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What Is Nail Conditioner?

By A.M. Boyle
Updated May 21, 2024
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Many people have troublesome nails that are frail, cracked, or brittle. Nail conditioner is a product designed to heal, strengthen, and protect a person’s nails. Typically, it is available as either a lotion, cream, or brush-on liquid and can be found in most stores selling beauty supplies.

Fingernails and toenails are made up of layers of keratin, which is a type of protein produced by human cells. Human hair and skin also contain this same protein. Due to the fact that nails are designed to protect the skin on the tips of a person’s fingers and toes, they are generally hard and resilient, taking a good deal of punishment with no ill effect.

Still, fingernails and toenails are not invincible. Every day, harsh chemicals, moisture, and extreme temperatures bombard a person’s nails through typical activities such as cleaning, hand washing, and dish washing. Similarly, nail polish and adhesives used to apply acrylic nails can also cause damage. An individual’s nails can consequently become soft and brittle.

Beauty and health experts developed nail conditioner to address these issues. For the most part, nail conditioner contains ingredients designed to penetrate the fiber of the nail, healing and strengthening it from within while promoting new growth. Most conditioners contain essential vitamins such as A and E, which many believe repair and fortify the nail structures. Numerous nail conditioner products also contain natural oils and lotions such as lanolin, aloe vera, and beeswax, typically used to soften skin. Still others contain antifungal or antibacterial ingredients to alleviate any underlying infections or fungus growth negatively affecting a person’s nails.

Most health and beauty stores have different types of nail conditioner available. The brush-on type is quite popular because it is quick and easy to use. People apply this type of liquid conditioner with a small nail brush, much like they would use for nail polish. It goes on clear and generally takes only a short time to dry. Some brands are lightly scented, while others claim to have no odor at all.

Other individuals prefer nail conditioner that comes as a scented or unscented lotion or cream. This type is applied manually and massaged into the nails, much like a hand cream. The type of product used is a matter of personal preference, but absorption is the key to effectiveness. Whether the conditioner is applied as a cream or a brush-on liquid, consumers should opt for products that specifically contain ingredients designed to penetrate the tough surface of the nail.

Quite a few individuals only use a nail conditioner before and after nail treatments such as coloring or the application of acrylic nails. Most experts believe, though, that in order to have strong and healthy nails, a conditioning treatment should be applied every day, regardless of whether a person undergoes any type of nail treatment. Further, some nail conditioning products contain alcohol, which many experts believe can be counterproductive — drying the nails out further and worsening their condition — and should consequently be avoided.

BeautyAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By burcinc — On Apr 24, 2014

I use a cream type nail conditioner for my nails. It definitely helps although I'm not sure what is the difference between a nail conditioner and a regular moisturizing skin cream. I guess a nail conditioner has more natural oils and extracts, so it's better for nails.

I don't care for a specific brand or type of product. My nails crack and peel so I'm just concerned about preventing these issues. The cream nail conditioner I have now is working relatively well. It actually has very beneficial ingredients like beeswax and lanolin. Beeswax is moisturizing and lanolin creates a protective cover over the nail.

By literally45 — On Apr 24, 2014

@SarahGen-- Brush-on liquid nail conditioner isn't like nail polish. The one I have is an oil, it just comes in a nail polish jar with a brush for easy application.

The oil absorbs very nicely and softens and nourishes my nails and cuticles. I have very dry nails and experience hangnails often. The hangnails form because of dryness and I have the bad habit of picking them which causes a lot of pain.

Since I have been using nail conditioner, I have not had hangnails and my nails are very soft and shiny. I apply the oil to all my nails every night before bed.

By SarahGen — On Apr 23, 2014

Is the brush-on liquid nail conditioner effective? I feel like this type of nail conditioner wouldn't absorb well since it dries quickly. Am I wrong?

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