Brittle Nails: Causes, Treatment And Tips

brittle nails

Does your nails chip off easily?

Are your nails bending and breaking on a regular basis?

Do you have nails that have become dry and brittle?

If the answer to any of these questions is YES, then you must read this.

Brittle nails are considered to be a common sign of aging. Moreover, excessive use of nail paint or nail polish remover can also cause your nails to become dry and brittle. This could indicate that your nails are exposed to the harsh chemicals present in nail polish or removers which cause them to chip off and break easily. But if you fail to take note of your nails often or if you tend to ignore your nail health, then it’s high time to check your nails on a regular basis. This is because, your nails may not only reveal a lot about your health but brittle nails could also be a sign of various health problems. Here is a quick look at the common causes and treatment options of brittle nails.

Brittle Nails: Causes To Be Aware Of!

Nails are made up of a protein known as keratin. The main function of nails is to protect the fingers and toes from any damage. However, due to external factors or health problems, your nails may become brittle, soft and thin, a condition known as onychoschizia. It is more commonly seen in women than men. 

According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology (AOCD)[1], brittle nails are classified into two main categories namely:

Dry and brittle nails are caused due to too little of moisture content in the nails. It mostly occurs due to repeated washing and drying of nails, especially fingernails.

Soft and brittle nails are caused due to too much of moisture content in the nails. It could be due to excessive exposure to household cleansers, detergents or nail polish remover. 

Additionally, there are certain health conditions that can cause brittle nails. It is believed that if the fingernails are affected and the toenails are strong, then it could be due to an external factor. Some of the common ones are:

Iron deficiency: If your body lacks sufficient amounts of iron, it can lead to iron deficiency. Low iron level can make the nail beds weak which in turn can cause the nails to become soft and brittle in nature.

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Hypothyroidism: It is caused due to low levels of thyroid hormones in the body. This condition is quite common in women than men. In people with hypothyroidism, the metabolism slows down as a result, less sweat is produced. Sweat acts as a natural moisturiser that helps to keep the nails moist and healthy. So less sweat not only makes the skin dry but also causes the nails to become dry and brittle. 

Fungal infections: There are numerous factors that can up the risk of fungal infections right from the use of chemical laden soaps for washing hands to repeated injury to the nail or nail bed. The risk of fungal infections is high during monsoon due to moist weather which in turn increases the risk of infections to the nails. This can cause the nails to become dry, brittle and yellow in colour.

Lichen planus: It is an autoimmune condition that is triggered by stress, allergens, or an infection. It causes swelling and itching of the skin and nails. It mostly causes purplish, itchy and flat bumps on the skin. The condition can affect the skin, scalp, and nails leading to dry skin and brittle nails. 

Nail psoriasis: Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition which causes inflammation of the skin leading to itchy and scaly skin. When psoriasis affects the nails, it causes psoriatic nail disease or nail psoriasis. This can cause the nails to become thick and tender. It also causes pitting of the nails and whitish coloration of the nail bed.

Brittle Nails Treatment And Tips

It is always a good idea to consult a doctor to know the exact cause of brittle nails and get it treated. For example, your doctor might recommend iron supplements to iron-deficiency which in turn can help to get rid of brittle nails. In some cases, use of biotin, a vitamin, is recommended to improve the texture and prevent the nails from getting dry and brittle, reveals AOCD. According to a study published in the Journal of drugs in dermatology[2], supplementation with a 2.5-mg dose of biotin daily or a 10-mg dose of silicon daily improves the nail health. Moreover, there are nail strengthening creams and gels available in the market which claim to make your nails strong and healthy. However, it is best to consult your doctor before opting any of these treatment options.

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Instead of using expensive creams and ointments, there are a few simple tips and tricks you must follow to keep your nails strong. These include:

Use of oils such as almond oil,coconut oil or olive oil. The application of oil on the nails not only moisturises and nourishes the nails but also prevents it from breaking. Oils are rich in fat content, nutrients and antioxidants which can make the nails strong and healthy.

Apply moisturizer not just on the skin but nails as well. You can moisturize your hands after washing your hands or before going to bed. Make sure you rub it in and around the nails to improve your nail health

Wear gloves especially when it is cold outside as prolonged exposure to cold weather can rip off the moisture from the skin and nails and make the nails vulnerable to become dry and break off easily. Also, it is wise to use gloves when handling detergents and cleaning liquids to protect the nails from the harsh chemicals.

Avoid excessive use of nail polish remover as it can make the nails soft and brittle. If using one, then opt for a remover that doesn’t contain acetone as this chemical is responsible for making the nails brittle and break easily.

Keep your nails clean by trimming it regularly. It is wise to keep your nails short to prevent breakage and splitting. Also do not pick or bite your nails or cuticles as it makes it vulnerable to damage.

Follow these simple tips to keep your nails healthy and strong and prevent brittle nails. However, if your nails break off easily or split more often than not, then it is wise to consult a doctor to know the cause of it. 

(The article is reviewed by Dr. Swati Mishra, Medical Editor)

Recommended Reads:

5 Indications About Your Nail Health that you should Know

4 Effective Home Remedies To Brighten Dull And Discoloured Nails


1. Brittle Splitting Nails. American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. 

2. Scheinfeld N, Dahdah MJ, Scher R. Vitamins and minerals: their role in nail health and disease. J Drugs Dermatol. 2007 Aug;6(8):782-7.

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