Nail Hardener vs. Nail Hydrator

Unless you’ve been blessed with some powerful genetics, brittle nails are bound to happen to you, especially if you have the habit of picking or chewing on them. Now, there are two different kinds of products on the market that can help with this: nail hydrators and nail hardeners. Which one is the best for you? Let’s take a closer look at both.

Nail Hardeners

There are two options here. One being cross-linking hardeners and the other being reinforcing hardeners.

Cross-linking hardeners: To explain how this one works, let’s think of your nail as a ladder. With brittle nails, the rungs on the ladder to wobbly, weak, and unstable. However, if you add a cross-linking hardener, it’s like getting extra rungs to help support the ladder. Cross-linking hardeners work directly with the protein in your nails by using ingredients like formaldehyde and calcium.

Reinforcing hardeners: This product works on the outside of your nail rather than the inside. Simply put, reinforcing hardeners add a protective, hard layer on top of your existing nail without changing the actual nail underneath. Reinforcing hardeners achieve this by using ingredients such as nylon and sulfhydryl protein.

Cons: You may think that having hard nails will protect them from cracking, but the opposite is actually true. With cross-linking hardeners, nails can become so hard that they are unable to bend, making them more likely to snap. With reinforcing hardeners, it can be a pain to constantly reapply the protect in order to ensure proper protection.

Nail Hydrators

Nail hydrators make the nail bendy rather than stiff, preventing unwanted cracks. The product is thicker than hardeners, almost like a cream which works really great for your cuticles and skin around the nail as well when applying. Nail hydrators often use ingredients found in extra strong moisturizers such as mineral oil and beeswax. They are best used on people who have issues with their nails peeling rather than actually breaking.

Cons: Like with reinforcing hardeners, nail hydrators need to be constantly applied in order to be effective as creams wash away. 


First, find out what your nail problem is. If your nails are prone to cracking and breaking, a nail hardener is your best best. For dry, peeling nails, go with nail hydrators. Be aware of the pros and cons for each and for any serious nail issues, consult your doctor.