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Best nail strengtheners for long, strong nails

If you're dreaming of long, strong nails, nail strengtheners are the beauty buy you need to add into your routine. 

By Melanie Macleod | Last updated Apr 25, 2022

best nail strengthener

If you’re a fan of gel manicures, you’ll likely know the sad feeling of removing your gel polish and finding your natural nails look rather sad and damaged - we’ve all been there. 

Weak nails aren’t only caused by gel polish though; hormonal changes such as pregnancy or menopause can weaken nails, as can nutritional deficiencies. Luckily help is at hand in the form of nail strengtheners, designed to provide a protective coat to weakened nails.

A good nail strengthener not only acts as a shield for damaged nails, it works to deliver nourishing oils and proteins to your nail to keep it from breaking or feeling brittle. 

If you’re new to nail strengtheners it can be hard to tell the difference between a nail strengthener, a base coat and a top coat. The key is in the ingredients; while base and top coats make a mani last longer and look glossy, a nail strengthener will be packed with ingredients to nurture your nail. Plus nail strengtheners aren’t always akin to polishes - they also come as cuticle oils, to look after your nail right down at the base. 

That said, some nail strengtheners do also work as base coats - who can resist a multi-tasking beauty buy?

How we chose our recommendations

Our Swears By edits are compiled by journalists with expertise in the areas they’re writing about. To help ensure we give the best, most accurate and trustworthy recommendations, they follow several steps when choosing products.

Recommendations from real parents

Before we recommend new products, we always ask our trusted Mumsnet users, of which there are more than 7 million each month. That’s a lot of honest, impartial advice. 

Expert guidance

Our team always ensures our information represents the latest recommendations from experts that you can rely on. They use a variety of sources to compile considered product selections, which includes independent consumer reviews from reputable sources and retailers such as Boots, Lookfantastic and Amazon, as well as including products they’ve tried and tested themselves, resulting in a trustworthy, in-depth and honest set of product reviews. 

Celebrated best products

Finally, we cross-referenced all of the above information to find the best nail strengthener that had won the most accolades and recommendations across the board to bring you a selection of the best ones at various price points. We think there’s something here for everyone.

Here are the best nail strengtheners for 2022.

What are the best nail strengtheners?

1. Best overall nail strengthener: OPI Nail Envy

Best nail strengtheners

Price: £21 | Buy now from Amazon

“I’ve tried many and it’s best by a mile.” Tried and tested by Pleasebeafleabite

OPI is one of the biggest names in nails, creating endless gorgeously coloured polishes as well as this professional-approved nail strengthener. You’ll often see a bottle of OPI Nail Envy atop your nail tech’s desk, and for good reason. It’s a salon quality brand (hence the salon price tag!) that harnesses the power of hydrolyzed wheat protein and calcium for their strengthening prowess.

It comes in various different formulas, including coloured versions, a matte one and formulas designed specifically for brittle nails, peeling nails and thin nails, depending on your nails needs. 

It has OPI’s famous wide brush, so it applies evenly with one swoop, perfect if you find applying nail polish fiddly. The formula itself is thin, so it dries quickly, and it works well as a base coat too, if you want to apply a colour on top. Be aware though, it will be less effective applied on top of a colour as it has a layer of lacquer to work through to reach the nail.

Pros

  • Salon quality
  • Easy to apply
  • Fast drying

Cons

  • Pricey
  • Not cruelty-free

Key Specs

  • Type: Polish
  • Use: Apply two coats, then add another every other day
  • Size: 15ml
  • Cruelty-Free: No

2. Best Sally Hansen nail strengthener: Sally Hansen Double Duty Strengthening Base and Top Coat

Price: £4 | Buy now from Amazon 

“I always use [a] Sally Hansen base coat. Not entirely sure what it does but it’s amazing.” Tried and tested by Chippytea16.

Sally Hansen is another big name in the nail world - you’ll likely have seen the brand’s products on the shelves of Boots for your whole life. Sally Hansen offers a variety of different nail strengtheners, but this one gets our vote because it’s multi-purpose.

Users love it for strengthening the tip of nails, which is often the first part of the nail to show damage, splitting and bending. This provides an impressive layer of protection that even hours of typing won’t be an issue for. 

Sandwich a coat of your chosen polish between two layers of this for a long-lasting, strong manicure that looks good and keeps your nails in top condition. 

Users note this takes a while to dry, so be wary if you’re someone who likes to do their nails quickly. 

Pros

  • Reasonable price
  • Multi-purpose

Cons

  • Not cruelty-free 
  • Slow to dry

Key Specs

  • Type: Polish
  • Use: Apply as a base coat and top coat, before and after colour
  • Size: 13.3ml 
  • Cruelty-Free: No

3. Best budget nail strengthener: Rimmel Nail Nurse Stronger Nail Polish

Best nails strengtheners - Rimmel

Price: £4 | Buy now from Amazon 

“Cheap as chips and the only thing that has ever worked for me." Tried and tested by Emerald123

We don’t know anyone who didn’t start their nail polish journey with a bottle of Rimmel lacquer, so not only is this pocket-money price, it makes us feel nostalgic too.

This clear base coat is enriched with calcium and keratin to nourish the nail and can be worn alone for a glossy look, or with a colour on top. Male users rate it because it’s discreet, keeping their nails appearing natural and healthy without looking too manicured. 

Nail Nurse was designed specifically for nails that peel, so if that’s your bugbear, this is well worth a go. Fans praise it for allowing them to grow their nails long without breakage, plus they say it lengthens the lifespan of at-home manis too.

Pros

  • Budget price
  • Helps keep nails long
  • Strengthens manicure

Cons

  • Not cruelty-free

Key Specs

  • Type: Polish
  • Use: Apply as a base coat
  • Size: 12ml
  • Cruelty-Free: No

4. Best nail strengthener after acrylic nails: Mavala Scientifique K Plus Nail Hardener

Price: £8 | Buy now Amazon

“Mavala- 2 weeks and your nails will be fine.” - Tried and tested by DameDiazepamTheDramaQueen 

Anyone who’s a slave to acrylic manicures will know that when you remove them, your natural nails can be weakened. This cult formula works hard to restore their strength and results can be seen in a matter of weeks.

It’s a small but mighty bottle, with a formula that hardens the nail plate, helping the layers of your nail to bond back together thanks to keratin. 

This is solely a nail strengthener, rather than a base coat, so if you’re painting your nails, you’ll need to follow with a base coat too to lock the colour in place. 

Because the formula is so powerful when it comes to hardening, be careful not to get this on the skin around your nails, as it will harden them as well. Mavala recommends holding your hands upside down for a minute after applying this to ensure it doesn’t run onto your fingers. We agree, it sounds a little scary, but when you see the effect it has on strengthening weak nails, all will be forgiven. If you struggle to apply nail products neatly though, we’d avoid this.

Pros 

  • Powerful strengthener
  • Works quickly

Cons

  • Very small
  • Can harden the area around the nail

Key Specs

  • Type: Polish
  • Use: Apply two or three times a week
  • Size: 2ml
  • Cruelty-Free: No

5. Best nail strengthener after gel nails: Nailtiques Nail Protein Formula #2

Price: £10 | Buy now Amazon

Very top of my list for most effective beauty product. Everyone I've recommended it to is in agreement!” Tried and tested by Sunflowers and Tulips

This little-known brand came up time and time again on the Mumsnet forums, with users impressed by how well it strengthens weak, damaged nails.

It’s a thin, glossy formula that should be applied directly to the nail. You can apply polish on top, but given that it’s recommended to apply this every night for at least a week, we’d leave this as the only thing on your nails to allow it to work its magic. 

It uses protein to penetrate the nails to make them resistant to bending and splitting and fans have been wowed by the results this delivers, transforming tired talons into strong, split-free nails to be proud of. 

The only negative noted by reviews is that the brush is very thin. Unlike OPI’s nail strengthener, which glides on in one stroke, this needs several brush strokes, which can make it look streaky. 

Pros

  • Powerful strengthener 
  • Stops nails from bending

Cons

  • Small brush so doesn’t apply evenly in one stroke

Key specs

  • Type: Polish
  • Use: Apply daily
  • Size: 47ml
  • Cruelty-Free: No

6. Best nail cream to strengthen nails: Dior Creme Abricot Nail Creme

Price: £22 | Buy now from Boots

“Expensive for a small pot, but my goodness it worked for me. I rub a bit in every night and my nails have never looked so healthy or been as strong as they are now..I’m not usually one to buy expensive beauty products but I’m on my second pot of this now.” Tried and tested by MillyMae

This luxurious-feeling cream helps make nails more resistant as well as softening cuticles in one softly scented pot. It’s expensive for something so small, but each nightly application feels like a self-care moment, plus it looks beautiful on your bedside table. 

It feels rich and nourishing… So much so, we’re tempted to rub it over our whole hands! Fans say they can see a difference in as little as two weeks, though some do note that it’s a very rich formula, hence why it’s best for overnight use rather than when you need to go about your day. 

Glycerin is high up in the ingredients list and as a humectant that draws moisture in, it explains why this is so intensely nourishing. 

Pros

  • Luxurious
  • Softens cuticles

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Too rich for daytime use

Key Specs

  • Type: Cream
  • Use: Apply nightly
  • Size: 10g
  • Cruelty-Free: No

7. Best cruelty-free nail strengthener: Nailberry Acai Nail Elixir Rose Scented 5 in 1 Intensive Nail Treatment

Best nail strengtheners - Nailberry

Price: £13 | Buy now from Amazon

“I like this and find it a lot better than Nail Envy.” - Tried and tested by LumosSolem

You’ll notice in this edit that very few nail strengtheners are vegan or cruelty-free, which makes this formula immediately stand out. All Nail Berry products are vegan, cruelty-free, 12-free (meaning they don’t contain any harmful ingredients), plus they’re halal. 

This hard-working nail strengthener promises to support growth, strengthen, hydrate and nourish, protect and smooth the nail, all in one pretty rose-scented formula. Quite the over achiever!

It certainly makes nails look healthy, filling in ridges, while antioxidant ingredients such as acai berry and vitamin E protect, while Argan and baobab oils nourish. 

Fans say they’re wowed by how quickly this works, with nails appearing stronger in just three weeks. 

It works well as a base coat too, allowing polish to glide on smoothly on top. It has a wide tapered brush for easy application, for one last bonus point .

Pros

  • Smoothes ridges
  • Vegan and Cruelty-free
  • Fast-working

Cons

  • Pricey
  • Rose-scented (only a con if scents bother you!)

Key Specs

  • Type: Polish
  • Use: Apply one layer as a base coat, or two coats twice weekly to strengthen
  • Size: 15ml
  • Cruelty-Free: Yes

8. Best professional nail strengthener: CND RescueRxx Daily Keratin Treatment

Price: £10| Buy now from Amazon

“I use CND RescueRxx. I’m on a medication that causes brittle nails as a side effect but have been fine since using CND.” Tried and tested by Dameofdilemma

This popcorn scented nail strengthener is a delight to use. You need no skill to apply it; just dab it all over your nail and cuticle area and rub in for fingertips that feel nourished and soft.

As the name would suggest, this has keratin in for its strengthening powers, as well as jojoba oil to condition the nail plate and surrounding skin, and sweet almond oil for that gorgeous scent and to soften the skin. 

CND is a professional nail brand and this is an essential in many nail tech’s kit, so you know it’s good. With continued use it prevents nails from peeling and splitting and it comes in both a nail polish style bottle and a pen applicator, for use on the go.

It needs to be applied directly to the nail, without any base coat or polish, to fully get to work.

Pros

  • Pleasant smell
  • No need to wait for it to dry
  • Easy to apply

Cons

  • Must be used alone 

Key Specs

  • Type: Apply to the nail and cuticle as a serum
  • Use: Twice daily for four weeks
  • Size: 15ml
  • Cruelty-Free: Yes - but not vegan

9. Best multipurpose nail strengthener: Dr PawPaw Original Balm

Price: £7 | Buy from Amazon 

“I’ve been using Dr Paw Paw (which is same consistency as Vaseline) and that’s worked well too. My nails are the strongest they’ve been for a long time." Tried and Tested by OhMyMG

Dr PawPaw is one of those beauty products that has seemingly endless uses, from lip balm, to soothing dry elbows, to adhering glitter makeup to strengthening nails.

It has a thick, nourishing feel to the formula, like a more bouncy vaseline that you squeeze out from a tube. Apply it to the area surrounding your nails and it acts like a barrier, sealing in moisture and keeping your nails and cuticles soft and protected.

It’s made from ingredients with naturally healing properties, hence why it’s so soothing and we love to keep it by our bed to apply before we nod off. 

One thing to note - only use this after you’ve applied your nail polish. It creates a slightly oily protective barrier that means lacquer will apply streakily. 

Pros

  • Multi-purpose
  • Easy to use on the go

Cons

  • Can’t use before nail polish 

Key Specs

  • Type: Balm
  • Use: As often as required
  • Size: 25ml
  • Cruelty-Free: Yes 

10. Best nail oil to strengthen nails: CND Solar Oil Nail and Cuticle Conditioner

Price: £10 | Buy now from Amazon

“Makes a huge difference.” Tried and tested by Stormsurfer

Cuticle oil is one item we’d never do a home manicure without - it’s the finishing step in every salon manicure and not only does it make your nails look glossy and groomed, it can help your nails grow longer and stronger too, thanks to vitamin E which penetrates deep into the nail bed to keep nails flexible yet strong. 

This comes in a polish style brush and a pleasing click-to-activate pen. It smells of sweet almond oil and helps prolong the longevity of your manicure as well as set your nails in good stead for growing long. 

This makes cuticles supple too, with nail biters saying it soothes even their most ragged of cuticles. The only downside to note is that as this is an oil, it is… oily, so if you don’t like that texture, you’d be better suited to a base coat style nail strengthener

Pros

  • Easy to apply
  • Nourishing

Cons

  • Oily

Key Specs

  • Type: Cuticle oil
  • Use: As often as required
  • Size: 15 ml
  • Cruelty-Free: Yes 

11. Best nail strengthener with colour: Essie Nail Care Hard To Resist Nail Strengthener

Price: £10 | Buy now from Amazon

This launched in late 2021 to much acclaim from beauty editors. It comes in a purple and a pink hue, depending on your demands. Pink adds a glowing tint to the nails, while purple neutralises yellow tones. Both are designed to be used as base coats, below nail polish. 

They’re infused with nail bonding technology, to fuse the layers of your nails together to prevent peeling and breakage. 

If you’ve ever used an Essie nail polish, you’ll know the apply smoothly and easily, and these nail strengtheners are no different, with a wide brush making application simple even to a nail novice. Essie already has plenty of popular nail strengtheners in its range, but these slightly tinted offerings quickly became our favourite for naturally beautiful, strong nails.

Pros

  • Tints the nails
  • Easy to apply

Con

  • Base coat, so can’t apply several layers 

Key Specs

  • Type: Gel
  • Use: As often as required
  • Size: 13.5 ml
  • Vegan: Yes 

Do nail strengtheners really work?

Yes, nail strengtheners do work. In fact they work in two different ways. They provide a protective layer, to shield the nails against daily wear and tear, plus they infuse the nail plate with nourishing, strengthening ingredients to help your talons become more robust over time. 

Do nail strengtheners help nails to grow?

Nail strengtheners don’t generally encourage the growth of the nail, however they will protect your nail from breakage, which makes them longer.

For help with nail growth, hair, skin and nails supplements are the answer. Try Hair Gain Gummies, £29.99 for 60 gummies. While they have hair in the name, they also support nail growth. Hum Nutrition’s Killer Nails Stronger Nails and Hair Supplement, £22.50 for capsules, are worth a try too. 

How do I choose the best nail strengthener?

All of the products in our edit of the best nail strengtheners are tried, tested and approved by Mumsnet users and our editors, so they’re all worth investing in. Choosing the right one for you is down the personal choice. 

Consider if you want a formula that paints on like a lacquer, or if you’d prefer an oil or a balm. Similarly, if you want a polish-style nail strengthener, think about if you want it to double up as a base coat. If you love wearing colours on your nails, we’d suggest buying a base coat nail strengthener, such as Rimmel’s Nail Nurse or Sally Hansen’s  Double Duty Strengthening Base and Top Coat

Many nail strengthens are designed to be applied every other night, so those formulas aren’t a good choice if you want to apply a colour on top. 

Lastly, think about if your cuticles need some TLC too. If yes, we’d suggest a cuticle oil nail strengthener, such as CND’s Solar Oil, which can be used on your nail plate and cuticles too. 

How often should you use a nail strengthener?

This depends on the nail strengthener you choose. Some of the more intensive formulas, such as Mavala’s nail strengthener, are designed to be used two or three times a week, while products such as CND’s Rescue Rxx can be used daily.

In the case of base coat nail strengtheners, use these every time you do your nails for best results over time. 

What is the best nail strengthener? 

Loved by nail professionals and consumers alike, OPI’s Nail Envy comes out tops in the nail strengthening world. Not only does it level up your nails, infusing them with nourishing ingredients and keeping them from splitting and breaking, it’s easy to apply with a wide, flat brush that even novices will be able to get to grips with.

It also comes in an extensive range of formulas. The original is a glossy transparent formula that looks like your nails but better, but it also comes in matte and even in a few of OPI’s iconic polish shades, so you can wear your favourite colour at the same time as strengthening your nails.

OPI also caters to a variety of nail issues with Nail Envy, with iterations created specifically for brittle nails, peeling nails and thin nails. 

What is the difference between a nail strengthener and nail hardener?

A nail strengthener works over time, using nourishing ingredients to penetrate the nail plate to make your nail stronger, while a hardener adds a layer of protection to your nail to stop it bending or breaking. The latter is great if you want to protect your nail as it grows, while a strengthener is good for long term results. 

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