How to Make Your Nails Grow Longer, Stronger, and Healthier

Plus, what not to do.

How to Grow Out Your Nails
Photo: Getty Images

Maybe you took a break from acrylics during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020 and discovered that you like au natural nails, or maybe you want to DIY one of the nail art trends you've saved from Instagram. Whatever scenario is inspiring you to grow out your nails, there are a few tips and tricks you can do to help them grow long and strong.

However, like growing out bangs or a bob, long nails don't happen overnight. "Nail growth rates have been extensively studied and so we know exactly how long it will take to grow out a nail," says Dr. Dana Stern, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City who specializes in nail health. "For fingernails expect six months, and toenails, which have slower growth rates, will take closer to 12-18 months."

If you're willing to adopt a regular nail care routine and be patient, then keep scrolling for expert advice on how to grow out your nails.

1. Use Cuticle Oil

"A healthy cuticle barrier is essential to optimize nail growth," says Dr. Stern. "This is because the new in-growing nail is developing right under the skin behind the cuticle." For this reason, the dermatologist recommends avoiding cutting the cuticle, whether it's with liquid cuticle remover or a pair of clippers.

Rita Remark, essie's Global Lead Educator and Nail Artist, recommends using cuticle oil daily to keep the skin nourished. Dr. Stern agrees, adding to use an oil rather than a cream because they absorb better.

If you're in the market for a cuticle oil, essie makes an apricot-infused one, and CND uses a blend of sweet almond, jojoba, and rice brand oils.

2. Switch to an Acetone-Free Nail Polish Remover

While acetone-based removers may be quicker at taking nail polish off, they can dehydrate the nail plate and the surrounding skin – including the cuticle. "Acetone containing polish remover is very dehydrating and drying out the nail and prolonged soaks can lead to brittleness, breakage and therefore slow growth," Dr. Stern confirms.

Instead, opt for an acetone-free remover such as TenOverTen's The Rose Soak, which contains rosehip, horsetail leaf extract, aloe, and vitamin E to soothe, strengthen, and moisturize nails.

3. Swap Out Your Emery Board

The tools you're using to groom your nails may also compromise growth. Dr. Stern says that cardboard emery boards can "create microscopic openings at the tip of the nail that lead to splits, breakage and ultimately poor growth."

The dermatologist recommends using a glass nail file because it creates a clean edge on the nail. Plus, they'll last a lot longer. Tweezerman makes a glass file that comes in a protective travel case.

Remark recommends regularly filing your nails even if you are trying to grow them out. "Lightly file your nails once every few days," she says. "This refines the shape, prevents snags, and stimulates blood flow."

VIDEO: This Is What Those White Spots on Your Nails Really Mean

4. Don't Go Completely Bare

If you're taking a break from acrylics or gel manicures in an effort to improve nail health, don't leave them completely bare. "Sports that are rough on your hands, like rock climbing and volleyball, are high-risk activities for nail breakage," says Remark. "Don't go bare. I know it may seem right to 'let your nails breathe,' but I can assure you that they don't have lungs and that your nails will grow stronger with a coating than without."

Both Remark and Dr. Stern suggest using a nail-strengthening product or treatment. Essie's Hard To Resist nourishes and strengthens nails. Dr. Stern's Nail Renewal System is a weekly treatment that revives dry, brittle nails so they instantly look shinier, and includes a clear polish to protect without chipping.

5. Get Moving

It doesn't seem like physical activity and nail growth would have a connection, but the truth is that regular cardio, even if it's a daily walk, will help with circulation and in turn, your nail health.

"Consistent cardiovascular exercise will benefit not just your heart but your nails too," says Dr. Stern. "This is because it will improve circulation, and thus, deliver nutrients and oxygen to your nails."

If this isn't an option for you, the dermatologist recommends giving yourself a hand massage throughout the day. "Massage your favorite cuticle oil multiple times daily will help keep the cuticle healthy and improve local circulation as well," she says.

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