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How to grow your nails as fast as possible, keep them in good condition and stop them flaking and peeling

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a pair a beautiful hands with manicured nails painted in black with some nails in animal print

How to get beautiful hands at home

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.

However, once you understand all about your nails and the skin on your hands, it's really quite easy to make a few adjustments and have soft skin on your hands and beautiful nails that grow really quickly. Yes, it actually is possible - read on!

Why do we have nails?

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 fingernails made of?

Nails are made of keratin (a hardened protein) 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?

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 are not careful you can also get a fungal infection too.

What causes dents in fingernails?

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 may have been a little rough around the cuticle area! They can also be caused by injury and illness, uncontrolled diabetes and by vascular disease.

What causes horizontal ridges in nails?

Horizontal ridges across the nail can be caused by conditions such as thyroid problems or psoriasis and if you have these ridges on each nail then it would be wise to consult your Dr.

What causes vertical ridges on nails?

Vertical ridges in the nail can be caused by anaemia (lack of iron. With anaemia you can also have brittle or spoon shaped nails.

What are nails made of?

The keratin layers of the nail are held together with natural oils and the nail itself is permeable and can be penetrated by things like liquids, 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 strengthen nails

When your nails are flaking, breaking and splitting they are dry and the layers of the nail are coming apart, so using a typical nail strengthener (which dries nails out to make them hard) is simply going to make your nails worse.

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

10 tips to make your nails stronger:

  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, after you have use the O.P.I. Pro Spa exfoliating cuticle cream.

  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. This also happens with cosmetic products such as shampoos and shower gels.

  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 and their nail varnish has brilliant staying power.

  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).

How do you make your nails grow faster?

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

Well, I have to cut my nails every two weeks because they grow so fast. 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 20 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 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 special essential oils and it worked brilliantly to restore nail condition and keep them healthy (I still get asked for it).

One of the beneficial side effects was that it also made 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 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 to repel the water. 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 two products that work well.

Lyonsleaf 100% Natural Foot Balm

a jar of Lyonsleaf 100% natural foot balm

Why a foot balm you may ask? Well, it's not so much about the name of the product as the ingredients. This 100% natural balm contains excellent oils, beeswax and essential oils. It also contains comfrey which helps calm inflammation and helps new skin cells grow so is great for torn cuticles and soreness down the side of the nails.

Lyonsleaf 100% Natural Foot Balm ingredients

Helianthus annuus sunflower oil* • cocos nucifera (Coconut) oil* • cera alba beeswax* • tocopherol natural - vitamin E oil - gluten free • althaea officinalis. marshmallow root extract* • symphytum officinale (comfrey leaf) extract* • cymbopogon citratus (Lemongrass) essential oil• lavandula angustifolia (Lavender) essential oil • salvia sclarea (Clary sage) essential oil • commiphora myrrha (Myrrh) essential oil •

Essential oils naturally contain: Citronellol, Citral, Geraniol, Limonene, Linalool

A large 60ml jar (which will last you months) costs just £14.00 but even better, you can get a small sample 3ml pot to try for £1.99! The sample pot also makes an excellent size to take out in your handbag too.

For a special 20% off any Lyonsleaf product, use the code HappySage20 at the check-out!

Another product that works really well for helping fingernails grow fast and stopping flaking and splitting is:

Neal's Yard Remedies Soothing Skin Salve

a small 15ml tin of Neals Yard soothing skin salve

Again, this is a skin salve, not a nail product specifically, but it's the ingredients that are key:

Neal's Yard Soothing Skin Salve 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 and Linalool. *organic, from essential oils

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

Neal's Yard Soothing Skin Salve - £9 for a 10g tin.

How to use either of the balms on your nails

All you need to do at night is to take a tiny bit of one of the balms and put a bit on each nail. Then, with the first finger and thumb on one hand start massaging it in to the nails on the other hand. Spend about 20 seconds per nail, massaging the balm in to each nail on each hand. Make sure you massage well all over the nail, covering the cuticle area and down the sides of the nail.

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 (£7.49 for 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. I carry a tube of Neal's Yard Wild Rose Hand Cream (£12 for 50ml, also available in Waitrose) in my handbag and use it whenever I wash my hands. It's fantastic for dry skin and nails and smells divine.

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.

This routine is also excellent for helping repair nails that have been damaged by acrylic and gel nails.

I find these two products close in effectiveness to my 'Super Nail Nourisher' and they help keep my nails in great condition as well as making them grow faster. Why not give it a try and see!


Another really excellent product for nails is Neal's Yard Wild Rose Beauty Balm. This is quite a heavy balm for a face as far as I'm concerned and I would never use it on my face as it has beeswax in it. I love beeswax on the rest of my body but read why you shouldn't use face balms containing beeswax. The beeswax does however help seal the nails and help repel water and I've found it excellent. It is also available in a small handbag sized tin. You can also use this on your lips so it doubles up as a great product to carry round with you.

Neal's Yard Wild Rose Beauty Balm £43 for a 50g pot, £16 for a 15g pot.

If you want an additional boost for your nails you should take a marine collagen supplement as well (I do). There have been a 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 my hairdresser is constantly amazed how how quickly my hair grows!

I have also had very good results with bovine collagen, which is usually cheaper than marine collagen, but read the post on collagen to ensure you get the right sort.

I found a collagen supplement helped my nails so would definitely recommend taking one if your nails are in a really poor condition.

Hand skin care tips

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) or from Tesco or Waitrose.

Why not try a conditioning hand scrub too? Read about the face scrub that I recommend you DON'T use on your face, but which makes an absolutely fantastic conditioning hand scrub using upcycled coffee grounds - and at a reasonable price too!

Another good hand scrub is Neal's Yard Nourishing Melissa Hand Polish £17 for a 100g tube.

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