Nail Brittleness

Nail Brittleness

You use your fingernails daily. However, you likely take it for granted that your fingernails have certain characteristics which make them useful. Nails are great for scraping, scratching, picking, prying, gripping, sorting, and even adornment. All is well until our nail health begins declining. One of the most common types of nail abnormalities is brittleness. The resulting changes in the fingernails are often referred to as brittle nail syndrome.

Nail Brittleness

What is Brittle Nail Syndrome?

Dermatologists characterize brittle nail syndrome as a range of nail abnormalities that increase the fragility of the nail plate. While it is possible for men to suffer from brittle nails, studies show that women are twice as likely to suffer from brittle nail syndrome. Many individuals with brittle nails describe the nail abnormalities as painful, and a hindrance to daily or occupational activities.

Clinical features of brittle nail syndrome include onychoschizia and onychorrhexis. Onychorrhexis is a condition that causes splitting as well as vertical ridges to form in your nails. Conversely, onychoschizia is a condition that causes horizontal splits within an individual’s nail plate.

Brittle Nail Syndrome Causes

Brittle nail syndrome can have numerous potential causes.  In most cases, it is hard to pinpoint one exclusive factor that causes brittle nail syndrome. While most patients who suffer from brittle nail syndrome are older than 60, there are a handful of other factors that affect nail health.

Dry skin, especially the nail folds at the fingertips can cause thinning of the nails and brittle nail syndrome. Frequent wetting and drying of your hands can lead to dry, brittle fingernails. Chemical agents such as detergents, or cleaning supplies used at home and in the workplace can cause similar problems. While nail polish itself is usually not problematic, acetone-containing nail polish removers can cause skin and nail tissues to dry out.

Other causes of brittle nails

Anemia (Iron Deficiency)

Iron deficiency can show itself through brittle, or spoon-shaped nails known as koilonychia. For individuals suffering from an iron deficiency, iron supplements or iron-rich foods can help restore nail health. Examples of iron-rich foods include lean meats, beans, and spinach.

Thyroid Disorders

Extreme fatigue, weight gain, and hair loss are all symptoms of hypothyroidism. However, if your nails are splitting, this could be a sign of a thyroid disorder. As a result of a decrease in thyroid hormones, the body slows down, causing slow-growing, brittle nails.

Raynaud’s Syndrome

Raynaud’s syndrome is a disease that causes decreased blood flow to your fingers and other parts of your body. Due to your fingers not getting enough blood flow, fingernail health may suffer.

Certain diseases of the skin and nails may also cause brittleness in the nails. Skin and nail diseases that can cause brittle nail syndrome include:

  • Psoriasis
  • Eczema
  • Nail Fungus

With brittle fingernails, we tend to see several changes in the nails. Nails become thinner and tend to fray, which causes the tip of the finger to split easier. In some cases, a person’s nails might peel off in scales or flakes. When nail health is suffering, typical everyday tasks done with your hands can become more difficult.

Brittle Nail Treatment and Home Remedies

The best dermatologists know that brittle nail syndrome can cause some cosmetically undesirable changes in the appearance of the nails for our patients. The good news is, it is possible to improve brittle nails. Moreover, keep in mind that this process can take time. When possible, treatment of any associated skin or nail diseases is extremely important. In addition to that, there is a host of different measures you can try to further improve your brittle nails.

Here are our top recommendations to help treat nail brittleness:

  • Biotin is a B vitamin that may have the homeopathic benefit of increasing the strength and growth within nails. Biotin vitamin supplements are available over the counter.
  • Nail polish may be helpful if it is not regularly cleaned off with acetone or other nail polish removers. If desired, consider using clear nail polish.
  • Trim your nails closely so that the end does not overhang the tip of the finger. Loose fingernail tips frequently get caught and are more prone to breakage.
  • Apply hand lotion to moisturize your fingertips and nails.
  • Minimize washing your hands as well as the use of drying agents such as hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid harsh and drying chemicals.
  • Wear gloves for activities in which your nails may be compromised.
  • Make a conscious effort to minimize any activities that could be traumatic to the nails.

Additional Reading:

Splitting Fingertips – Skin Fissures

Nails Diseases (National Library of Medicine)

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