15 Nontoxic Ways to Get Healthy Nails

Laura Lambert | Sep 30, 2019 Beauty & Style
15 Nontoxic Ways to Get Healthy Nails
Image: Twenty20

15 Nontoxic Ways to Get Healthy Nails
Twenty20

Healthy nails aren't just aesthetically pleasing -- several dietary deficiencies will show up in our nails, too: Lines or white spots can indicate we need more zinc. Brittle nails might mean our body is asking for more protein or iron. Split or peeling nails may indicate we've been dehydrated lately and could use some water. The fact is, our nails are often trying to tell us something about our overall health -- and it's a good idea to listen. And on a much more superficial level, healthy nails are the basis of a truly finished look. Whether we're obsessed with fun, trendy polishes and manicures or we like to keep them short and neat, the way we keep our nails is indicative of how we take care of ourselves. Good nail care -- whether it's at a salon or just done at home with a good-quality nail file and some cuticle oil -- is, at its heart, a great form of self-care.


That said, even though we don't often have time to do a beautiful manicure with a base coat, two coats of polish, and a top coat, we love looking at other people's amazing manicures on the internet. For anyone similarly inspired by manis to do our dream nails, check out some manicure ideas that totally nail '90s nostalgia. We love them because they remind us of the Claire's catalogs of our youth, and also because the '90s are so back that stuff we loved in elementary school is trending again. For current trends, maybe 'jelly nails' are what will bring a person out of a polish rut. Yes, they're more summer-y, but jelly shoes were also so '90s that they're basically cool again year-round. Fall has its own fabulous manicure ideas that are perfect for the season of all things pumpkin spice. But beyond cute manicures, don't forget to look at the nails for a sign of a health problem or a diet lacking in the right nutrients

  • Fix That Diet

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    Fix That Diet
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    When it comes to nontoxic and natural, first things first -- start with the diet. Nails are made of keratin, which is a structural protein, and a protein-rich diet, full of foods like beans, lean meats, and nuts, is going to help keep them healthy and strong.

  • Consider Taking a Supplement

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    Consider Taking A Supplement
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    What we can't get from diet, we can sometimes find in supplements. Many experts point to biotin (aka vitamin B7 or vitamin H) and its role in the development of keratin as key to healthy nails -- and, for what it's worth, hair. Dermatologist and nail specialist Dana Stern told Well + Good, "A diet rich in biotin -- cold-water fish like salmon, almonds, peanuts, Swiss chard and eggs -- is always a healthy way to go for good nail health." Other supplements can help, too.

    (That said, not everyone is convinced.)

  • Go Polish-Free

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    Go Polish-Free
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    It's a good idea to let nails go bare sometimes. Going from one nail color to another, back to back, can make them yellow and mask other irregularities that might signal deficiencies or health issues.

    This doesn't mean we should just let nails go. "Taking a break from polish doesn't necessarily mean it's less maintenance," manicurist Deborah Lippmann told Vogue. "The hands have to be groomed."

  • Adios, Acetone

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    Adios, Acetone
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    There are basically two types of nail polish remover -- ones with acetone and ones without. The ones with acetone are highly effective, but also harsh and drying. Stern told HuffPost, "Many people don't realize that the damage that we do to our nails is not from the polish but rather the remover," she said. "Taking a break from polish remover exposure allows the nail to recover."

  • Avoid the Big Five

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    Avoid The Big Five
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    Five major chemicals commonly found in nail polish have been found to be carcinogenic to people who are exposed to them consistently, over long periods of time. For optimal health, steer clear of nail products containing formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, camphor, DBP, and toluene. They've been banned in Europe and Australia, though they are still used in the US.

    Take it a step (or four!) further by avoiding ethyl tosylamide, triphenyl phosphate, xylene, and parabens, or choosing a polish that is water-based. Luckily, there are now lots of options, from three-free through nine-free.

  • Wear Gloves

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    Wear Gloves
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    Dishpan hands leave nails looking just as bad. One easily overlooked way to keep nails looking healthy is to simply protect them from all the detergents and chemicals we might be using to keep the house clean by wearing gloves.

  • Don't Cut Those Cuticles

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    Don't Cut Those Cuticles
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    Cuticles are there for a reason: They're the barrier between the skin and nail. And while part of a clean "done" nail are neat cuticles, all that's needed is a gentle push -- no cutting. Cutting cuticles allows bacteria and fungus to potentially get in and cause havoc.

  • Oil Up

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    Oil Up
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    Fran Cook-Bolden, an assistant professor of dermatology at Columbia University, told Glamour that a lack of moisture is nails' mortal enemy. Oil is one answer to that. Keep nails and cuticles moisturized by massaging them regularly with a neutral oil. Cuticle oil is great, but a variety of everyday ones will work, too -- from coconut oil to jojoba or even soy or olive oil.

  • Just Say No to Acrylics & Gels

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    Just Say No To Acrylics and Gels
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    Nontoxic solutions for beautiful nails exist, but acrylics are polymers and they tend to contain resin and formaldehyde. Gels require a UV light during curing, which may carry a higher cancer risk. Even though safer gels have been developed, the key to healthy nails is to avoid as many chemicals as possible.

  • Keep 'Em Trimmed

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    Keep 'Em Trimmed
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    Long nails are lovely, but not at the expense of healthy nails. Keeping nails even and trimmed can help prevent splitting and cracking. As long as the length is uniform, it will look intentional -- even if it's a bit shorter than it absolutely could be.

  • File Nails the Right Way

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    File Nails The Right Way
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    It takes a little bit more effort, but it's totally worth filing nails the correct way instead of the lazy way: Always go in the same direction with the file, instead of sawing back and forth. This keeps nails healthier, and makes them less likely to break or split. 

  • Avoid Using Nails to Open Stuff

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    Avoid Using Nails To Open Stuff
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    For anyone who wants nails that look and feel healthy, use a blunt knife or a spoon to open pop-tab cans, and just go ahead and avoid eating pistachios straight from the shell -- they're a great way to end up with long nails everywhere but those thumbs. 

  • Choose a Softer Type of Emery Board

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    Choose A Softer Kind Of Emory Board
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    Those flimsy, dark red emery boards that were always in the bottom of mom's purse? Turns out, they're really too rough for nails. Glass files are much more gentle -- which make them a great fit for weak nails especially. Crystal and diamond (yup, they're on the market) nail files can be great, too. 

  • Sterilize Those Nail Tools

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    Sterilize Those Nail Tools
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    For anyone who uses reusable nail tools to push back cuticles -- or even trim nails -- it's a good idea to sterilize them between uses with rubbing alcohol. It's also a good idea to regularly replace disposable products like emery boards on a regular basis. 

  • Quit Biting Them!

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    Quit Biting Them!
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    For anyone who's in the bad habit of biting their fingernails, today's a great day to stop. It can injure the nail bed, which can create an opportunity for fungi or bacteria to get in and cause an infection. Painting nails fun colors using nontoxic paints is a good way to break or curb this habit -- we're less likely to chew on painted nails. 

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