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What is a Nail Hardener?

By Bethany Keene
Updated May 21, 2024
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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. There are a few different types of nail hardeners on the market, which work differently to strengthen nails.

The first type of nail hardener is similar to nail polish. It is applied to the nail, where it hardens and makes the nail stronger, like a protective shield. This type of nail hardener does not actually penetrate the nail and physically change it; it simply rests on top. The second type of hardener generally contains ingredients such as calcium or formalin, which penetrate into the molecular structure of the nail, and make it tougher by affecting the keratin in the nail.

Each of type of nail hardener can be effective, but it is recommended that the ones containing formalin — a solution that contains formaldehyde — be used sparingly. This is because continued use of formaldehyde can cause the nail to flake and crack, having the opposite of the desired effect. Users should be sure to follow the directions on the bottle when using these products to prevent overuse and damage to the nail. In general, nail hardener should not be applied to the cuticle, and care should be taken to not get the hardener into the nail bed or underneath the tip of the nail.

Nail hardener is sold in a bottle similar to nail polish, and may be found in most drugstores in the nail care section. Some nail hardeners contain additional ingredients designed to nourish the nails and encourage growth, but some simply protect the nail to encourage it to grow on its own. With proper care of nails, it may not be necessary to use a nail hardener at all.

It is fairly simple to regularly care for the nails to make them strong and resistant to breaking. When filing the nails, people should file in one direction only, not with a see-saw motion. Any rough edges should be filed to prevent them from catching on anything. Cuticles should be pressed back, but not clipped, as this can lead to infection. The hands and nails should be moisturized daily, particularly before bed; moisturized nails are much stronger. In addition, eating a balanced diet with enough calcium and protein is a great way to improve the hardness of the nails, as is taking a multivitamin every day.

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Discussion Comments

By anon261583 — On Apr 16, 2012

What causes one or two fingernails to curls under?

By manykitties2 — On May 31, 2011

If you go to your doctor for a physical there is a good chance that he or she will look at your nails to see how healthy you are.

While applying nail hardeners can artificially make your nails stronger, the real root of the problem usually rests with people's diets and health habits.

A good complete multi-vitamin can help make your nails (skin and hair), look better and be strong.

An example of this is if you have a problem with peeling nails that break easily, you are probably suffering from a deficiency in C or D. This can easily be fixed with a vitamin or eating foods rich in what you need.

By animegal — On May 30, 2011

If you are having trouble with weak and brittle nails I would suggest using a natural nail hardener before putting something on them that contains formaldehyde. Besides being known to make nails crack with extended use, it is a known carcinogen that has the potential to cause cancer with extended use.

If your nails are weak they could need more moisture. You can try dipping them in vitamin E oil and massaging the nails which should help.

If you find your nails are brittle it could be a fungal problem. Tea tree oil is known to solve this and also help strengthen nails.

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