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What Is Nail Strengthener?

By T. Alaine
Updated: May 21, 2024

A nail strengthener is a clear polish that is applied to soft, flimsy nails to harden them and prevent them from tearing. Using a nail strengthener will help restore keratin to the nails and increase their toughness and durability. Brittle nails will not benefit from a nail strengthener, and may actually be worsened because they already contain more keratin connecters than necessary. Most nail strengtheners resemble clear nail polish and are applied directly to the nails just like normal polish.

Most people use nail strengtheners, also called nail hardeners, in hopes of achieving stronger, healthier, better-looking nails. People with weak nails often have difficulty growing their nails as long as they would like. Painting on a nail hardener will not speed up nail growth, but it will protect the nails and make them strong enough to grow to greater lengths without tearing.

Nail strengtheners are necessary when nails are soft, weak, or pliable. If the tips of the nails can be bent, or if the nail beds are easily scratched, a nail hardener will probably be beneficial. These conditions occur when the keratin strands that compose the nail are not held together securely enough. A nail-strengthening product will restore the links that connect the keratin strands, which results in harder, more durable nails.

Many people assume that any nail breakage is the result of weak nails, and that a strengthener should be employed. Brittle nails, however, break frequently because their keratin is held together too tightly and the nails are too hard. Applying a nail hardener to nails that are already excessively hard will not solve their brittleness and will probably end up making it worse. This nail type needs moisturizing, not strengthening, and can be treated using hydrating oils or creams.

Generally, nail strengtheners are sold in normal nail polish bottles and look similar to a regular clear varnish. A thin layer should be painted directly onto clean, dry, natural nails a few times a week depending on the severity of damage or weakness. Nail strengthener should not be used as a top coat over normal nail lacquers or artificial nails because it needs to be in direct contact with the natural nail to serve its purpose. It is acceptable, however, to apply a coat of nail strengthener underneath another polish. Acetone-based nail polish removers should be avoided when using nail strengtheners because they can dehydrate nails and make them brittle.

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 Catbar — On Sep 11, 2016

One or two of my nails have developed downward splitting from the tip / 'free edge' of the nail. Otherwise I think my nails are quite healthy, and smooth-looking. I eat quite a calcium-rich diet too, and I moisturize my hands (and nails) frequently with E45 Moisturizer.

Can anyone advise what I could use to stop this annoying downward splitting?

By bear78 — On Feb 13, 2012

I've noticed that nail polishes which are made to be more durable and last longer are also referred to as "nail strengtheners." I bought one like this a few weeks back. It was a colored nail polish and it was also labeled as a nail strengthener. I thought that it strengthens and colors the nails at the same time.

But later, when I checked the ingredients back home, it did not list keratin. I read the description again and realized that it's just a nail polish that's not supposed to crack or peel for a long time and is more durable.

Now I always read nail strengthener reviews and read the description and ingredients carefully before buying. Nail strengtheners are supposed to have nourishing natural ingredients in them like keratin, essential oils and so forth. If it doesn't, I know that it's not really a nail strengthener.

By SteamLouis — On Feb 13, 2012

@anamur-- Can I ask which brand you're using?

I've been using OPI nail strengthener. I bought it based on good reviews online but honestly, it hasn't really worked with me. I don't like wearing nail polish much, so I've been applying only this nail strengthener on my nails. But it doesn't last at all. It literally peels and comes off in about a day and I'm tired of reapplying.

I don't know if they made it so that people apply this under nail polish but I'm not very impressed. I've been using it for two weeks and I haven't noticed any differences in my nails strength-wise.

Do you ladies apply nail polish over your strengthener?

How long did it take for you to see a difference?

By serenesurface — On Feb 12, 2012

I've been using a nail strengthener for the past month and it has made my nails stronger. My nails would break and tear all the time before. Anytime that I got some length with them, I would lose them one by one as they tore and break as I used my hands.

I was so tired of it and didn't know what to do. Then the girl who does my manicure at the salon told me to use a nails strengthener regularly. She said my nails are too thin and are not holding up for that reason.

My nails are pretty long now and I have not had any one of them break in the past two weeks! I've been applying the nail strengthener 2-3 times per week. I'm really happy about the results, I'm planning on buying another bottle of this soon.

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