Using topical garlic for nail growth is going mainstream.
While beauty-focused folk remedies utilizing garlic as a topical ingredient have been around forever, it hadn't gone mainstream until recently. Toxin-free nail polish brand côte has just released a garlic base coat that strengthens and lengthens the nails called Growth With Garlic. Côte's co-founder Mary Lennon said they used garlic because they were able to create an odorless extract that imparts the benefits of a nail-growth serum without the yellowing side effects that others are known to cause. According to Lennon, "Garlic is naturally fortified with selenium, a mineral and nutrient that the body needs to stay healthy. This protects the body from damage caused by free radicals and infection and basically assists in improving nail growth and health."
There might be something to its anti-fungal and antibacterial properties that are helpful in a nail-growth treatment, too. Jaime Schehr, N.D., R.D., said that garlic is so powerful because it contains more than 200 naturally occurring chemical compounds. "As an anti-fungal, garlic is most effective in the extract form," she said.
Consuming high concentrations of garlic can be too hard on the digestive system.
We've known of garlic's internal benefits, but a large number of people can't digest it well. Some people have a garlic-related intolerance, while others prefer to skip it for other reasons. Certified nutritionist, author, and beauty expert Kimberly Snyder, C.N., said that she avoids it per ayurvedic code. "In Ayurvedic philosophy, onions and garlic are described as promoting a 'rajasic' temperament, which means a hyperactive, restless state. Beauty is a total state of radiance from the inside out, and agitation and impatience can block feeling light and joyful, which is part of beauty. I've felt calmer in general since cutting garlic out," Snyder said. But she's all for topical use.
Dr. Schehr agrees. "Often digestive symptoms are the barrier to high amounts of garlic ingested orally; however, as a topical, garlic can exhibit its medicinal effects and bypass many of the unwanted side effects," she said.
But when using garlic topically, make sure to do it with care.
Doctor, natural beauty expert, and founder of Osmia Organics Sarah Villafranco, M.D., has her doubts about the trend. "There are plenty of anecdotes on the internet about rubbing garlic on your nails to make them grow faster, so it seems to have helped some people out there, allegedly due to the selenium in raw garlic," she said. "As far as medical evidence for garlic extract supporting nail growth, there isn’t any for either internal or external application. In fact, if there’s evidence at all, it's to the contrary. But not all medicine has been studied or documented, so the best way to find out is to give it a shot!"
That said, garlic itself is quite alkaline and can cause skin to break out or sting, especially if there are any lesions or cuts. Your best bet is to try a product like Growth With Garlic for nail health (and to avoid the smell).
"Applying garlic directly to the skin can actually cause a burn, of sorts," Dr. Villafranco said. "It is extremely irritating in most cases. Don’t get me wrong—there are loads of therapeutic uses for garlic, but direct, topical application to the skin should be approached with caution," she said.
You can dilute a cotton swab with water before swabbing with garlic and applying it to your nails. Always do a test patch first and allow your nails to soak afterward in warm water to minimize the scent.
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Lindsay Kellner is a freelance writer, editor and content strategist based out of Brooklyn, NY. She received her bachelor’s degree in journalism and psychology at New York University and earned a 200-hour yoga certification from Sky Ting. She is the co-author of “The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide to Ancient Self Care,” along with mbg’s Sustainability Editor, Emma Loewe.