strength if you like to have healthy and strong nails. However, different topical nail health products are available on the market today to help fortify your nails.
The two basic types of products are nail hardeners and nail hydrators. A nail hardener is a product applied to the fingernails to make them longer and more resistant to breakage, in addition to protecting them from further damage. It may be applied to brittle nails once a week or more before a manicure. Technically, there are two types available: cross-linking and reinforcing nail hardeners.
Cross-linking hardener: This type of hardener works by actually reacting with the protein in your nails. When your nails are weak, the protein is like an old stepladder with broken steps, hence the structure feels loose and fragile. You can make the ladder sturdier by adding some extra support to connect the two legs, which is just like how cross linkers work with your nails. They create chemical bonds that link the protein chains together to make the nails harder. These products use ingredients like formaldehyde and calcium.
Reinforcing hardener: This type of hardener works topically on the nail via ingredients that coat the nail. They basically enhance a layer on top of your nails to reinforce their smooth and natural structure. These products use ingredients like nylon and sulfhydryl protein.
Nail hardeners make your nails feel harder and become less prone to splitting and breaking. Although, the disadvantage of using cross-linkers is that the nail can actually become so hard that it becomes inelastic and unable to bend, which can actually make the nail break more easily. While the concern with reinforcers is that they chip quickly and need to be reapplied often to continue to be effective. I will say that these products are unsurpassed for people that have really soft and weak nails that break easily.
On the other hand, nail hydrators work by using ingredients that moisturize the nail to keep it elastic, so it bends rather than breaks. Formulation-wise, they are relatively thick, emulsion based products like creams and lotions with ingredients like mineral oil, glycerin, petrolatum and beeswax (ingredients you would commonly find in an intensive moisturizer). Moisturizing your nails make them more flexible, which means they bend easier and are less likely to break. Additionally, they soften and condition the cuticles and the skin around your nail wall. So your nail appears visibly healthy looking. Hydrators need to be used on a continuous basis, as with any moisturizing product — they need to be reapplied because they often get rinsed off.
The nail care market is worth approximately one billion dollars worldwide and continues to grow. Some of the popular nail care brands in the USA are Sally Hansen, OPI, Nutranail, Essie, Barielle, Revlon, etc. So, ladies, I hope you have found the correct resolution for your nails. Welcome winter this year with strong and healthy nails.
Will you be taking care of your nails this winter? Tell us some of your nail care woes. Let us know by commenting below, which will automatically be posted to our Community Forum (click here to check it out!) where you can find other beauty related discussions! Don’t forget to also submit a photo to our Photo Of The Day (click here!) feature, where a new photo will be picked daily. Your photo just might be selected, so get going!
-Rinki Pramanik, biotechnologist & cosmetic researcher
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