Georgia asks…I’ve seen three types of treatments for nails advertised: formaldehyde; protein; and, calcium floride. Is one of these better than the others? Which would be best for my nails, which are thin, weak, and break at the sides?
The Left Brain responds:
There are two basic kinds of strengtheners: Hardeners and Hydrators. By understanding the advantages and disadvantages of each type you’ll be able to pick the one that’s right for you.
How Hardeners work
Cross-linking hardeners: This kind of hardener works on the inside of the nail with ingredients that react with the protein in your nails. When your nails are weak, the protein is like a ladder with broken rungs – the ladder feels loose and wobbly. But you can make the ladder sturdier by adding extra rungs to connect the two sides. That’s what cross linkers do to your nails: They create chemical bonds that tie the protein chains together to make the nails harder.
Reinforcing hardeners: This kind of hardener works on the outside of the nail with ingredients that coat the nail. This kind of hardener work like a a splint on a broken bone: it adds a layer on top of your nails that reinforces their natural structure.
Issues with Hardeners
The issue with cross linkers is that the nail can become so hard that it becomes brittle and unable to bend. If this happens the nail will break more easily.
The issue with reinforcers is that they wear off and need to be reapplied often to continue to be effective.
Examples of Hardeners
- Sally Hansen Nail Nutrition Green Tea + Bamboo
- OPI Maintenance Nail Envy Nail Strengthener
- Nutra Nail Strengthener with Green Tea
How Hydrators work
Hydrators work with ingredients that moisturize the nail to keep it flexible so it bends rather than breaks. These products are oily and waxy materials mixed with water.
Issues with Hydrators
Hydrators need to be used on an ongoing basis for maximum effect. As with any moisturizing product they need to be reapplied because they wear off over time and they wash away.
Examples of Hydrators
- Barielle Nail Strengthener Cream
- Hard As Hoof Nail Strengthening Cream
- Ecrinal Nail Cream
Hardener or Hydrator: Which should you use?
Use a Hardener if you want to a quick fix that is a more permanent solution. Just be aware that your nails may become more brittle over time. Use a Hydrator if you want your nails to have a more flexible strength and you don’t mind having to apply the product several times before you see much of a difference.
How to pick the best product for you
Now that you know how strengtheners work, you can look for the best treatment for nails. Unfortunately, most products do not tell you which type they belong to. We’ll teach you how to tell which type of strengthener any product is is by answering these three simple questions.
Question 1: Is it a Hardener or a Hydrator?
Look at the product: If it’s clear it’s a hardener. If it’s creamy like a lotion then it’s a hydrator.
Shake the product: If it’s thin and shakeable like a nail polish: then it’s a hardener. If it’s thick like an oil or a cream then it’s a hydrator.
Look at the package: If it’s a brush-on type it’s a hardener. If it’s in a tube or a jar, it’s a hydrator.
Question 2: If it’s a Hardener, is it the kind that makes your nails brittle?
If you see any of the following ingredients on the back of the bottle it works by cross-linking nail protein which can make nails more brittle:
Question 3: Is it the kind that leaves a reinforcing layer?
If you see any of the following ingredients (but none of the ones listed above) then it’s a reinforcer.
- Sulfhydryl protein
If the ingredients look like a typical nail polish ingredient list, then it’s most likely a reinforcer type as well.
The Beauty Brains bottom line
Now that you know the science of nail strengtheners you can experiment with different product types until you find the ones that are best for you.
If you’re shopping for a treatment for nails, please consider buying a product using the link below. Any purchase you make on Amazon will help support the Beauty Brains blog. Thank you!