4. Take biotin supplements.
In several studies, researchers found that supplements of biotin (a member of the vitamin B family) increased nail thickness and prevented splitting and breaking. In a respected German study that evaluated 45 people with severe nail problems, 2.5 milligrams of biotin daily for several months benefited everyone -- with 91% of the 45 citing significant improvement. NYU dermatologist Sumayah Jamal, MD, says to get the effect, it's vital that you take the prescription strength, therapeutic level of 2.5 milligrams daily.
Some nail products also contain silicon and the supplement MSM, two other nutrients associated with nail health.
The one supplement that won't work: Gelatin. Experts say eating or soaking in it won't do a thing to increase nail strength -- and a liquid soak may actually waterlog and eventually weaken nails. Stern adds there is little scientific evidence that supplements or nail products containing calcium, yeast, or fluoride have any significant impact on nail health either.
5. Limit professional manicures.
While it's hard to beat the pampering luxury of a pedicure or manicure, a study just completed by Stern and colleagues at Mt. Sinai showed those who indulged regularly were the most likely to suffer from dry, brittle nails. The doctors theorize that exposure to more chemicals and harsher ingredients may be one reason. Jamal adds that women who get manicures frequently suffer from chronic nail bed infections, evidenced by puffy, reddened areas around the base of the nail. "When you look at your finger sideways the area around your nail bed should be flat. If it's puffy, that's evidence of a chronic infection," says Jamal.
One way to reduce problems, say the experts, is to take your own tools to the manicure. This, says Jamal, will definitely cut down on the risk of infections and help ensure a healthier experience.
6. Avoid acetone-based polish removers.
"The one product that all dermatologists agree you should avoid if you have brittle nails is acetone nail polish remover. It has been documented time and again that it strips the nails, causing them to become brittle -- which is something we found in our study as well," says Stern.
7. Avoid rough emery boards.
Those old-fashioned orange emery boards are too harsh for nails, causing small fissures and cracks that lead to breakage and tears, says Ravits. Instead, she says, file nails with a smooth, fine file and don't saw back and forth. Instead, Ravits says, file in one direction only, and do it slowly and evenly to reduce risk of breakage.
8. Don't overdo hand washing and limit contact with cleaning chemicals.
As healthy as it can be to wash your hands frequently, overdo it and you'll wreak havoc with your nails, says Stern. If you are in a profession where frequent hand washing is mandatory, she advises to use moisturizer as often as possible and rub a little extra around the cuticles several times a day.
When doing housework or laundry, Jamal says, minimize contact with harsh chemicals, including dishwashing liquid, by wearing rubber gloves whenever possible.