Tips on looking after your nails to keep them in good condition and how you might just be able to get them to grow faster

a pair of hands with dark blue nail varnish on
give nails a bit of TLC to help them grow faster!

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Nails are on show all the time

The trouble with hands and nails is that they are on show nearly all the time. They are also in use all the time which means that they come in for a bit of a battering and it can be hard to keep them looking good.

Nails are very important as they protect the end of the fingers, are useful for things like scratching and precision movements (such as pulling a thorn out of your foot) and they also help to enhance the sensitivity of the fingertips. The nails on the hand that you use most (i.e. a right hand for a right handed person) are supposed to grow faster.

What are nails made of?

Nails are made of keratin which is the same material that the body uses to create hair and the top layer of the skin. Tiny blood vessels lie just underneath your nail bed and the blood flowing through them is what gives the nails their light pinkish colour and this blood flow also helps the nails to grow. Using your hands a lot on a daily basis helps boost the blood circulation which is helpful in getting your nails to grow but depending on what you are doing with your hands, it can also be the cause of dry, brittle and flaking nails.

How do nails grow?

be careful not to damage your cuticles

Nails start life under the cuticle as cells pushing their way up and as they do the older cells start to flatten out and harden up to form the nail. Cuticles help protect the new nail growth as it grows from the root.

Everyone would like nice neat and tidy cuticles but beware cutting them right back as you may get 'dents' in your nails from the pushing and cutting in the cuticle area which will then take time to grow out.

If you have a series of dents in your nails growing out they can probably be timed back to your manicures and it means that they were probably a bit too rough! The layers of the nail are held together with natural oils and the nail itself is permeable and can be penetrated so you do need to be careful what you expose them to.

What problems can you get with nails?

There are many problems you can get with nails besides flaking, splitting and peeling. Crumbling, yellow, greenish or brownish nails may indicate a fungal infection (your local pharmacist or Dr should be able to help with this) whilst some types of yellowing to the nails can indicate issues with the thyroid, diabetes and even psoriasis. Purple or blue nails may indicate a potential lack of oxygen to the area.

Tip to prevent grubby nails: before you start any sort of messy job that is likely to get dirt under the finger nails (for instance gardening), push your nails in to a bar of organic or natural soap. You are aiming to get as much soap under your fingernails as possible. Wipe off any excess not under the fingertips. Once you have finished your work just wash your hands and use a nailbrush to gently remove the soap from under your fingers nails leaving them nice and clean.

How to improve your nails

Flaking, splitting and breaking nails can be helped in a variety of ways

10 tips to improve your nails:

  1. First check your diet. You need good quality protein to build new nails and iron, biotin and omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids are all essential for nail health too.

  2. Don't let your cuticles get damaged. Avoid harsh cuticle trimming, excessive pushing on the cuticles with tools and biting the nails or cuticles. If you really feel you must tidy your cuticles try O.P.I. Pro Spa exfoliating cuticle cream (£12 LookFantastic). It contains non-irritating alpha-hydroxy acids, cupuaçu butter and an avocado lipid complex (rich in vitamins, proteins and phospholipids) to restore essential moisture. Just leave the product on for about 10 minutes and you will find that the cuticles can be gently moved back with no pressure. If you must trim them use a professional style cuticle nipper.

  3. Wear rubber gloves when using any chemicals. This means for tasks such as washing up, cleaning the bathroom, doing hand washing or washing the car. Every time you put your hands in to a mixture with a cleaning product or solvent in it the liquid will be able to penetrate into the nail and it will start to break down the natural oil that is holding the nail layers together.

  4. Use a hand cream after you have washed your hands. Try Neal's Yard Bee Lovely hand cream (£10 with 3% of sales from the Bee Lovely range going to charities to help protect bees). I find this great as a nail conditioner too, just work it into the nails as well as the hands after washing them.

  5. Try avoid nail varnish for a while to give your nails a chance to recover. Most nail varnish contains chemicals which dry out the nails and the products you use to remove nail varnish also dry out the nails. If you really still need a nail varnish fix for a day or two try Butter London who avoid the major toxins in their products or Nailberry London who make breathable nail polish without toxins.

  6. Avoid chemical nail hardeners, they just dry the nail out further.

  7. Avoid the use of false nails and having gel manicures as these damage the nail and cumulative damage from the repeated use of the UV lamp used to cure the nail varnish may lead to an increase in premature ageing and age spots of the skin on the hands.

  8. File nails with a top quality nail file, I love the award winning small crystal nail file by Leighton Denny (£12.50 Boots). I have had mine years, I just rinse it after every use.

  9. Keep your nails on the short side whilst they recover and slightly rounded on the top.

  10. Try and avoid harsh liquid hand wash and soaps, those with sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), sodium laureth sulphate (SLES) or ammonium lauryl sulphate (ALS) in them as they are very drying to hands and will also strip the oil from nails (see my blog post Part II of a Guide to Clean Beauty - 15 ingredients to avoid ). Natural or organic liquid soap is nowhere near as drying to hands and nails but can be quite expensive. I use an organic soap instead (I just keep it in a soap dish by the sink) and it works out far cheaper than organic liquid hand wash and doesn't dry out the hands and nails, you can feel the difference in days. Try Neal's Yard Remedies wild rose organic soap (£6.50) or Faith in Nature lavender (£2.29).

Can you make your nails grow faster?


So now you can maybe address your diet to give nails the nutrients they need and protect your nails a little more to help them stay in good condition but can you actually make them grow faster?

Well, I have to cut my nails every two weeks. I do keep them reasonably short (squoval shaped) as I am fairly active and can't be doing with my nails getting in the way, but ever since I started treating my nails about 10 years ago I noticed that they grew at a ridiculous rate.

Regular readers will know that at one time I ran a small organic skincare business. One of my top sellers was a product a nail nourishing product. It was a balm I developed to keep nails in great condition and it contained a mix of oils, butters, wax and other ingredients plus a blend of essential oils and it worked brilliantly to restore nail condition and keep them healthy (I still get asked for it). It also appeared to make my nails grow really quickly (and it wasn't just me that noticed this benefit). Sometimes I get round to making it for myself but a lot of the time I am just too busy so I had to look for something to buy that I could use as a substitute.

If you are interested in making the nail nourisher product for yourself or to sell from your own business, check out the details for the DIY nail balm.

If you put a drop of water on a nail it should ideally just 'roll off', like water off a duck's back because the nail has enough natural oils. I wanted a product with roughly the same ingredients that would do a similar job to my 'Super Nail Nourisher' and I managed to find something fairly close.

Neal's Yard Remedies Soothing Skin Salve £7 for 10g

Now I know you will be wondering what I am doing recommending a skin salve for your nails but let me explain. The ingredients in the salve are:

Ingredients: Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter*, Cera Alba/Beeswax*, Calendula Officinalis Flower Extract*, Olea Europaea (Olive) Fruit Oil*, Hypericum Perforatum Flower/Leaf/Stem Extract*, Centella Asiatica Extract*, Helichrysum Italicum Flower Oil*, Tocopherol, Boswellia Neglecta Resin Oil*, Commiphora Confusa Resin Oil*, Pogostemon Cablin Leaf Oil*,

Limonene, Linalool. *Organic. From Essential Oils. Made With 99.9% Organic Ingredients.

The Neal's Yard soothing skin salve has oils, butter and beeswax so it has a lot of the ingredients in it that I wanted. It also has some calendula which is great for soothing sore cuticles and raw bits down the side of the nails.

All you need to do at night is to take a tiny bit of the balm and put a bit on each nail. Then, with the first finger and thumb on one hand start massaging it in to the nail of the fingers and thumb on the other hand. Spend 30 seconds to 1 minute on each nail on each hand. Make sure you massage well all over the nail, covering the cuticle area and the sides.

The massaging will help to get the oils in to the nail and it will also help stimulate the blood flow underneath the nail in the tiny capillaries which also helps to boost nail growth. When you are done put a blob of hand cream on, Neal's Yard Bee Lovely is ideal but any, (preferably natural!) hand cream is fine. Dr Organic Manuka Honey hand and nail cream 12 hour rescue is also very good (£6.99 125ml Holland and Barrett).

Make sure you do this every night and also use a hand cream after you wash your hands during the day, rubbing it into the nails. If your nails are in really bad condition cut them quite short and use the night time routine twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening until you start to see an improvement. Over the period of a few weeks your nails will start to recover and you will only have to do the nightly routine.

With all the handwashing going on and use of disinfectant hand gel due to Covid at the moment, I suggest you keep using a hand cream after you have washed your hands to prevent dryness.

I find that Neal's Yard soothing skin salve is a close runner up to my 'Super Nail Nourisher' and helps keep my nails in great condition as well as making them grow faster. Why not give it a try and see!

Update 2021

I have recently been trying another product on my nails. Not because Neal's Yard soothing skin salve doesn't work, it does - but because I was looking for something in a larger pot.

Green People have recently launched a new product called One Balm. It is marketed as a multi-tasking organic beauty balm and you can use it on dry skin anywhere on your body, including the lips (and I have used it to tame flyaway ends on my hair as well). It's made from 99% organic ingredients and importantly, it contains a good mix of the oils and butters that are so essential for nail protection and growth (as I describe above). It even has a few of the essential oils I used in my Super Nail Nourisher!

I have just used a whole pot (it lasted me absolutely ages) and I can say that it works brilliantly on the nails. Super conditioned and wonderfully strong and healthy growth on using it every night before bed. As a new feature for Green People it also comes in a completely biodegradable pot so after you have finished using it you can throw it on your compost tip or into your rubbish - completely zero waste with this product!

If you want an additional boost for your nails you could try taking a marine collagen supplement. There have been few scientific studies done in relation to marine collagen and the benefits on hair, skin and nails but it is claimed marine collagen can increase the strength of the nails to prevent breakage and stimulate nail growth.

I did a three month experiment to see what benefits I could gain (see my blog post on The Benefits of Marine Collagen) and found that it improved my hair, skin and nails. I have continued to take my morning 'beauty coffee' and am now 5/6 months in to taking it and the last time I visited my hairdresser she wanted to know what I had been doing to thicken my hair up so much! I found it helped my nails too so would definitely recommend taking the marine collagen supplement as well if your nails are in a really poor condition.

Finally, do you ever notice that you get dry skin on the inside of your thumb and index finger (and possibly underneath the other three fingers) on the hand you use most? If so, it is probably from your dishcloth. Whilst I use rubber gloves for washing up and other jobs using solvents I am constantly wiping surfaces down with a dishcloth and wringing it out without gloves. Obviously the cloth will still have some cleaning products on it despite being rinsed and when I changed to using natural cleaning products like Method, this problem disappeared too! Try Method clementine daily kitchen spray or Method bathroom spray (both £3 each Big Green Smile UK).

If you also want to have fabulous hands as well as great nails - why not make yourself some DIY Intensive Hand Balm too!

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