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There’s no shortage of things that can contribute to dry, brittle, breaking nails. Maybe you peeled off a gel manicure (a major no-no, but let’s be real, we’ve all done it). Maybe it’s the dead of winter, and your nails are just as flaky and peel-y as your hands. Maybe you’ve been sporting some type of polish, gel, or acrylics since the early 2000s and are finally going bare, only to realize just how beat up your naked nails really are. Maybe you’re simply getting older; yep, just like your skin and hair, nails can also show signs of age.
Regardless, in all of these instances and more, a nail strengthener can come up huge. Infused with a host of essential vitamins, proteins, and other ingredients to help make nails harder and stronger, swiping on one of these is the easiest way to get your tips into tip-top shape. Not to mention that these days there’s a wide array of nail strengtheners out there, with options that can be used in place of polish, under polish, post-gel mani, you name it. Be sure to check your chosen nail strengthener for hard (pun intended) evidence claims. Good, solid ingredients that are actually going to help you are the key to better nails and better DIY manis.
Take your pick from the best nail strengtheners below, all of which are Byrdie editor-approved. Trust us, your nails will thank you.
Best Overall: duri Rejuvacote 1
Active Ingredients: Ethyl acetate, butyl acetate, keratin | Dosage: Once per day for a week | Size: 0.5 fl. oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
The tag line for this product reads ‘from dying nails to nails to die for,’ and we couldn’t agree more. We reach for it time and time again, whether to use it as a rehab treatment post gels, as a base coat or whenever our nails are bare and looking kind of blah. (To that point, it works as a solo treatment, as well as base and topcoat.) Two different proteins plus keratin plus calcium work together to stimulate growth, and the formula also effectively seals in the moisture and fatty acids naturally produced by your nail plate to minimize dryness and peeling.
Best for Peeling Nails: Nails Inc. Nailkale Superfood Base Coat
Active Ingredients: Butyl acetate, ethyl acetate, pomegranate extract | Dosage: Two coats three times per week | Size: 0.5 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
This is the treatment of choice for Byrdie’s Editorial Director, Faith Xue. True to its name, it does, in fact, contain kale extract. Coupled with other antioxidant-rich botanical extracts plus strengthening keratin, the formula delivers five different benefits—hardening, hydrating, and nourishing nails, while also stimulating growth and preventing breakage. While it has a minty tint in the bottle, the base coat goes on clear, imparting nails with a healthy, glass-like sheen.
Best 8-Free: Tenoverten The Foundation Base Coat
Active Ingredients: Butyl acetate, ethyl acetate, horsetail extract | Dosage: Once or twice per week | Size: 0.5 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Vitamin E is an antioxidant vitamin and oil often found in anti-oxidant blend topicals or moisturizers. It also helps soothe the skin and protects the lipid barrier.
Many nail products these days are three- or five-free, but this pick is an impressive eight-free, not using eight different chemicals often found in polishes. (It’s also cruelty-free and vegan.) What it does contain is horsetail leaf extract—a plant-based ingredient rich in calcium in silica, essential minerals for healthy nails—as well as nourishing vitamin E. The result is a base that both helps color adhere better, but also strengthens, repairs peeling, prevents cracking, and fills in unsightly ridges.
Best for Natural Nails: OPI Natural Nail Strengthener
Active Ingredients: Ethyl acetate, butyl acetate, camphor | Size: 0.5 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
If you like to keep things simple, aren’t sporting acrylics or lots of gels, and just want something to make your natural nails look that much better, try this guy, the go-to for Byrdie’s Associate Social Media Editor Star Donaldson. Along with protecting nails to ensure long, strong growth, it also pulls double duty as a great base coat, preventing staining and discoloration while helping color adhere better.
Best Kit: Zoya Naked Manicure Women’s Starter Kit
Active Ingredients: Ethyl acetate, butyl acetate, sunflower oil | Size: 0.5 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Amino acids are the building blocks that make up proteins and have a role in virtually all the biological processes that occur in our bodies, including the reparation of skin.
To create the look of truly flawless nails—no matter how beat up they might be—reach for this four-step system. Step one is a nutrient-packed base coat full of vitamins, proteins, and amino acids that keeps nails both strong and flexible to ward off peeling and breakage. Follow that with the pink perfector applied allover to instantly brighten nails, and the tip perfector along the free edge to enhance the white tip. A shine-enhancing top coat seals the deal for a result that makes it look like you’re not wearing any polish at all, just that you have the most natural, gorgeous nails, ever. It’s no surprise that Byrdie Senior Editor Lindsey Metrus is a fan.
Best Polish: Essie Treat Love & Color
Active Ingredients: Ethyl acetate, butyl acetate, collagen | Dosage: Daily for one week | Size: 0.5 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Collagen refers to a family of proteins that are the primary structural component of connective tissues, such as skin, ligaments, and cartilage. Topical collagen creams are said to improve fine lines and wrinkles by replacing the lost collagen, though its main benefit is moisturizing the skin.
For some people, the idea of sporting bare nails is simply unfathomable. We get it, and that’s why we love that Essie offers this nail perfecting polish. It can decrease peeling by 60% and breakage by 35% in just one week; credit collagen and camellia extract. Not to mention that it comes in 32 different hues, all offering a sheer wash of gorgeous color along with these benefits. Plus, you don’t even need a base or top coat with it.
Best Drugstore: Sally Hansen Mega Strength Hardener
Active Ingredients: Ethyl acetate, butyl acetate, diamond powder | Dosage: Two coats | Size: 0.4 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Sally Hansen pretty much owns the drugstore nail category, so it’s no surprise that they offer a few different nail strengtheners. This one gets our vote, infused with a fortifying diamond powder to keep your tips extra strong. Bonus points for the extra-wide brush that makes application a breeze, as well as the wallet-friendly price.
Best Base Coat: Butter London Horse Power Nail Rescue Base Coat
Active Ingredients: Ethyl acetate, butyl acetate, biotin | Dosage: One coat | Size: 0.5 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
If you like to have your nails polished at all times, then you’re probably wearing a base coat at all times. And if you’re doing that, you might as well make it a base coat with benefits, like this guy. There are four key ingredients in the formula: Horsetail extract and biotin to promote healthy growth, plus vitamin B and calcium to bolster strength. If your nails are on the struggle bus, this will for sure help transform them, but if they’re already in good shape, this will help keep them that way.
Runner-Up, Best Base Coat : Dr. Remedy Enrich Nail Polish Hydration Nail Moisture Treatment
Active Ingredients: Ethyl acetate, butyl acetate, biotin | Size: 0.5 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes
This effective formula, a favorite of celebrity nail artist Elle, relies on biotin, wheat protein, and pentavitin to help keep nails long and strong. “I use this as a base coat, especially during the cold winter months, to help seal moisture into my nails,” she says.
Best After Acrylics: Deborah Lippmann All About that Base CC Base Coat
Active Ingredients: Ethyl acetate, butyl acetate, biotin | Dosage: 1-2 coats | Size: 0.5 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Acrylics can take a serious toll on your tips, especially if you’re sporting them regularly. When it comes time to give your nails a break, load up on this treatment. Not only does it strengthen, hydrate, and fill in ridges (a few of the many benefits it offers), it also has a subtle tint that works to instantly brighten and camouflage any imperfections or white spots. Think of it as an Insta filter for your nails—it just makes everything look that much better.
Best for Nail Biters: Barielle No Bite Pro Growth
Active Ingredients: Ethyl acetate, butyl acetate, silica | Size: 0.5 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
For those who tend to nibble on their nails, this treatment is choice. While it goes on invisible and odorless, it has a nasty, bitter taste that will definitely discourage biting. It’s also infused with ingredients to boost growth and strength, helping to transform your nails from bitten down and brittle to long and strong, all in one step.
Best Supplement: HUM Nutrition Killer Nails Supplements
Active Ingredient: Biotin | Dosage: One capsule daily | Size: 60 capsules | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Yes, you can definitely score stronger nails by using a topical product, but sometimes addressing the issue internally can help, too. Enter this biotin-based supplement. The B vitamin is thought to promote cell growth, ultimately strengthening nails (and hair too, for that matter). As with any supplement, you’ll want to check with your doctor before taking it, but if you’re looking for an extra way to give your nails an added boost, this can be a good option.
Best Splurge: Côte Nail Strengthener Base and Top Coat
Active Ingredients: Ethyl acetate, butyl acetate | Size: 1.6 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Spending over 20 dollars on a nail treatment might sound like a lot, but this multi-tasker is well worth the price. First and foremost, it’s infused with both vitamin B5 and coffee extract, which work in tandem to strengthen nails. You can use it solo, but it also works equally well as a base coat and/or topcoat. Either way, a quick swipe every two to three days is a surefire way to improve the look and condition of your manicure.
Best Device: StimuNail Grow Strong Nails
There are plenty of skincare devices and tools and at-home gadgets on the market, but this is the first we’ve seen for your nails. Heat, red light therapy, and gentle vibrations work together to strengthen your tips and help promote growth. “The LED light therapy technology is clinically-proven to energize cells below the skin surface, and you only need to use this for three minutes a day to help make nails healthy—which in turn leads to growth,” explains Elle, who is a fan.
If your tips require a little extra TLC, using a nail strengthener weekly is a great idea. The Duri Rejuvacote 1 is our favorite and can be used on its own, or as a base and topcoat. The Sally Hansen Mega Strength Hardener is a top drugstore buy, while the Essie Treat Love & Color is perfect for those who want to bolster their nails but still keep them polished. Aside from the products you’re swiping on your nails, you may also want to consider a supplement, like the HUM Nutrition Killer Nails, or StimuNail, a new device that’s a pro nail tech favorite.
What to Look For in a Nail Strengthener
According to Elle, this is one product category where many products make lots of promises without any hard evidence to back up those claims. Do your research to see which companies have actually tested their products; it’s the best way to know if you’re getting something that contains key ingredients and is actually going to work, she says.
To the ingredients point, it’s ideal to seek out proteins in any nail strengthener (keratin, wheat protein, etc.) since your nails are primarily made of protein.
Biotin is another tried-and-true nail enhancing ingredient, great for helping to promote healthy nail growth.
Do nail strengtheners work?
Yes, but you have to use them correctly so that the nail can actually absorb the nutrient. “Clean the nail with antibacterial soap, wipe it with alcohol to balance the pH level, then apply the nail strengthener,” says Elle.
Does a nail strengthener help nails grow?
“Nail strengtheners promote growth because you have a well-sealed, hydrated nail," Elle explains. "Nails are just like a sponge—when a sponge is hard and dry, it cracks, which is the same as a nail without a proper manicure."
How often should you use a nail strengthener?
Elle suggests using a nail strengthener once per week and complementing it with a daily cuticle oil application to help keep the nails hydrated.
Can you put nail strengthener under gel polish?
Have a gel manicure in your future? Unfortunately, nail strengtheners (in polish form) can't be used under gel polish. “Regular polish and gel polish are two different services that do not interact together,” says Elle. That said, if you’re looking to boost the strength of your nails before you get gels, treat your nails for two weeks leading up to your service or opt for vitamins and the other forms of strengthening treatments listed above.
Meet the Expert
Elle is a celebrity nail artist who works in both New York and Los Angeles. She’s been doing nails since the age of 14, and her A-list clientele includes Jennifer Lopez, Charlize Theron, and Blake Lively, just to name a few.
How We Test Nail Strengtheners
Our team works hard to be transparent about why we recommend certain products; you can read more about our product review methodology here.
According to our Diversity Pledge, 15% of products in our newly-published market roundups will feature Black-owned and/or Black-founded brands. At the time of publishing, we were not able to find any nail strengtheners from a Black-owned and/or Black-founded business. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at email@example.com and we will evaluate the product ASAP.
Why Trust Byrdie
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. While she is extremely incapable of giving herself a manicure, she is good at swiping on a nail strengthener, and does so regularly to keep her nails healthy and strong (because nothing irks her more than a broken nail). Her favorite from this list? Duri Rejuvacote.