Can You Banish Brittle Nails for Good?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

If so, you’re definitely not alone: Brittle nails, formerly known as onychoschizia, are quite common, especially for vagina owners, according to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology (AOCD).

Brittle nails seem harmless (if annoying). But they can actually be a sign of an underlying condition. We open the file (groan) on brittle nails.

Buh-bye, breakage: Brittle nails treatment

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If your brittle nails have developed due to general aging, there’s not much you can do to stop the process (sorry!). There are also no medications or treatments that a doctor can prescribe to strengthen your nails from the effects of aging.

But there are things you can do at home to treat and try to prevent brittle nails. These are fairly simple — you can incorporate them into your daily routine, no problem.

Moisturize

If your nails are dry and brittle, try moisturizing more often. Start using an ultra-hydrating hand lotion several times a day. Lotions that contain lanolin or shea butter can be particularly moisturizing.

Make sure you always moisturize after washing your hands and before going to bed. When applying lotion, be sure to really rub it in around and directly onto your nails. This will help you get the full benefits.

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Soft and brittle nails can be a sign that your nails are actually a little too hydrated. You might spend time doing household chores or spend time with your hands in the water (we see you, hairdressers).

Sound like you? Start protecting those digits by wearing gloves whenever your hands are going to be wet. They can protect your hands from getting overhydrated and keep harsh chemicals off your skin.

Cold, dry weather can also make brittle nails worse. Wear gloves whenever you’re going to be spending time outside (those snowballs ain’t about to throw themselves).

Give your nails some love

Can’t make it to the nail salon for a manicure? Take matters into your own hands (pun intended) and start caring for your nails at home with these tips:

  • Keep ’em short. Keep your nails on the shorter side to minimize surface area, since that’s where water and chemicals can be absorbed.
  • File your nails. Do this daily to keep them smooth and help prevent breakage and splitting. File in one direction using a fine emery board.
  • Biting is a no-no. Avoid picking or biting your nails or cuticles. (Press-on nails may help.)
  • Buffing. Buff your nails every few days in the same direction as they grow. Don’t use a back-and-forth motion. This can make splitting worse.
  • Get hard. Apply a nail hardener to strengthen those bad boys.
  • No acetone. Use nail polish removers that don’t contain acetone.
  • Pause the polish. Give your nails a break from polish to allow them to breathe. Constant use of polish can weaken your nails.
  • Avoid acrylic and gel nails. If you do glam those nails up, avoid constantly using gel or acrylic nails. These can also weaken nails, and UV light that nail technicians use to dry gel can have a similar effect.

Causes

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The AOCD says that brittle nails can either be dry and brittle or soft and brittle.

Dry and brittle nails develop when there is too little moisture. This often occurs when someone has been repeatedly washing and drying their nails and hands.

Soft and brittle nails are the result of too much moisture. This can happen when your hands experience constant exposure to items with harsh chemicals. This might include detergents, household cleaners, and nail polish removers.

Underlying medical conditions can also lead to brittle nails.

Age
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Nails age along with us (sorry, nails). As we get older, the nails on our hands naturally become duller, thinner, more brittle, and they lose strength. This causes them to break more easily. Unless you’ve recently invented a time machine, this is unavoidable.

Iron deficiency anemia

If the body isn’t getting enough iron, red blood cell levels decrease, and you experience an iron deficiency.

This can often lead to dry, damaged hair and skin. In some people with severe anemia, it can lead to brittle nails, often called spoon nails.

Other symptoms of anemia include:

  • fatigue
  • looking paler than usual
  • shortness of breath
  • heart palpitations
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If these symptoms accompany your brittle nails, it’s worth speaking with a healthcare provider.

Hypothyroidism

According to a case report, low thyroid levels, also known as hypothyroidism, can result in a variety of different symptoms.

These can include:

  • hair loss
  • fatigue
  • weight gain
  • dry skin
  • dry and thinning hair
  • depression
  • constipation
  • feeling cold

A physician can help treat hypothyroidism with medication. Be sure to keep an eye on these accompanying symptoms.

Raynaud’s syndrome
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Raynaud’s syndrome is a condition where blood vessels constrict and reduce blood flow to your hands and feet.

As well as brittle nails, the most common symptoms include:

  • discoloration in your fingers and toes
  • a loss of sensation in your fingers and toes
  • a blue tint to your skin
Dietary causes

What you eat affects your nails too.

  • Protein. Keratin protein forms the building blocks of your nails. Eating the correct amount of protein is an important part of boosting keratin production. This helps you maintain strong nails.
  • Iron-rich foods. If you suspect that your brittle nails are a result of iron deficiency, it makes sense to include more iron in your diet. Iron-rich foods include red meat and spinach.

Speak with your doctor before taking iron supplements.

Vitamin deficiencies
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Not getting enough biotin can also lead to brittle nails.

Biotin is a B vitamin found in food that can boost the health of hair, nails, and skin. The AOCD suggests taking biotin supplements to help brittle nails (speak with your healthcare provider first).

Vitamins that support nail health

Eating foods that are rich in the following vitamins may help strengthen nails.

B vitamins. B vitamins like B12 and B9 can contribute to healthier nails.

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You can find B vitamins in:

  • meats like liver and kidneys
  • fish
  • cheese
  • yogurt
  • milkeggs
  • mushrooms
  • beans
  • avocados
  • bananas
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • whole grains

Calcium. Dairy products are a great source of calcium, but certainly not the only one. You can also find calcium in:

  • dark green leafy vegetables
  • almonds
  • beans
  • sardines

Fatty acids. According to a 2014 study, omega-3 fatty acids can help lubricate and moisturize your nails and reduce inflammation in your nail bed. Essential fatty acids are plentiful in these foods:

  • fatty fish like tuna and salmon
  • flax
  • seeds
  • nutsseedstofu

Vitamin C. According to an old 2007 study, vitamin C deficiency can result in brittle nails and slowed nail growth. You can find vitamin C in:

  • citrus fruits
  • bell peppers
  • green vegetables
  • tomatoes

Takeaway

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Brittle nails can develop by not moisturizing enough. But it can also occur as the result of an underlying condition or vitamin deficiency.

If you notice brittle nails along with other symptoms, contact your doctor and find out what’s going on.

There is no medication for brittle nails. Your best bet is to try at-home treatments, like moisturizing more, wearing gloves, and taking care of your nails with regular filing. When you point, it should be on-point.

If you suspect you have a vitamin deficiency, try eating more vitamin-rich foods or talk with your doctor about taking a supplement.

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