Say goodbye to dry, peeling and flaky nails with the best nail strengtheners
If you suffer from weak and brittle nails that are constantly chipping, breaking or flaking, a nail strengthener can really help with strength and condition. Many things can cause weak nails: repeated exposure to water, vitamin deficiency, or damage caused by gels, false nails or acrylic nail polish. Thankfully, the solution really is as simple as a once or twice-weekly treatment with a restorative and nourishing nail strengthener.
To get your nails looking their best for the summer, read on for our guide to finding the best nail strengthener, whatever your nail panic – and, after that, find our pick of the best on the market right now.
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How to buy the best nail strengthener
What causes weak nails?
Having back-to-back gel or acrylic manicures, or keeping your hands in water and cleaning products for extended periods, can take their toll on your digits. If your nails break, split or peel easily, then you’ll probably find that giving them a rest from acrylics and harsh chemicals will do them a world of good. So will regular treatment with a nail strengthener.
What does a nail strengthener do?
Nail strengtheners contain a combination of proteins like keratin, which is the protein that naturally makes up skin, hair and nails; and moisturising ingredients like oils and hyaluronic acid to nourish the nail and replenish lost moisture. The strengtheners themselves come in a few different formats, like oils or creams in a pen or tube that need to be massaged into the nail, or liquids that are painted onto the nail like nail polish.
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A nail strengthener will help protect weak, fragile nails from damage, and gradually help repair and rebuild them until they’re strong, healthy-looking and shiny. Nail strengtheners are particularly beneficial if used immediately after removing nail polish, gels or false nails.
It will take time for the nail strengthener to work its magic, so don’t expect overnight results. You should see results after two weeks of regular use.
What else can I do to protect my nails?
While you’re waiting for your nail strengthener to take effect, avoid keeping your hands in water (especially water containing detergent or cleaning chemicals) for long periods, and wear gloves if you’re doing the dishes or household chores. Make sure you’re eating a balanced and healthy diet with plenty of vitamin-rich veggies. A multivitamin can also help with overall nail condition, as can taking a supplement containing the strengthening B-vitamin biotin. Keep your nails shorter while the treatment takes effect to avoid chips and breakage to weaker long ends, and avoid nail polish and acrylic nails while your nails recover.
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What should I consider when buying a nail strengthener?
Different nail strengtheners promise to tackle different problems with nail condition, from flakes and ridges to dry and peeling nails. Consider what you need the nail strengthener to do and make your choice accordingly. Some strengtheners are best massaged into the nail and cuticle at night, giving them time to be absorbed. If you want to keep wearing polish, you might prefer a multi-purpose formula that can be used as a base coat with nail polish, or a nail strengthener that has a sheer colour to give nails a healthy and polished look.
Most nail strengtheners cost between £8 and £16. We’ve included options below at a range of price points.
How we test nail strengtheners
At Expert Reviews, we know that the best way to test a product is to use it ourselves. As such, we test all the nail strengtheners we review.
To begin, we note the type of treatment – base coat or conditioning oil – and the active ingredients used in the product. We then use the product, following the directions for use on the packaging. As well as evaluating ease of application and the feel of the nails immediately after using, we note the condition of the nails in the days after using the treatment – in particular, any effect on weak and flaking nails. We also consider the amount of product required for one use, and any other product benefits such as colour options.
The best nail strengtheners to buy in 2023
1. OPI Nail Envy: Best nail strengthener for soft nails
Price when reviewed: £22 | Check price at Amazon
Soft, brittle nails will instantly benefit from OPI’s cult classic Nail Envy. A miracle worker in a bottle, this nail strengthener’s potent formula will immediately get to work nourishing nails with its blend of hydrolysed protein and calcium. For stronger, longer and healthier-looking nails, simply apply two coats of the strengthener to bare nails. For best results, apply an additional coat every couple of days. This formula is fine to use as a top coat over nail polish, too.
Nail Envy is one of OPI’s top-selling products for good reason: it delivers on its promises to strengthen nails and works beautifully as a base and top coat. If this particular nail treatment doesn’t fit the bill, then you’ll be pleased to learn that there’s a family of other Nail Envy strengtheners to choose from, including formulas to suit sensitive, peeling or dry and brittle nails.
Key specs – Pack size: 15ml
2. Mavala Ridge Filler: Best nail strengthener for ridges
Price when reviewed: £11 | Check price at Amazon
Bumpy nails? Nail polish not sticking well? The cause may be ridged nails, which can be caused by dry and dehydrated skin, damage to the nail bed or a vitamin deficiency. This smoothing base by nail care specialist Mavala fills in bumps and ridges to even out the nails and make them appear smoother, glossier and healthy looking. By evening out the nail surface, the base also both helps coloured polish adhere. The treatment can also be used on its own for a glossy, natural finish.
Key specs – Pack size: 15ml
3. Essie Treat, Love & Colour: Best nail strengthener with colour
Price when reviewed: £9.68 | Check price at Amazon
Perk up lacklustre nails with US manicure brand Essie’s Treat, Love & Colour nail strengtheners. The nourishing one-step care and colour product is available in semi-sheer shades, like peachy Tinted Love, pretty-in-pink Sheers To You, and chic Laven-dearly. It gives a healthy glow to your nails, and your digits will feel as good as they look thanks to a detoxing formula that promises to repair, hydrate and strengthen. If you’re looking for a pretty polish with added nail-care benefits, the Essie Treat, Love & Colour collection will be just the job.
Key specs – Pack size: 5ml
4. Nails Inc Nailkale Superfood: Best nail strengthening base coat
Price when reviewed: £12 | Check price at Lookfantastic
Your morning smoothie benefits from a dose of kale, and so will your nails. The Nails Inc Nailkale Superfood nail strengthener is all you need for healthier-looking nails that don’t break or chip. Thanks to its potent blend of kale extract and Nails Inc’s patented Regenerating Complex, vitamins A, C and K immediately increase the keratin production in your nails for ultimate hydration and nourishment. Don’t be alarmed by the sheer pale-green colour of the bottle: Nailkale dries to a clear and glossy finish. Apply a base coat of Nailkale Superfood on bare nails and then top it up every couple of days for stronger and smoother nails in a couple of weeks.
Key specs – Pack size: 14ml
5. Typology Nail Serum with Keratin: Best restorative treatment after using nail acrylics
Price when reviewed: £13 | Check price at Typology
Acrylic and gel nails are a fun way to jazz up your fingertips, but there’s no denying they can take a toll on your nails – especially if you wear them often. It’s a good idea to take a break between acrylic manicures, and when you do, your nails will benefit from a nourishing and strengthening treatment. Enter this repairing and hydrating serum from cult French brand Typology.
This replenishing serum will intensively hydrate and repair damaged nails with moisturising hyaluronic acid and strengthening keratin, biotin and pro-vitamin B5. Apply 3-4 drops to nails and cuticles morning and evening for healthier, shinier and stronger nails. You can also add the serum to your hand cream, or even massage into the scalp to add strength and shine to hair.
Key specs – Pack size: 15ml
6. Sally Hansen Hard As Nails: Best budget nail strengthener
Price when reviewed: £4.48 | Check price at Amazon
Sally Hansen’s award-winning Hard As Nails strengthener has stood the test of time. First launched back in 1946, the formula hasn’t changed since. Despite this, it remains a classic that we find ourselves reaching for time and again. Formulated with nylon and silk proteins, the Hard As Nails strengthener provides a protective coat that will help reinforce nails from surface to edge.
Not only is Hard As Nails the cheapest nail strengthener of the bunch, it actually delivers on its promises, proving that price isn’t always an indication of quality. Ideal if you’re someone whose hands are in water, bleach or detergent regularly, this nail strengthener will give a polished gloss to the nail while encouraging growth and strength.
Key specs – Pack size: 13.3ml
7. Nailberry Strengthen & Breathe: best nail strengthener for flaky nails
Price when reviewed: £19 | Check price at John Lewis
Do you have flaky, splitting nails that desperately need a little TLC? Then this breathable strengthening polish will make your tips look and feel as good as new. This restorative and protective formula is oxygenated and breathable, giving your nails a protective base coat that leaves them stronger, thicker, and smoother. Vegan, cruelty-free and formaldehyde-free, Strengthen & Breathe can be used on its own or under coloured polish.
Key specs – pack size: 15ml
8. CND Solar Oil Nail and Cuticle Conditioner: Best strengthener for nail growth
Price: £8.75 | Check price at Amazon
Gel manicure addicts will already be familiar with the CND brand since many nail technicians swear by the CND gel colour range. This conditioning oil from the same brand will nourish toughened skin and promote fast and healthy nail regrowth.
The award-winning formula, enriched with jojoba oil, sweet almond oil and Vitamin E, is both hydrating conditioner and nail strengthener. CND Solar Oil should be applied generously to the nail and cuticle before a manicure (or after gel and acrylic removal) to penetrate deep into the nail bed and natural nail. Expect stronger, glossier nails with regular use.
Key specs – pack size: 15ml
The Body Shop Almond Nail And Cuticle Oil: Best all-in-one nail and cuticle conditioner
Price when reviewed: £10 | Check price at Amazon
This classic product from The Body Shop softens dry and flaky cuticles and nails alike. The deeply moisturising formula combines almond oil, vitamin E, oat protein and conditioning lanolin, and will penetrate the most stubborn nail beds to leave your fingertips soft, smooth and nourished. The immediate benefits are conditioned nails ready for any polish you choose to top them with; in the longer term, the moisturising oil will help reduce flaking and improve nail strength.
Arriving in a handy pen, application is swift and easy, and there’s an angled rubber tip that you can use to push back any cuticles that are straying into places they shouldn’t be. Neat and effective, the Body Shop’s treatment oil is perfect to keep in your handbag or on your bedside table.
Key specs – pack size: 1.8ml