Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Nail Hardeners: Protein Based Treatments

The second classification in my series of Nail hardeners are Protein based nail treatments.
I have to admit I don't even like to put protein containing polish/treatments into the hardener category. From a science perspective, I don't believe they work the way some describe, but I do love them.

How do they work?

Your nail bed is comprised of a protein called keratin. This protein has naturally occurring cross linkages in the filaments which give nails their hardness.  However, not enough cross-links and the nail is very flexible and lacks strength.  As I have mentioned already, one way to create more cross-links in keratin is with the use of formaldehyde. However, formaldehyde is not for everyone. You can check out why that may be here.

The thought behind protein based treatments is that the protein supposedly helps make further cross links in your own nail bed keratin. I have not seen any real science to prove this claim, so I don't buy it.  I do however, like them because protein is essentially long chains of filaments. When these filaments are layered on top of the nail plate I do believe it gives topical protection to the nail plate. I made a graphic to explain this. Imagine the blue sticks as tooth picks and they are the building blocks to a structure. The thick red block is a weight on top of the structure.    

From an engineering perspective you can have strength in either the vertical or horizontal direction. If you stack in the horizontal direction you have lots of strength. If you place a weight on top it will be supported easily. The down side is each building unit adds weight and may havve building cost disadvantages; the weight and cost may not be as relevant to nail care, but I'm just saying.  In the vertical direction you also have strength, but an obvious stress point. One way to reinforce the structure is add cross beams.  Now, what the heck does this have to do with protein based nail strengtheners/nail treatments??! Here are a few pics of protein polymers filaments.
I hope you see how a protein based treatment can add reinforcement to your nail bed, at least topically.

A few examples of protein based nail treatments and base coats (this list is not extensive, just what I have come across and includes protein based polishes without moisturizing agents. The protein + moisturizer combo will be covered in the next post in this series):

Essie - Protein Basecoat Nail Fortifier
Nailtiques - Formula I Maintenance for Healthy Nails
Nailtiques - Formula II Treatment for Soft, Peeling, Weak, Bitten or Thin Nails (formulation ca. 2006 may have had formaldehyde)
Nailtiques - Formula II Plus Treatment for Excessive Problem Nails
Nailtiques - Protein Formula III Care for Naturally Hard, Dry Nails

There are more, just look for ingrediensts like, keratin, hydrolyzed protein/keratin, soy protein,  wheat protein, etc. Proteins can be extracted from many sources hence the difference in names.

Other ingredients can have this same type of effect. For example, nylon and silk have similar properties, so if for some reason you don't like or allergic those other proteins, these may be an option. Nylon is a synthetic polymer while silk naturally occurring protein fiber.

Even more ingredients in nail polish can provide similar protection and I will do a separate post going through what ingredients do what in another post.

None protein based strengthening type treatments:
Barielle Hydrating Ridge Filler (contains Nylon)
Sally Hansen with Nylon 
Sally Hansen Complete Care for Dry Brittle Nails Extra Moisturizing 4-in1 Treatment (this actually has protein, nylon, and moisturizers and I shouldn't even listed here, but in the next post about protein based treatments with moisturizers.)

Protein based treatments are good, but I prefer them with moisturizers, so that they can give me reinforcement and moisture. :) Keep in mind that your nail "situation" is different from someone else so make judgment calls based on that. 

Next up: Mix of Protein and Formaldehyde

Other posts you may have missed:
Formaldehyde based treatments
Are formaldehyde treatments right for you?
Protein + Moisturizers, Formaldehyde + Protein + Moisturizers, Formaldehyde + Moisturizers 

The complete series:
Categories of Hardeners and Formaldehyde
Are Formaldehyde Hardeners right for you?
Protein Based Hardeners
Formaldehyde + Protein Based Hardeners
Formaldehyde or Protein Based Hardeners + Moisturizers
Fluoride Based Nil Treatments Part I
Fluoride Based Nail Treatments Part II 
Dimethyl Urea Base Hardeners 
Nail Conditioners Post or Video Review of DermaNail



  1. Excellent information!!! Thank you :)))

  2. Great job! I must say that I had bad results after using Essie Protein Base Coat. Maybe I need the one with moisture? Waiting for your next post :))

  3. You are right on ... I looked up the ingredients for the Essie Protein Base Coat ... no moisturizers. Protein + moisture might be just the right combo! :)

  4. Thanks for all the info! and I like the diagram :)

  5. great info to know, thanks soooo much!

  6. @socialitedreams - I am glad you liked it, thanks for commenting

  7. I've had wonderful results with almond oil - the kind you use for cooking.

  8. Used Nailtiques Formula 2 until my nails stopped splitting and peeling, then Nailtiques Formula 1 twice a week. I also use Solar Oil, plus Eucerin Intensive Repair Hand Lotion followed by Healthy Hoof Intensive Protein Treatment to seal in the moisture at least twice a day. Haven't had breaking, splitting or peeling nails since starting this regimen.