Bad beauty editor confession: I'm a nail biter. I have been my entire life, and I've been hearing how gross it is for just as long. I agree! It is! Especially during a pandemic, when my hands are supposed to be far from my face. It's also a bummer aesthetically, because I've whittled down my nails to sad, bloody stumps that aren't exactly conducive to a chic manicure. That's why when I started high school, I turned to acrylic tips to stop me from gnawing away my beds. And it worked...until I took them off ten years later. My poor, stubby nails emerged out from under a dense layer of gel and powder paper-thin, peeling like dried flower petals and splitting painfully (which only made me want to bite them more). They were in worse shape than when I'd started. That's when I knew they needed a major intervention.
I know I'm not alone in having to rehab my nails after abusing them. Whether you've been heavy on the gel polish, work with your hands, or just simply have naturally brittle nails, sometimes you need extra help getting your nails to get them back to their former healthy glory. That's where strengthening and hardening products come in. These fortifying liquids and gels are made to bathe your weak nails in ingredients that nourish nails deeply and harden their surface to prevent splitting and more damage. Here, we've rounded up the best of the bunch.
For A Flawless Mani
1. Jinsoon - Strengthening Base Power Coat Nail Lacquer
One of NYC's chicest salons offers some major care, too. This base coat primes your nails to keep keeps your polish secure while a mixture of biotin, vitamin B, and diamond particles makes nails stronger and more durable.
2. CND - CND RESCUERXx
This daily keratin treatment adds much-needed life back to depleted nails in just seven days. It's a cocktail of conditioning ingredients like jojoba seed oil, keratin protein, and sweet almond (that last one makes this formula smell like dessert). Save this one for days you're going bare, though—is it's so hydrating that it'll make polish slip right off.
For Harder Nails
3. OPI - Nail Envy Nail Strengthener Treatment
Hydrolyzed wheat protein and calcium are the strengthening MVPs in this classic option from OPI—the combo hardens nails to prevent cracking and breaking.
For An All-In-One-Mani
4. essie - Treat Love & Color Polish
No need to trade off a pretty pastel mani to keep your nails healthy. This formula comes in a ton of shades, and it delivers deep pigment and conditioning ingredients in just one step.
For After Gel Removal
5. DEBORAH LIPPMANN - Hard Rock Hydrating Nail Hardener
So you took off your gels, and your nails are seeing the sun for the first time in weeks. Apply this conditioning liquid once daily to harden soft nails and encourage growth.
For An Iridescent Finish
6. Sally Hansen - Mega Strength Nail Color
Platinum powder gives this formula its hardening kick, and a flexible brush makes it easy to apply for those with shaky hands. This line has multiple shades, but we're partial to this seashell-hued option.
For Ridged Nails
7. Tenoverten - The Foundation Nail Strengthening Base Coat
Ever notice your polish looks bumpy or uneven for no reason? Your nails may have ridges, which can be a result of aging or a vitamin deficiency. This non-toxic base uses horsetail leaf extract and vitamin E to repair peeling nails, and acts as a tinted filler to even out the nails and make them appear healthier.
For A Reset
8. Nails Inc - Superfood Base Coat
If a salad is a reset for your system after a long weekend of fried food and too much booze, this botanical-infused base coat is the answer to overindulging on acrylics or gel polish. This treatment contains keratin to harden the nails and stimulate growth, and offers a high gloss finish for a polished look.
For Short Nails
9. Butter London - Horse Power Nail Rescue Basecoat
If your nails peel or break faster than you can grow them out, this is the formula to try. Vitamin B and calcium strengthen nails while horsetail extract and biotin actually promote faster growth.
For Severely Damaged Nails
10. Nail Tek - Xtra 4
For those whose hands seem beyond help—we're talking deep cracks, splitting, and severe peeling—it's time to pull out all the stops, which happens to be Nail Tek. This formula is the strongest of their strengthening line, so expect miracles.
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Taylore Glynn is the Beauty and Health Editor at Marie Claire, covering skincare, makeup, fragrance, wellness, and more. If you need her, she’s probably roasting a chicken, flying solo at the movies, or drinking a bad Negroni at JFK.
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