What's A Nail Hardener - And Do You Really Need It?

Tired of your nails breaking every chance they get? Or maybe they just feel weak and flimsy to the touch. If you dream of sturdy nails that look great, either on their own or under a coat of nail polish, you've probably considered purchasing nail hardener.


As you probably guessed from the name, nail hardener is a product that you apply to your nails, just like nail polish, to harden them and keep them from breaking, per BeautyStat Cosmetics. People typically use nail hardener when they want to achieve long, healthy nails, because this product stops them from breaking and peeling long enough to get some solid length.

While it can be a life-saver for people with weak nails, or those who experience certain health conditions, you don't actually need nail hardener just to maintain nail health. Let's take a look at what makes nail hardener different from other nail treatments, and who does need this product.

How does a nail hardener work?

Nail hardeners help to boost the health of your nails, but they're different from other nail products — namely, strengtheners and softeners. Nail expert Queenie Nguyen revealed, per Yahoo! Life, that "nail hardeners are short-term treatments that work to harden your nail plate — the visible part of the nail — to prevent them from splitting and breaking."


By comparison, nail softeners inject hydration back into hard and brittle nails, while strengtheners use strong ingredients that work through the layers of the nail to make the plate stronger.

According to BeautyStat Cosmetics, there are two types of nail hardeners: cross linking hardeners, which chemically react with the protein chains in your nails to make them healthier, and reinforcing hardeners, which add a layer on top of the surface of your nail to make them sturdier overall. The experts at the website recommend reinforcing nail products, in particular, for those who have weak nails that break easily.

You don't need it to maintain nail health

If you don't have any particular problems with your nails, you don't need to use nail hardener. It's not necessary for maintaining the overall health of your nails if you aren't experiencing nail weakness already.


The American Academy of Dermatology Society lists several natural ways to keep your nails healthy that don't involve using treatments like nail hardeners. The most obvious tip is keeping your nails clean and cut regularly, trimming them straight across rather than in other shapes. Don't aggravate ingrown nails or pick your cuticles, and avoid using your fingers as tools for prying things open.

It's also a good idea to follow a rounded healthy diet to ensure that your nails are getting all the nutrients and vitamins they need to stay strong. Nailberry advises keeping your biotin levels up with foods like avocado, brown rice, and sweet potato. Also make sure you're getting protein through legumes and iron through peanuts, seeds, and green leafy vegetables.


You may need nail hardener if you have anemia

If you do experience weak nails that seem to break at the drop of a hat, you may need to use nail hardener. There are a variety of factors that can lead to weak nails, one of the most common being anemia, or a low red blood cell count. According to WebMD, you can get anemia when you are low in iron or are unable to absorb iron due to another medical condition. Whatever the cause, this condition can cause your nails to become weak or even stop them from being properly rounded out.


As anemia leads to other symptoms, including fatigue, dizziness, and shortness of breath, you'll want to deal with this by consulting a health professional. But if you are anemic, then nail hardener may be necessary to restore the health back to your nails, in addition to other treatments or dietary changes.

Similarly, other medical conditions that cause you to have weak nails, including Raynaud's syndrome (where your hands and feet aren't able to get enough blood circulation), may also be a reason for you to start using nail hardener.

You may need it after salon treatments

Nail hardener may also be necessary after prolonged salon treatments. While we're also addicted to gel manicures, the truth is our nails don't love us for them.

Certain types of manicures are said to be better for your nails than others — dip powder nails, for example, are healthy to use on your nails once a month, per American Academy of Dermatology Society. It's the removal of these types of semi-permanent manicures that leads to nail damage. In the case of acrylic nails, gel manicures, and dip powder manicures, you'll need to use acetone (plus a lot of buffing or even drilling) to remove the excess when you decide you no longer want to upkeep them. Acetone is known to be damaging to nail health, so after a few months of salon manicures, you'll likely be left with paper-thin nails that are constantly breaking.


When you've damaged your nails, as is the case with removing salon treatments, it will take more than general nail care and a healthy diet to get them strong again.

You may need nail hardener if you work a lot with your hands

In order to maintain your nail health, the American Academy of Dermatology Society advises against using your hands as tools. But sometimes, you just can't help it. If you work in a job that requires you to use your nails to open, scratch at, or peel things, your nails will inevitably become weaker. You may need to incorporate nail hardener into your routine to counteract the damage.


Nails may also become weak as a result of over exposure to things like laundry or dishwashing detergent and other cleaning products (via Healthline). Over exposure to moisture can do it, too, so be aware of how regularly your hands are coming into contact with water beyond your regular bathing and hygiene routine. It's a good idea to wear gloves when doing household chores, or if you work somewhere that requires you to touch these cleaning products regularly. If you aren't able to wear gloves, then nail hardener may be in order to restore your nails back to full health.

If you need nail hardener, be aware of the ingredients

In some cases, you may need to use nail hardener. It's important to keep in mind that cross-linking hardeners may contain formaldehyde or formalin, which can be dangerous.

"These ingredients are very damaging to the nail," board-certified dermatologist and nail specialist Dana Stern told HuffPost. "Formaldehyde will initially harden the nail, however with time, the nail becomes paradoxically brittle and is at risk for lifting or separating off of the nail bed." It's also possible to experience "severe allergic reactions" to formaldehyde which can lead to "irritated, swollen and painful" skin. "There is also significant concern that these ingredients are carcinogenic," Stern added.


If you do have a condition or lifestyle that requires you to use nail hardener, pay attention to the ingredients in the product you're using. While HuffPost confirms that many manicurists advocate using nail hardener a few times a week, it may be best to avoid the long-term use of products with these particular ingredients in them.