by Shelli of Hairscapades

Last year around this time, I was heading to NYCC and suddenly noticed that my nails were all about a half-inch long!! If you knew my nail history, you’d be as shocked as I was! You see, although I’ve never had a problem with achieving relatively long hair, I could never “grow” long nails, especially on all ten digits at the same time (I’ve always had this theory that the keratin strength either goes to your hair or your nails, rarely both!). I’ve never had the patience for manicures, nail treatments or tips, especially given the need to regularly maintain them. On the rare occasions that I did get a mani, no matter how long I seemed to wait for my nails to dry, I always smudged and/or chipped one (or several) within hours of leaving the salon.

So, I was ecstatic last Spring when I learned of this new Opi nail lacquer which would be completely dry within minutes and would last for two weeks with a nearly chip proof finish! I proceeded to get my nails done every four weeks (because it lasted that long) for several months. And, my nails grew! But then, the side effects began to manifest. The removal process, which involved heavy-duty chemical solvents and a “chisel,” eventually damaged my nails so badly that one thumbnail looked like a shattered windshield! For months, my nails would bend backwards when I attempted to do anything and the tips would just peel away.

Now, you can understand my surprise when I realized in October that my bare nails were … dare I say it … long, healthy and strong. Super long? No. Super hard? Again, no. But, they were really long for me … so long that I had problems removing my contacts (TMI? lol). I started thinking about what could possibly be the cause of this and it struck me that I’d been using henna religiously for months, sometimes weekly. My nails would often be tinted slightly orange for a week or so after a treatment. Given that nails and hair share the same basic component, keratin, and that henna works it strengthening magic on hair by binding to that component, it stood to reason it could do the same for nails. So, I began to research henna for nail strength and found this:

via Helium.com

Henna can be used to add strength to nails because it contains a resinous substance that adheres to the surface of the nails. This provides protection from splits, chips and tears. Simply combine one tablespoon of natural colored henna with one and a half tablespoons of water. With a knife or spatula coat each nail in the mix for around five minutes before rinsing off. Only use once a month to prevent a build up of resin.

I then found this post on ehow.com, which provides step by step instructions on How to Make a Nail Strengthening Treatment from henna. Both of these posts reference neutral/natural colored henna, which isn’t henna at all. Rather, it is cassia obovata as many of us on the natural hair circuit know;). However, both my sister and I experienced improved nail health via the rinsing process while doing regular (weekly/bi-weekly) treatments with real henna! As cassia can be difficult to come by on the ground, you may choose to try a BAQ henna “rinse” instead. If you don’t mind a slight orange tint for a few days, simply allow your nails to soak in dye released henna water for a few minutes and rinse. Another option is to mix a henna paste and apply it immediately, prior to dye release, and again rinse after a few minutes. However, I would expect that the strengthening of the latter technique is less than the former as the dye molecule in henna is what binds to keratin and, I assume, provides the most plant resin.

If you are not feeling orange nails (hey, it’s October, they’d be great for Halloween;), you probably do want to go with cassia. I’ve experimented with the Light Mountain Hair Color & Conditioner, Neutral as it contains cassia and I could find it on the ground at Whole Foods. The ingredients are listed as cassia auriculata leaf and lawsonia inermis leaf powder and not cassia obovata though. It seems to work okay, but not as well as good, old-fashioned henna.

Regardless of which option you choose, if you are in search of a nail strengthening product, BAQ henna is an effective, 100% natural, quick and easy alternative to expensive, chemical-laden and/or time intensive commercial treatments. It could be just what the nail doctor ordered!

Have you experienced improved nail strength and increased length since using henna?