Maybe your goal is long, strong nails that always look Instagram-ready. But you may be stuck with brittle nails that break or split the moment they grow.
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 101
Causes. Brittle nails can simply be the result of aging or too much or too little moisture due to external factors, like washing your hands too much.
But they can also be a result of an underlying condition such as anemia, hypothyroidism, or Reynaud’s syndrome.
Treatment. Showing your nails extra TLC is the key. Moisturize more, protect your hands with gloves when necessary, and regularly file your nails.
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.
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.
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.
Protect your hands
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.
Do you need to call a doctor?
FYI: You might take great care of your nails and hands and moisturize regularly, but your brittle nails just won’t go away.
If this sounds like you, strongly consider speaking with your doctor. Persistent brittle nails could be a symptom of an underlying condition.
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.
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:
- looking paler than usual
- shortness of breath
- heart palpitations
If these symptoms accompany your brittle nails, it’s worth speaking with a healthcare provider.
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
- weight gain
- dry skin
- dry and thinning hair
- feeling cold
A physician can help treat hypothyroidism with medication. Be sure to keep an eye on these accompanying symptoms.
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
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.
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.
You can find B vitamins in:
- meats like liver and kidneys
- whole grains
Calcium. Dairy products are a great source of calcium, but certainly not the only one. You can also find calcium in:
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
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:
How long do nails take to grow?
A small 2010 study showed that the average adult fingernail grows about 3.47 millimeters per month (toenails grow much slower).
This number can varies, of course. But it typically takes about 6 months for adult fingernails to grow out completely.
In other words? It’s a slow process, so have patience.
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.