5 Things I Did to Finally Grow Long, Healthy, and Strong Nails

Roya Backlund
Roya Backlund

You know those people who can grow long, sturdy, and beautiful nails without even trying? Yeah . . . I'm not one of them. Even though my mom hasn't been to a nail salon since the '80s and still manages to maintain her elegant claws with insufferable ease, I'm far from being one of the special people who've been blessed by the nail gods. My nails peel, chip, and break. The longest I've been able to grow them out was maybe a millimeter. And when I was able to even accomplish that, I knew I was running on borrowed time until they became damaged yet again.

I almost completely gave up my dreams of long nails that scream "I can ruin a man" until I found Beetna Lee, a nail technician I now trust more than any I have ever visited. With her gentle, patient care, she showed me that my dreams aren't such a far cry from reality. Suddenly, I found myself embarking on a nail growth journey with a warrior's commitment. And it paid off. These nails you see below? They're a distant memory. Keep reading if you want to know how you can make it happen too.

Before nails
Roya Backlund

1. Eat Well and Take Your Biotin Vitamins

A good mantra to live by is that if it's good for your body, it's good for your nails! Nails are a type of skin, so they need just as much tender, loving, and nutritional care. It's no wonder the state of your nails is an accurate barometer for the state of your overall health. Based on how well my nails were doing, I needed to really revamp the level of meaningful nutrition in my diet.

Because nails are made of protein, it's essential to load up on it. Salmon and chicken are excellent sources. Copper and selenium in the salmon help boost collagen production, which is critical to growing strong nails. Both meats also contain plenty of zinc, which your nails absolutely need. Your nails also love a diet full of vitamins A, B, and C and folic acid, which you can find in leafy greens like spinach and foods that carry tons of good fat, like avocados and coconut oil. If you want to take your nail nutrition a step further like I did, invest in some biotin vitamins and take one or two a day.

Biotin is a water-soluble vitamin B complex that enriches the integumentary system, aka your hair, skin, nails, and endocrine glands. It's a primary component in prenatal vitamins since pregnancy breaks down biotin in the body much faster than it would normally (it's no wonder they say pregnant women often have the strongest nails!).

2. Keep Your Nails Moisturized

Since nails are part of our skin, moisturizing them throughout the day should be an integral part of our beauty routine. What happens when our skin is dry? It becomes rough, scaly, and weakened. The same goes for our nails. A cuticle cream or oil should be applied to the skin around the nails at least a few times a day or whenever they feel like they're a bit parched. There are specific concoctions for this like L'Occitane's Shea Butter Nail & Cuticle Nourishing Oil ($20), but you can also use coconut oil or almond oil, like I did.

This is even more vital if you find yourself using harsh cleaning agents or chemicals around the house. Make sure you always wear gloves when you're coming into contact with things like bleach or disinfectant wipes. The huge difference religiously hydrating your cuticles makes will probably shock you, especially since most people totally forget how necessary it is to having healthy nails.

3. Quick Picking at Your Nails

Now, we've established that nails are part of our skin; why do we think it's OK to constantly pick at them or, even worse, use them as tools? I'll admit, I'm definitely guilty of using my nails to scratch a sticker off a bottle or fix broken necklace chains. I've had to be extremely mindful of my tendencies to use my nails this way because it totally expedites the unfortunate process of our nails peeling and breaking. Remember, we're taking care of our nails, not putting them to work.

4. Try a Gel Manicure

What truly gave my nails the extra push they needed to become as durable as they have is an occasional LED light-activated gel manicure. If you can't afford to invest in a few appointments with a nail technician, you can safely do it at home. Red Carpet Manicure's Starter Kit is a great go-to for beginners and contains everything you need, from a vitamin-infused base coat to an LED light for curing. Gel manicures last two to four weeks, depending on how fast your nails grow. "Natural nails can actually become stronger and longer while using gel polish [because] the layer of polish helps protect the natural nail and encourage growth," said Barry Shields, managing partner of Red Carpet Manicure. Gel manis also add a fun twist to the slow and careful process of waiting for your nails to grow, what with the ridiculously creative designs nail artists are capable of these days.

With the help of Beetna and my own nail care routine, it took around four months for my nails to grow longer than they've ever been. These days, people almost always assume that my nails are fake. I love the surprise on their face when I tell them they're not!

Since gel manicures can also potentially be detrimental to our nail and skin health, it's important to take proper precautions when getting one. A big concern lies in the damage that exposure to UV radiation from the light curing can cause. Board-certified dermatologist and nail specialist Chris G. Adigun M.D. says that in less than 10 minutes of exposure to a standard UV nail dryer, "a person's hands are exposed to an energy dose that is comparable to the day-long recommended limit for outdoor workers by the International Commission on Non-ionizing Radiation Protection."

Now, don't let that freak you out too much, because Dr. Adigun also happens to be a big fan of gel manicures and the good they can do for her patients with nail conditions. To combat the negative affects of the UV radiation, she recommends that "consumers have an easy, thoroughly protective garment that either they bring with them to the nail salon or that nail salons consider providing for their consumers"; that way, people can enjoy their gel manicure while still protecting their skin!

It's also imperative that the polish is removed correctly. Improper removal is the leading cause of the damage that gives gel manicures such a bad rap. Don't try to peel off the polish yourself! To properly take off the polish, Shields suggested, "First break the topcoat layer, which is done by very gently buffing the top layer of polish. Next, you'll wrap each finger with an acetone-soaked cotton wrap, then use a foil to make sure the cotton is pressed against the nail. Never, never drill, pick, or soak off the polish. Allow for the acetone-soaked cotton to gently turn the polish brittle so it flakes off like wax in less than 15 minutes."

5. Patience Is a Virtue

Keep in mind that growing strong nails is a long process that requires plenty of patience. Your hands aren't going to become perfect overnight. It takes time for your nails to respond to your regimen of maintaining a healthy diet and handling them with caution. Chances are, your nails are still going to break along the way, even with all the attention and effort you give them (I know mine did!). If this happens, there's a chance that a quick repair at a nail salon can salvage it. If it's too far gone, try to swallow your inevitable frustration and simply begin again. Everyone's nails grow and heal at their own pace. As long as you listen to and respond to what your nails ask of you, there's no doubt you'll eventually get the nails you've always wanted.