In most cases, we don’t pay much attention to our fingernails or toenails. We trim them, clean them, and maybe polish them, but that’s usually about it. Unfortunately, sometimes, we can develop real problems with our nails. One such example is brittle nails (Onychoschizia). Brittle nails are very fragile and often appear softer or thinner than normal. When your nails are brittle, they are prone to split, chip, crack, peel, or break more frequently than expected. This problem can be unsightly, uncomfortable, and painful. In some cases, it can also be indicative of more serious health problems. Although brittle nails can be problematic, they can usually be treated relatively easily, and you should be able to find the best treatments for brittle nails that works for you.
What Causes Brittle Nails?
If you have brittle nails, you’re not alone: Roughly 1 in 5 people have brittle nails. However, females over 50 are most commonly affected by this condition.
Some issues that can cause brittle nails include:
- Repeated wetting and drying of nails. This typically occurs if you suck your fingers, bite your nails, frequently wash/wet your hands, or repeatedly decorate or polish your nails.
- Various skin conditions, such as psoriasis or eczema.
- More serious health conditions, including heart conditions or underlying infections.
- Potential nutritional deficiencies, including a pack of iron, zinc, or vitamin A, B, C, D, or E.
- Certain medications, including retinoids and antiretrovirals.
- Other conditions, such as pregnancy, gout, or neuropathy.
4 Best Treatments For Brittle Nails
You have many treatment options within your reach to alleviate the pain and annoyance that brittle nails can cause. Potential treatments include the following:
1. Make Lifestyle Changes
Brittle nails are often directly caused by trauma to the nails. This can be from:
- Repeatedly polishing your nails
- Wetting and drying your hands (such as when washing dishes)
- Chewing your nails
In these instances, the best treatment for brittle nails is simply adjusting your habits or making small changes. Such changes can be made by polishing your nails less or wearing rubber gloves when doing the dishes. Depending on your job, it may require some occupational adjustments, such as switching responsibilities with a coworker or changing techniques to fulfill certain responsibilities. The main goal is to prevent repeated trauma to your nails.
2. Over-the-Counter Treatments
Although there is mixed evidence on whether or not certain over-the-counter treatments improve nail health, many options are available that may work for you. These treatment options come in various forms, including nail-strengthening polishes, creams, oils, and serums.
Moisturizers containing alpha-hydroxy acids or lanolin have also been recommended for treating dry, brittle nails. There are also many over-the-counter oral supplements that claim to improve nail health. Many of these supplements contain biotin, which has been reported to improve nail health on its own. Gelatin has also been suggested to help. There are also many anti-fungal treatment options if your nails are brittle due to a fungal infection. However, if your nails do not improve after using an over-the-counter treatment for the recommended time, it is best to consult your doctor or dermatologist.
It is important to keep in mind that brittle nails are sometimes a symptom of an underlying issue. You should speak with your doctor or dermatologist if you have brittle nails so that they can order tests to determine if your brittle nails are a symptom of a vitamin or iron deficiency or something more serious. It is only by addressing any potential underlying health issues that you can truly find the best treatment for brittle nails.
Fortunately, in many cases, brittle nails are simply an issue that exists on its own, and that can be resolved with a prescription-strength medication or treatment. Examples include:
- Nuvail is a topical treatment that is placed on your nails at bedtime.
- Genadur is another prescription topical treatment.
If your brittle nails are due to a fungal or other type of infection, your doctor will prescribe medication to clear up the infection and then go from there.
4. At-Home Remedies
In many cases, you can do things at home that can serve as the best treatment for brittle nails. These include:
- Regulate hand moisture. Brittle nails can be due to too much or too little moisture. Wearing gloves, altering some habits (like chewing your nails), or using an appropriate moisturizer can often address these symptoms. It’s also important to avoid prolonged contact with water and exposure to harsh chemicals. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are a common culprit for dry hands and nails.
- Alter your diet. If you have a vitamin or mineral deficiency, you may find that taking a supplement can help to restore your nail health.
- Change your nail care routine. Certain nail polishes and removers can dry out nails. Changing the type of nail polish you use or not polishing your nails at all can help your brittle nails. It is also important not to damage your nails with excessive filing or buffing or by using other manicure tools that can cause damage.
- Be gentle to your nails. Using your nails as tools to open items or pick food from your teeth may not only chip, crack, or damage your nails, but it may also result in serious damage to the underlying nail bed. Keeping your nails at an appropriate length by gently filing or trimming them can also prevent them from getting damaged.
- Use paraffin wax. A paraffin wax soak can instantly moisturize and replenish your dry hands and nails. You can purchase everything you need for a paraffin treatment at most stores or online. Most nail salons also offer paraffin treatments.
What To Do If You Have Side Effects?
Although the above treatment options can relieve various symptoms of brittle nails, they may often lead to additional, unwanted side effects. For example, Nuvail may cause difficulty breathing or hives in some circumstances. Treating and minimizing these specific side effects depends on various factors, including the severity and disruption of the side effects. Talk to your doctor immediately if you experience side effects from any treatment and have concerns.
There is good news for people with brittle nails: many prescription treatments that have not been previously available today exist. All the current evidence suggests that these treatments can help individuals with brittle nails.
- “Brittle Splitting Nails” via American Osteopathic College of Dermatology
- “Nail Health in Women” via International Journal of Women’s Dermatology
- “Onychocosmeceuticals” via Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology
- “Optimal diagnosis and management of common nail disorders” via Annals of Medicine
- “Pathogenesis, Clinical Signs and Treatment Recommendations in Brittle Nails: A Review” via Dermatologic Therapy