Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Nail Hardeners

The wonderful world of nail treatments.  Boy back in the day this was it for me.  I loved trying new products,  but since I was a tween/teen/young adult without moola, I would buy one treatment at a time.  I used to save my lunch money, yes we are talking starving for nail polish, and stand in the makeup isle at Wal-mart/CVS/Sally's for hours, reading each and every bottle over and over (ingredients, claims, etc) trying to decide which product would be magic to my nails.  I always used up every bottle and often repurchased to see how and if the ingredients did their magic.  I wanted to know what each ingredient did.  What a weirdo, I know, but now I can tell you what I learned.

I think one of the biggest questions out there is, what is the best nail hardener?  The answer is not a simple one, but this series of posts will try to rationalize the possibilities. This entire series assumes your overall health is good, because no topical nail treatment can help you if you have some underlying illness.

Another very important factor to remember is that nail hardness is not the same thing as flexibility. Hard nails are great because they are strong, but there is such a thing as over hardening the nail plate. The harder that your nails get the more brittle they become. The nail plate must balance both characteristics, hardness and flexibility, to retain health, stability, and length. We can balance the hardness with nail flexibility by moisturizing and taking a break from nail hardeners intermittently if needed (that depends on the type you use)! Furthermore, you will find the healthier the nail plate the longer you nail polish will last (that is if you want it to).

There are, in my mind, only 6 categories of nail hardeners because each category of nail hardener works in essentially the same way.

1. Formaldehyde based - this post and here.
2. Formaldehyde free, protein based
3. A mix of #1. and #2 ... post here.
4. There are three subcategories: post here.
a.) #1 with conditioners, b.) #2 with conditioners, or c.) #3 with conditioners: all here
5. Fluoride based, Part I and Part II
6. Dimethyl Urea based
7. Nail Conditioner - DermaNail ( or NeoCeuticals Nail Conditioning Solution)
Video Review for DermaNail

#7 is different, I have not encountered anything else like it on the market.

I would encourage everyone to start reading the ingredients of all your nail products, especially nail treatments, so that you can eliminate similar class products that have not worked for you.  I will take you through the different categories and how they work.  Although, I may mention a few brand names from each category, I do not favor any, rather I favor categories. Personally, I like #2, #5, and #7.
Formaldehyde based nail hardeners:

Your nail bed is comprised of a protein called keratin. This protein has naturally occurring cross linkages which give nails their hardness.  However, not enough cross-links and the nail is very flexible and lacks strength.  One way to create more cross-links in keratin is with the use of formaldehyde.

Formaldehyde based nail hardeners are the most common type of nail hardener and contain 1-3 % formaldehyde. (Note: Formaldehyde is not the same as Formaldehyde Resin) Formaldehyde reacts with keratin and creates more cross-linkages.  Bottom line - they work. However, I have two main hang up's with this category.

1. Overtime and overuse of formaldehyde based hardeners causes the keratin to form too many cross-links and as a result the nail becomes very hard, looses its flexibility and becomes brittle.

2. Formaldehyde is a skin irritant and overtime people can build up an allergy.  Skin contact should be avoided.

Overall, these hardeners work, but should be used intermittently to avoid brittle nails and possible worsening of your nail's condition (i.e. more chipping, peeling, etc.). And as always, moisturizer should play an important role in nail maintenance.

EXAMPLES: Do check ingredients to make sure formula's didn't change!
- Nail Tek is a popular brand that salons may recommend
- OPI makes Nail Envy
- There are many many more! Pretty much each brand name has one.
- I have also seen nail hardeners (off brand) at the dollar store, just check the ingredients.

Next up: Are formaldehyde based nail hardeners right for you?


  1. Oooh, I'm excited for the rest of the series. I've been having peeling issues forever, and I keep on losing corners off my nails because of weakness from peeling. And no matter what nail hardener I try, it just never gets any better.

    But I do admit that I don't read the ingredients in the hardener, and I'm sure that has a a great deal to do with it.
    Thanks for the information!

  2. Informative! Looking forward to the rest of the series. It's amazing how everyone needs a formula tailored to their specific needs - even in nail polish!

  3. Anna, I also want to ask you if you have ever heard of/used gonails? If not would you look it up and look on their site at the ingredients and tell me if you think those ingredients can penetrate the nail to cause change? I've used it and loved it but I need a scientist's perspective!

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