Brittle, peeling or splitting nails-Dermatologist guide to healthy nails

Written By Dr Surbhi, MD Skin

Last updated: 26/11/15
"Do you have brittle, peeling or splitting nails? Do you have difficulty in growing them long? Do you feel they are getting softer and weaker?" Onychoschizia is the term used by dermatologist for the nails that are brittle i.e. they might get soft, dry, weak and split or peel off easily. Brittle nails are common in women and can affect both, the fingers and toe nails.

They might be an indicator of nutritional deficiency, underlying medical disorder or wrong nail care. In this article, we would help you understand the reason for getting brittle nails and what you can do at your end to address them.

 

What is the reason for getting brittle nails?

There can be multiple reasons for easily chipping off of your nails, like:

  • Physical or chemical trauma: Do you use your nails as a tool often? Or do you get frequent pedicures and manicures?
  • a) Physical trauma such as excessive use of your nail plate in daily chores like opening the lids or fitting improper shoes,
  • b) chemical trauma to your nails in the form of frequent wetting and drying of the hands,
  • c) exposure to extreme weather, and
  • d) chemical exposure like cement, detergents, nail paint remover, nail hardeners, hand sanitizers, alkalis and acids, can make your nails weak. These chemicals damage the protective cement layer between the cells of a nail.
  • Overzealous manicure and pedicure: Inappropriate use of tools during pedicure and manicure like filler, cutter and especially, removal of cuticle makes the nail not only brittle but also more prone to infections.
  • Poor nutrition: Deficiency of proteins in the diet can lead to chipping of nails because the nail plate is primarily made up of a protein called Keratin. Similarly, Biotin deficiency can cause brittle nails, though how it plays the role in nail health is not clearly understood. Other nutrients, which are important for nails health, are iron, zinc, vitamin C, D and E. Contrary to common belief, dietary deficiency of calcium does not cause brittle nails or white spots.
  • Medical Causes: Anaemia, thyroid disorders, diabetes mellitus, poor peripheral circulation during pregnancy and certain nail disorders like lichen planus, psoriasis, alopecia areata are some other causes of brittleness.
  • Genetic: Brittle nails can also be due to a genetic defect. It is more likely if either of your parents also suffers from the same problem.   
  • Ageing: Brittle nail can be a part of ageing process. With advancing age, there is usually a reduction in the moisture content of skin and nails, making them dry.

How to strengthen my fragile nails?

Management of brittle nails starts with addressing the reasons behind them, along with proper nail care as detailed below:

  • Balanced diet: A nutritious and balanced diet rich in proteins, vitamins and minerals is essential for healthy nails. The role of biotin in the treatment of brittle nails is still controversial; though, a few studies have shown thickening of nail following its supplementation.
  • Proper nail care:
    • If your nails look dry, dip them daily in lukewarm water for 5 minutes followed by application of moisturiser on nail plate and surrounding skin. You can use coconut oil or any hand cream for the same.
    • Avoid prolonged exposure to water and detergent.
    • Use gloves while doing daily household work.
    • Cut your nails regularly because long nails are more prone to damage.
    • Avoid too much use of nail paint remover and hand sanitizers.
    • Use proper foot wears with adequate space for moving of the toes.
    • File your nails regularly as small breaks can accelerate the breaking of nails.
  • Nail Lacquer:  Certain nail lacquers available in the market have natural ingredients to improve the thickness of the nail. However, the role of these lacquers is still not properly evaluated.

When should I visit Dermatologist?

Dermatologist visit is recommended if:  

  • If precautions highlighted above, are not helping.
  • You have hair fall, anaemia, easy fatigability or other general symptoms along with the brittle nails.
  • You notice certain other changes on your nails besides brittleness like pits, discoloration, rough texture, etc.

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