your natural self

10 Natural Ways to Grow Healthy & Strong Nails

Published on August 16, 2023

By Kristen Boye BS, Natural Health

Kristen Boye

Kristen Boye is a natural health expert, writer, copywriter, and editor. Kristen was raised on an organic farm in British Columbia which inspired her life’s work. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Natural Health, is a Certified Natural Foods Chef, co-owner of a medicinal herb farm, and is a natural foods and children’s health advocate. Kristen lives with her husband and two children on their medicinal herb farm in Western North Carolina.

Looking for natural ways to grow stronger and healthier nails?

Before you resort to expensive chemical-based nail strengtheners or go off on a wild DIY goose chase, check out these science-backed natural solutions for strong and healthy nails, plus helpful non-toxic nail care tips.

What Causes Weak or Brittle Nails?

Herbalists, traditional wellness practitioners, and modern medical experts will tell you that nails can be a window into the health of the body.

In Ayurveda, the traditional wellness practice of India, the nails are seen as related to the bones.

Therefore, weak, brittle, or discolored nails are believed to signal possible issues with nutrient absorption, bone health, inflammatory response, imbalances in certain Doshas (body types), and others.

Lines on the nails, for example, are seen as an indication of digestive health issues or poor absorption, and white spots (if not caused by trauma) signal a mineral imbalance.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the nails are believed to be connected to the blood and energy, which are rooted in liver function.

Modern medical systems also view nail problems as a possible indicator of imbalances. 

Research has shown that thyroid function, nutrient deficiencies (such as ironREF#2648 or B-vitaminsREF#2649 REF#2650 REF#2651), certain autoimmune conditionsREF#2652, kidney problemsREF#2653, thyroid diseaseREF#2654, fungal infection, diabetesREF#2655, and age may also affect nail health.

Nails may also be weak due to too much moisture or not enough moisture, trauma, or improper nail care, so there are many factors to consider.

Fortunately, nail health can often be restored using natural solutions. Let’s explore those now.

10 Natural Solutions For Healthier Stronger Nails

From strengthening nail polishes to supplements, many products are available for creating stronger nails.

However, some of these products will only work only as long as you use them, while others may not work or leave your nails in worse shape.

In this section, we’ll explore what the research says about which herbs and supplements may help strengthen nails, plus offer some non-toxic nail care tips to support long-term nail health.

1. Make Sure You’re Getting Enough Minerals

Although traditional and modern systems of wellness all look at nail health a little differently, they all agree nail issues can be rooted in nutrient deficiencies.

Research has shown that getting enough minerals is vital for nail health. 

The following minerals have been shown to be important for nail health.

  • Calcium: Is one of the most abundant minerals in the body, including the bones and nails.REF#2656 Sources of calcium include: dairy products, sesame seeds, leafy greens, nettles, canned salmon and sardines with the bones, tofu, blackstrap molasses, almonds, and calcium-fortified foods.REF#2657Consider including Vitamin D3 for optimal calcium absorption.REF#2658
  • Iron: Iron deficiency is widespreadREF#2659, especially among women of childbearing years, and a lack of iron in the diet has been associated with brittle nails and poor nail health.REF#2660 Sources of iron include: organ meats, dark leafy greens, red meats, seafood, tuna, poultry eggs, lentils, peas, beans, tofu, tempeh, figs, dates, raisins, and prunes.REF#2661
  • Zinc: Research has shown a lack of zinc may affect nail growth.REF#2662 Sources of zinc include: oysters, beef and other red meats, pumpkin seeds, beans, nuts, whole grains, and fortified cereals.REF#2663
  • Trace Minerals: Although there is no evidence to support their use as a nutrient group, many people and healthcare practitioners find their nails benefit from getting enough trace minerals. This could be due to the interactions between minerals, which may facilitate better absorption and utilization*. Sources of trace minerals include sea vegetables, mineral water, plants, red meat, whole grains, fish, seafood, nuts, and seeds.

The best way to get enough minerals is by eating a whole foods diet rich in plants, herbs, proteins, and healthy fats.

However, if you struggle with getting enough minerals from food, talk to your healthcare practitioner about a multi-mineral or trace mineral supplement.

2. Keep Your Nails Short 

Fragile nails tend to catch and snag on things, making them weaker over time.

To avoid this, consider keeping your nails short while you strengthen them.

In addition to preventing breakage and tears, short nails are more sanitary and easy to care for.

You can keep your nails short by using nail clippers or filing using a soft nail file and going in one direction.

Aggressively filing your nails, filing in several directions, or using a very abrasive file, such as a metal file, can further weaken your nails.

3. Try A DIY-Herbal Nail Oil

Herbal nail oils have long been used to help strengthen nails and improve appearances.

Traditional herbs used for nail support include:

To make your own nail oil, combine 3 tablespoons of dried herbs with half a cup of jojoba, sweet almond, argan, coconut, emu, or olive oil. Add a few drops of vitamin E oil if desired.*

  1. Gently heat to release the herb’s natural oils.
  2. Cool and let “steep” for at least an hour or overnight.
  3. Strain and massage into nails and cuticles daily.

Note: *Some experts recommend using Vitamin E for nail health based on clinical observations, anecdotal evidence, and limited research suggesting a benefit.REF#2664

4. Drink More Water

We all know we need to drink more water, but did you know hydration can affect nail health and appearance?

Although everyone’s needs differ slightly, most experts recommend aiming for 8-10 glasses of water daily.

Since herbal teas count toward your daily water intake, consider trying traditional herbs to support nail strength, such as Nettle*.

5. Try Collagen and Vitamin C For Healthier Nails

You’ve probably heard the endless testimonials about the beauty benefits of collagen.

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body. It is responsible for muscle repair and skin regeneration and is used in wound healing and beauty practices.

It also naturally decreases with age, which is why many people over 40 take collagen supplements.REF#2665

The popularity of collagen and collagen peptide supplements is partially due to new research showing it can provide skin, hair, and nail benefits.REF#2666

Specifically, supplemental collagen has been shown to help improve nail growth and restore brittle nails.REF#2667

Collagen supplements are available from animal, marine, and plant-based sources and are generally affordable. 

In addition, getting enough vitamin C or taking a vitamin C supplement may provide additional benefits, as vitamin C is essential to collagen production.REF#2668

6. Avoid Constant Chemical-Based Nail Polish and Treatments & Let Your Nails Breathe

It may be tempting to hide weak or brittle nails with gel-based nail treatments, manicures, or at-home polish. 

However, these products typically contain chemicals, such as acetone and chemical adhesives, that will wind up damaging your nails over time.

Wen your nails are constantly covered with product, it may not allow them to breathe, restore, and heal.

Instead, consider ditching the manicures, pedicures, and polishes for a few months to give your nails a chance to get stronger.

Have your nail tech remove any gel-based nails to avoid further damage.

For some, taking a break from chemical-based nail care is the best way to build healthier and stronger nails.

7. Increase Your Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs)

Essential Fatty Acids or EFAs, such as omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9s, are critical to nourishing the skin, hair, and nails.

EFAs help promote normal moisture levels, inflammatory response and support skin and cell health, which may benefit the nails.REF#2669 REF#2670

There has also been some research suggesting a lack of omega-3 fatty acids (such as those found in fatty fish and certain seeds) may be linked to dry, brittle nails.REF#2671

The key to reaping the benefits of essential fatty acids lies in getting the balance right.

For most people, that means being intentional about getting more omega-3 fatty acids in the diet.

Sources of omega-3s include:REF#2672

  • Chia Seeds
  • Eggs
  • Fatty fish, like wild-caught salmon, sardines, and mackerel
  • Flaxseeds
  • Grass Fed meats
  • Seafood
  • Sea vegetables
  • Walnuts

There are various animal, marine, and plant-based EFA and omega-3 supplements available. Talk to your healthcare practitioner if you’re interested in supplementation.

8. Get Enough B-Vitamins, Especially Biotin, Vitamin B12, And Folate

We hear a lot about Biotin and nail health, but did you know Vitamin B12 and Folate are also important?

Let’s break these down.

  • Biotin supplements are popular for skin, hair, and nails because Biotin has been shown effective at enhancing and supporting nail health.REF#2673
    • Vitamin B12 is also critical for nail health because of its role in iron metabolism and absorption. Which, as you learned earlier, is also essential for healthy nails.REF#2674
      • Note: Although B12 deficiency is common among vegetarians and vegans, some people (including meat eaters) have genetic variations that may affect their ability to absorb B12 from foods. In this case, methylated B12 (methylcobalamin) is usually recommended, but talk with your healthcare practitioner.REF#2675 REF#2676
  • Vitamin B9/Folate levels can also be impacted by genetic variations. Like B12, folate plays a role in red blood cell formation. A lack of folate has also been linked to brittle nails.REF#2677

The best way to get enough B-vitamins is from B-vitamin-rich foods; these include:REF#2678

  • Certain fruits
  • Vegetables—especially leafy greens
  • Whole grains
  • Meats and poultry
  • Fish and seafood
  • Eggs
  • Beans and legumes
  • Nuts and seeds

If you suspect you’re not getting enough B-vitamins from foods, talk to your healthcare practitioner about taking a B-complex supplement.

9. Protect Your Nails From Excess Moisture

Sometimes, the simplest changes can have the most profound effect.

If you spend a lot of time doing dishes or any other job or chore that keeps your hands wet (giving facials, gardening, working in food services, wearing gloves all day in a lab which may cause sweating), consider wearing gloves.

Remember what happened to your skin the last time you spent too much time in the bath or pool? Excess moisture can have the same softening and weakening effect on the nails.

If you cannot wear gloves, applying a DIY nail oil can also help protect your nails from excess moisture.

10. If Your Nails Don’t Improve, Consider Getting Some Labs Done

As mentioned initially, certain health conditions such as anemia, thyroid disease, nutrient deficiencies, autoimmunity, and others can cause weak, brittle nails.

If you’ve tried some of these techniques with no results to show for it, consider talking to your doctor or healthcare practitioner about investigating a possible underlying cause.

  • Integrative or functional medicine practitioners are typically well-versed in the proper functional lab tests to suggest specific health concerns.


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