They say your fingernails are one of the things people notice during a first impression — which isn’t good news for those of us who battle to keep our peeling nails in good health. It’s kinda hard to keep things looking perfectly manicured when our nails are splitting and polish crackles right off moments after it dries. Not only that, when a brittle nails breaks off, it can be pretty painful, too.
If dry, brittle, cracked, or peeling nails are your struggle, there are things you can do to get them back into good health. According to our favorite beauty experts, these at-home remedies that include good old-fashioned TLC and some nutrition tweaks could be your ticket to better nails. You just might never have to visit a salon again (just kidding).
1. Soak Nails in Olive Oil
For weak, thin nails, soak them in extra virgin olive oil 10-15 minutes a day for a month, then twice a week thereafter. This inexpensive home beauty treatment will help fortify damaged, weak or peeling nails.
“Applying vegetable oil helps relieve dryness and cracking of toenails,” confirms Dr. Wenjay Sung, a board-certified podiatrist in Los Angeles. “Unlike creams, oils do a better job soaking into the nail bed and moisturize the structural toenail bed longer than creams and gels.”
2. Use a Cuticle Cream Like It’s Your Job
A soothing cuticle cream like Burt’s Bees Lemon Butter Cuticle Creme helps nourish dry cuticles and brittle, damaged nails with vitamin E. Massage the cream into and around your nails nightly before going to bed.
Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, founder and director of Capital Laser & Skin Care and Assistant Clinical Professor, Department of Dermatology at the George Washington University Medical Center, advises, “Cuticles can dry out from repetitive hand washing and manicures, so if they are not given extra protection with a nourishing cuticle cream, they will crack and split, increasing risk of nail infection.”
3. Don’t Overuse Your Nails
Your fingernails aren’t intended to be tools to open soda cans. Instead, use a pen or other object rather than your fingernails to do these everyday tasks.
4. Wear Gloves for Chores
When doing the dishes, cleaning and gardening, wear gloves. Detergents and cleansers are harsh on your fingernails, causing drying, spitting and peeling. Soil and gardening can also cause damage to your nails.
As Dr. Tanzi pointed out, the best way to take care of hands and nails is to avoid drying them out. “Frequent hand washing with antibacterial soap is very harsh,” she says. “I recommend washing with a gentle cleanser, which will sanitize just as well as harsh products and a good moisturizer afterward to lock in the hydration. At night, a thicker moisturizer on hands with a rich cuticle cream will keep hands/nails looking great.”
5. Eat Biotin-Rich Foods
Make sure your diet features foods rich in biotin, such as liver, cooked eggs, whole grains, cauliflower and avocado, among others. In addition to other health benefits, biotin can help strengthen and thicken nails. You can also take a biotin supplement, if necessary.
Next Up: Take a multivitamin daily
Originally published September 2008. Updated June 2020.