What causes brittle fingernails?

Brittle nails is a condition known as onychoschizia. It is characterised by nails that split, peel, and are soft and thin. This condition is more prevalent in women. Sometimes serious diseases or a lack of proper diet and nutrition leads to brittle nails, but usually that is not the case. If your toenails appear healthy and your fingernails are brittle, you can usually eliminate your health or diet as a cause of brittleness. Dry and brittle nails usually occur because they do not get enough moisture. But if they are soft along with being brittle, it could be from an overabundance of moisture. Consult your physician to determine if you have an underlying health issue that is leading to your brittle nails.

Dry and Brittle

Nails that are dry and brittle are often caused by exposure to water over and over again. Hand washing, then drying repeatedly can dry out your nails. Climate conditions that include dry heat in the summer, such as in the desert, as well as indoor heat during the winter can also contribute to the formation of brittle, dry nails. Apply lotions that contain either lanolin or alpha-hydroxy to the hands after you have soaked them in warm water for five minutes.

Soft and Brittle

Nails that are soft and brittle are often exposed to too much moisture, such as detergents, cleaning liquids and nail polish remover. Nails polish remover that contains acetone is especially hard on nails. Over-use of nail polish itself can contribute to a weakening of the nail, by not allowing the nail to breath. Take a break from using nail polish and see if your nails improve in appearance.


The simple act of filing your nails can cause them to fray and deteriorate. This can in turn lead to a brittle appearance. Use of a metal nail file can be particularly harmful because it can cause snags and shred the edge of the nails. File in one direction only to protect the nails. Avoid pushing cuticles back with a metal instrument as this can damage the nail bed. Use a fine grade nail file to gently file your nails.

Health Considerations

An iron deficiency may be the cause of brittle nails. Iron supplements are available at most chemists. Check with your physician first before adding an iron supplement to your health regime. She can do a blood test to determine the iron levels in your body.

Hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism can also lead to dry, brittle nails. Check with your physician to determine if you have either of these conditions.

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About the Author

Valery Elias has been writing professionally since 2009. Her work has appeared in the "Savannah Business Journal," and she has experience as an independent secretarial contractor, proofreader and executive sales assistant for Fortune 500 companies. Elias has a Bachelor of Arts in English and American literature from the University of South Florida-Tampa.