What Causes Brittle Fingernails?

Fingernails are sometimes the first thing people notice, so it can be uncomfortable to have brittle fingernails. Read this to learn some preventive tips, and also learn how to identify possible health conditions that could be causing your brittle nails.

8 minute read

Last Updated July 2, 2020

Why Are My Fingernails Brittle - Joint - 1MD

Have you ever wondered, “Why are my fingernails brittle?” Onychoschizia is the medical name for brittle or splitting fingernails.

It can be caused by trauma such as wetting and drying too often, excessive exposure to harsh solvents such as those found in nail polish, or repeated exposure to detergents. It may also be caused by an underlying health condition or malnutrition.

There are also several diseases and health conditions associated with weak and brittle nails.

Brittle Fingernail Causes

Do fingernails get brittle with age? Yes, that is a natural part of aging, but there are also several conditions commonly known to be associated with brittle nails.

If there is no known reason, such as too much soaking in water, or repeated exposure to solvents causing the brittleness, then you should speak to your doctor about one of these possible conditions that cause brittle fingernails.

Low thyroid function (hypothyroidism): The symptoms of thyroid conditions often manifest in the hands, and this includes brittle fingernails. As the condition gets more severe, horizontal depressions can appear across your nails.

Lung conditions: Brittle nails that are also yellowish in color can be indicative of a lung condition. A lack of oxygen getting to the nail bed can cause clubbing, discoloration, and brittleness.

Endocrine disorders: Your endocrine system is responsible for controlling and releasing hormones, and if levels change drastically, symptoms can appear through your body. Low estrogen levels have been linked to brittle nails and are common in women going through menopause.

Tuberculosis: This is a bacterial infection that affects your lungs, which impacts oxygen distribution through the body. A lack of oxygen to the extremities will cause brittle nails as well as discoloration.

Selenium poisoning: Nail changes are a common sign of selenium poisoning. Selenium is required for efficient cellular function, but at high levels, it becomes toxic. At high doses, selenium causes your nails to become brittle and deformed.

Skin diseases such as psoriasis: Psoriasis and other skin conditions are often linked to excess inflammation, and this can damage nails as well as the skin around them. Nails can become brittle and even lift away from the nail bed.

Brittle Fingernail Prevention and Treatment

With lifestyle changes and a few healthier habits, you can strengthen your nails and protect them from becoming brittle and damaged. Even if an underlying health condition causes the brittleness, the more care you give your nails, the stronger they will be in the face of underlying causes.

Biotin: Biotin is one of the B-vitamins and is great for restoring strength and health to nails and hair. It is water-soluble, which means it isn’t stored in the body, so you regularly have to consume it to get the benefits. Biotin can be found in foods like eggs, sardines, and legumes, or you can easily take a supplement each day.

Don’t soak: Soaking your hands in water for prolonged periods of time weakens the nails. Wear gloves when washing dishes, and when you are taking a bath, try to keep your hands out of the water as often as possible.

Diet: A balanced and varied diet is the key to optimal health and can prevent brittle nails. Any diet that is deficient in necessary nutrients and minerals will damage your overall health, and this includes your nails. If your diet is limited, be sure to add a multivitamin supplement to get all that you need every day.

Drink water: Waste is essential for health, and this includes nail health. Staying hydrated prevents nails from becoming brittle and cracking easily as you perform daily tasks. With enough water each day, your nails can retain moisture, which keeps them strong.

Be cautious of nail products: Nail polishes contain harsh chemicals that weaken your nails when used too often. You can always buy non-toxic polishes and acetone-free polish remover. When it comes to polishing your nails, give them a break to breathe. Ideally, give them a week between polishes to stay strong and healthy. You should also avoid using acrylic or gel nails.

Proper nail care: Keep your nails short and filed often. Ideally, you want a rounded shape to prevent snags and breaks. Shorter nails are less likely to get chipped and broken. It is also important to file them in one direction only, as moving back-and-forth can weaken them.

Maintain moisture: When you lotion your hands, make sure to use lotion on your nails too, especially after removing polish, and after each time you wash your hands. You should also avoid drying products such as hand sanitizer which can dry out nails when used too often. Take care when using cleaning products and use gloves to help avoid contact with the harsh chemicals that dry your nails out.

Natural Treatment for Brittle Fingernails

Supplemental support is a natural option for keeping your nails strong and healthy. In addition to the nutrients you get from food, there are essential key ingredients that your nails need to prevent brittleness.

Collagen: Collagen is a naturally occurring protein in the body and is found in the nail beds. Your body produces less collagen as you get older, and this can increase the risk of brittle nails. Types I collagen is most commonly associated with nail strength as it is part of the infrastructure that supports the nail. Replacing lost collagen is a natural way to prevent brittle nails.

K-Real: Clinically proven to be more effective than fish oil, K-Real krill oil provides essential nutrients for your nails. This highly bioavailable krill oil absorbs quickly and is used by the body to stimulate nail growth and strength. Regular supplementation will reduce the risk of brittle nails.

Hyaluronic acid: Amino acid deficiency results in brittle nails. Hyaluronic acid prevents weak and brittle nails. When this acid binds with water, it forms a gel-like substance that delivers moisture to a dry nail bed. Regular application moisturizes the nail and stimulates repair and growth.

When to See Your Doctor

Your fingernails can give off messages to others and can also tell you a lot if you pay attention. Brittle nails can be caused by daily habits or by certain health conditions. By identifying the cause, you can effectively treat the condition, and with regular care, you can strengthen your nails and improve them each day.

Talk to your doctor if you think the root cause is a health condition. The sooner it is treated, the sooner your nails can fight back from brittleness.

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