Tackling Brittle Nails

Brittle nails can be a very annoying problem if not treated.

Nails that peel, break, splinter, are thin and have longitudinal lines are called brittle; the medical term for this condition is onychorrhexis.

Onychorrhexis is found in the fingernails and toenails and is more common in women.

The nails are made up of layers of a protein called keratin. The layers make the nail strong and thick. People with onychorrhexis have separation between the layers so they do not bond properly, and this leads to brittle nails.

Causes for brittle nails

  • Malnutrition and dehydration are common causes. Without sufficient water in the body, the nails will dry out. Also, without a balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals, the health and growth of nails will be compromised;
  • Hypothyroidism is a glandular condition where the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroxine and this can cause brittle nails;
  • Bulimia and anorexia cause poor nutrition to the nails due to binge eating and starvation;
  • Anaemia;
  • Trauma to the nail can cause permanent damage and make them brittle;
  • Chemotherapy;
  • Nail polish removers, some cheap polishes and other chemicals can be very drying to the nails;
  • Repeat exposure to cold, dry weather;
  • Frequent hand-washing;
  • Psoriasis and eczema;
  • Genetic disposition;
  • Continuous nail tapping against a keyboard;

If there is an underlying condition such as hypothyroidism or bulimia, it needs to be treated appropriately by your doctor. 

If there is no underlying medical reason, most prevention and treatment of brittle nails will be based on reducing exposure to water and irritants, and moisturising the hands and nails regularly. 

Treatment for brittle nails

Here are some examples of how to treat brittle nails:

  • Limit the amount of time during which you expose your nails to soap and water.
  • Use a moisturiser that contains natural plant oils and massage it into your nails.
  • Take a high quality multivitamin that contains iron, calcium and vitamins A and C.
  • Eat a nutritious diet and drink plenty of water.
  • Wear gloves when your hands are in water; cotton-lined gloves are best.
  • Dip your nails in vegetable oil for five minutes every day.
  • Use nail polishes that are of good quality and use mild nail polish removers.
  • Heat 1/4 cup of olive oil. Blend with 1/2 cup of beer and an equal amount of apple cider vinegar. Soak your nails in this mixture for 20 minutes, once a day.
  • If you work on a computer regularly, keep your nails trimmed.
  • Treat your nails gently. File using a fine emery board and file in one direction.
  • Herbs that are known to promote healthy nails are horsetail grass, singing nettle leaf, and fo-ti root. The mineral selenium is also known to strengthen nails but the dosage has to be no more than 25mcg daily, as too much selenium can have the opposite effect and make nails more brittle.


Author: Angela Davis

Angela Davis BSc (Hons) DPodM MChS is a podiatrist with offices in Montego Bay (293- 7119), Mandeville (962-2100), Ocho Rios (974-6339), Kingston (978-8392), and Savanna-la-Mar (955-3154). She is a member of the Health and Care Professions Council in the United Kingdom.


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