Why are my nails so brittle?

Just like our skin, teeth or hair, the condition of our nails can offer a fascinating window into our overall health, potential nutritional deficits, poor lifestyle habits and so much more. What we see on the surface of our nails has actually been in the works deep in the nail matrix below our cuticles for quite a while, so making changes now can have a huge impact down the line. Dry, brittle nails are an incredibly common problem with plenty of potential causes. It can be difficult to get to the root of the issue, but thankfully there are plenty of solutions, so let us break it all down for you.

Problem: Too much moisture

Too much moisture? Yes, you read that right. Just like our skin, if our nails are consistently exposed to water, it can have a drastic drying effect. When nails get wet, they swell and then shrink as they dry, causing them to soften, dry and peel. One of the most common everyday activities that can trigger this is washing dishes (which also exposes nails to detergents and other drying agents). In addition, frequent hand washing—which we’re all doing right now—can also expose your nails to a lot of moisture.

Solution: Wear gloves when you wash dishes or expose your nails to moisture. Choose rubber gloves that are lined with cotton as it’s gentler on skin and causes you to sweat less (which also dries out skin and nails).

Problem: Nail biting

A habit usually brought on by anxiety or boredom, nail biting can quickly become an unconscious activity that’s incredibly hard to stop. Biting not only makes our nails more prone to breakage but can also cause nasty infections. The digestive enzymes in our saliva effectively dissolve nails and cuticle skin, leaving them open to fungus, yeast and bacteria.

Solution: The easiest way to avoid nail biting is to ensure that nails are always neatly trimmed short, meaning there’s virtually nothing there to bite. If you find yourself still indulging in the habit, try a bitter-tasting nail coating that makes you aware every time you try to take a bite.

Problem: Insufficient nutrition

Anemia—caused by low levels of iron in the body—can make your nails brittle or cave inward. Likewise, low calcium levels (hypocalcemia) can cause brittle nails, as well as dry hair and scaly skin. Too little protein in your diet and not drinking enough water can also have negative effects on the condition of your nails.

Solution: Take a serious look at your diet and whether you need to make any changes or boost it with supplements. For example, adding more protein into your diet, increases the amount of keratin your body makes, which is the protein that builds healthy, strong hair and nails. In addition to ensuring that you’re getting enough daily vitamins, some studies have shown that biotin supplements can thicken and strengthen nails.

Problem: Spa mani-pedis

While you might think that heading to the salon for frequent nail maintenance should be keeping your nails healthy, you might be mistaken. Treatments like acrylic nails can severely weaken nails, as can many of the chemicals that salons use to remove nail polish, clean and buff nails.

Solution: Try simplifying your mani-pedi routine and allowing your nails to heal and strengthen, at least between salon visits). We detailed the perfect at-home mani-pedi routine here. The easiest way to get everything you need is in our Nailed It set, which includes premium nail clippers, an advanced filing kit and our award-winning Inner Strength™ nail and cuticle oil, which can actually be used to nourish nails, especially those that have been stripped from the constant polish and acetone cycle.  

Problem: Using nails as tools

If you open containers, crack open soda cans, scratch off labels or try to perform other everyday tasks using your nails, it could be the culprit. While our nails are strong and convenient, using them as tools can cause consistent damage that weakens their structure.

Solution: Try to remain aware of what you’re using your nails for on a daily basis and give them a break (so they don’t break).

If you’ve tried several of these steps and don’t see any improvement in the condition of your nails over several months, it might help to consult a dermatologist. Brittle nails can also be a symptom of underlying health issues such as Renaud’s Syndrome and thyroid issues, so a doctor will be able to identify any potential underlying causes and offer prescription-strength treatments, if needed, to tackle them.