Strong, long, perfectly polished: a set of natural-looking nails are something most women dream of…but how do we get them?
The key to a modelesque manicure goes way beyond polishes and filing: The nail is complex thing, and in order for it to grow and strengthen, it must be cared for and nourished correctly.
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First, a bit of nail growth science
It’s helpful to dip into the scientific process behind the growth of our nails in order to understand how we can best care for them
Your nail might look like one solid sheet, but it’s actually made up of layers. These layers are made of a protein called Keratin – also a component of hair and skin.
The part of the nail visible to the human eye is actually dead -pretty surprising, huh? The only section which actually contains any life at all is right at the base of the nail, the matrix. This is where the new cells grow from, and as they do, they push old ones along, making our nails look longer.
Once these living cells lose contact with the root, they die, which is why we feel no pain when cutting or trimming our nails.
How much can we expect our nails to grow?
The average nail growth is around 2-3mm a month, however, some people find their nails growing at a much faster rate, whilst others will see a very slow growth speed.
As mentioned above, the cells themselves aren’t actually increasing in size, but simply accumulating, and pushing old ones along as they do. This means in order for nails to get longer, it’s important that these new cells are strong and healthy, and also well-maintained once they lose contact with the matrix and die.
The longest nails on record reached an incredibly impressive 8.65 metres, or 28ft, 4.5 inches. How American-born, Lee Redmond went about his daily tasks with those to contain with, I don’t know!
The secret to long, strong nails
There has been much speculation in the past over just what encourages our nails to grow at a set rate.
Metabolism and blood flow were once thought to be directly linked, after a physician named William Bean discovered his nail growth rate slowed significantly after the age of 50.
Following on from this, an Oxford dermatologist named Rodney Dawber saw a lesser rate of growth in a hand that had been injured in a rugby match, than the other, uninjured hand. This suggested that the prominent hand achieved a faster rate of growth, as the blood vessels were more stimulated. How often we use our body parts is also one of the main theories behind why our nails grow faster on our hands than on our feet.
While more active fingers and a higher metabolism may indeed contribute to longer nails, they’re not very reliable or realistic methods of growing yourself a set of fabulous fingernails.
Here’s what the experts recommend if you’re looking to improve the overall strength and length of your nails:
Avoid rough emery boards
An ideal emery board shouldn’t be too rough, as this can lead to small fissures and cracks that cause your nail to tear. Instead, go for something smooth-ish, that can be used to gently and slowly file your nail down into the desired shaped.
Wear gloves when in contact with chemicals
Do you notice that your nails look almost opaque after cleaning? The chemicals in the majority of cleaning products will have an adverse effect on the strength of our nails, drying them out and damaging them, just as they would the skin.
Wearing a pair of rubber gloves is an easy way to prevent this and keep your nails and skin looking lovely.
Don’t cut your cuticles
Despite what you may have heard, cutting your cuticles certainly isn’t a good idea.
The cuticle is the layer of skin that covers and protects the matrix (remember, this is where the new nail cells grow from) so it’s important to care for it properly.
By removing it completely, we leave the matrix exposed to germs and bacteria, which can lead to fungal infections – not exactly the modelesque manicure you had in mind!
DO push your cuticles back and moisturise them daily
The above being said, if left entirely alone, your cuticles will become stiff and get stuck to the nail plate, preventing them from doing their job properly.
In order to keep your cuticles supple, matrix protected, and nails growing nicely, you should moisturise your cuticles daily. They should also be pushed back regularly, a process most easily carried out after you’ve showered and they have softened.
Take biotin supplement to promote strong and long nails
We know that vitamins are good for us, but with regards to nail health, it’s a particular member of the vitamin B family that will really do wonders.
Taking a daily supplement of 2.5 mg of Biotin has been found to increase nail thickness in several studies. A thicker nail means less chance of breakages or splitting so your nails will stay longer…for longer.
Don’t use your nails as tools
Are you guilty of turning to your nails when you need to scratch off a stubborn sticker, or remove a stuck object?
While your nails may feel strong, the delicate layers are easily damaged. Avoid using them like tools to prevent splitting and flaking, which will mean you have to make your nails shorter.
Learn the correct way to file for long, strong nails
Remember, your nails are made up of very thin layers, which means they must be treated delicately – that goes for filing too.
Save the sawing back and forth for your woodwork – your nail file should be used in one direction only, with only a small amount of pressure applied to ensure even, gentle filing.
Keep nails dry if you want them to stay long
After a long, hot soak in the bath, you’ll notice that your nails are softer and more flexible. This is OK every now and then, but prolonged and repeated exposure to water will weaken your nails and contribute to splitting.
When they do become soft, stay away from arduous tasks for a while until they have regained their prior strength.
Don’t be tempted to pull hangnails off if you want your nails to grow strong
We’ve all been there: a little hangnail we think will tear away easily ends up taking half of our nail off with it, leaving it half the size it was before. The ripping of your nail will also damage the delicate layers it’s made up of.
I know it can be tempting to pull these annoying tears straight off, but you’ll do much more damage than good in the process.
Carry a nail file in your handbag at all times, and you’ll never have to deal with the mess – or pain – of a torn off hangnail again.
Don’t paint your nails too often
There’s quite a lot of controversy regarding whether a layer of protective nail varnish is beneficial or detrimental to nail health.
As a rule, don’t go overboard with glamming up your nails. The chemicals in polish, and nail varnish remover in particular, don’t do nails any good, especially if they’re already brittle.
Learn to nourish and look after your nails correctly, and you’ll find they look just as lovely au-natural.
I can’t stress enough how important a varied, nutritious diet is to overall nail health.
In recent years, since adopting a diet that’s rich in a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, I’ve experienced a drastic improvement in my own nail strength and growth rate.
Whilst I have been known to slack off on nail maintenance, they always grow back very quickly, and are relatively thick and hard.
Keratin – the tough, protective material our nails are made of – is a protein, which is why eating enough protein is so important to nail growth. Ensure you get the recommended daily allowance of 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight if you’re after healthy nails that look and feel the part.
Including a wide range of fruits and vegetables in your diet will definitely do your body good, nail health included, as these have essential properties, including many vitamins and minerals.
Magnesium rich food such as pumpkin seeds (sigh) and dark chocolate (wahoo!) serve as all-natural anti-stress solutions, preventing things like ridges from appearing on your nail plate.
Seafood contains heaps of zinc, which is essential in the biological production of the protein which forms and maintains nails.
Remember that biotin we were talking about earlier? Well it can be found in one of our favourite breakfast foods – eggs.
A well-balanced and varied diet is the main and most important thing you can do if you’re trying to improve the appearance of your nails.
The key to strong, long nails – a summary
The most important things to bear in mind with regards to nail health is that they are just as much a part of you as any other body part.
Just as your teeth will rot if you have a poor diet and don’t brush them, your nails will grow weak and grow less if they are not cared for.
Nourish your body to make your nails grow quickly and strong, and once they lengthen, look after them – it really is that simple!
I hope my tips to longer, stronger nails have helped you. Do you have any tips and tricks that work for your own nails?