Brittle Nails: Causes and 12 Natural Remedies

Your skin, hair, and fingernails are all significant indicators of your overall health and well-being.

If you have brittle fingernails, your body may be trying to tell you something about your health.

While brittle nails can be the result of natural aging or even dehydration, they may also be caused by significant health problems that you should address in order to preserve your long-term health.

Our guide helps you identify some of the possible causes of brittle nails, including thyroid problems, which can lead to this symptom.

If you want to improve the health and texture of your nails, keep reading to learn all the best natural remedies for strengthening your nails and keeping them looking great.

 

Understanding Brittle Nails

Keratin is the basic building block of all your fingernails, toenails, and hair.

When your nails are healthy, they are strong and smooth, have even coloring, and are not discolored in any way.

If you have otherwise healthy nails that have become brittle, you may be wondering why.

Whether it is your fingernails or toenails that have become brittle, this sign is easy to spot.

Having brittle nails is pretty common, affecting about one in five people (1).

Brittle nails are weak, split easily, and tend to break or peel frequently.

No one wants their hands to look bad, and having brittle nails can be embarrassing, too.

 

Signs to Watch for with Brittle Nails

Many of us struggle with brittle nails all our lives, while others may only notice this symptom occasionally or temporarily.

What are brittle nails?

Well, you may have brittle nails if:

  • Your nails frequently split at the ends
  • You experience peeling near the tips of your nails
  • Your nails easily break, crack, or chip
  • You have ridges running from top to bottom on your nails
  • You have difficulty growing out your nails

If this sounds like you, then you likely have brittle nails.

If you want to change that, though, there are many factors that could be causing your brittle nails, as well as many natural remedies to help strengthen both your fingernails and toenails.

 

Causes and Risk Factors for Brittle Nails

Brittle nails are caused by a variety of factors, most of which are relatively easy to change.

One cause of brittleness is aging.

As we grow older, our bodies produce less keratin, and our nails lose the strength of our youth (2).

Brittle nails can also be a result of how you treat your nails and hands, including the types of chemicals and nail care products you use, how you groom your nails, and how often your nails are exposed to water for extended periods.

Other causes of brittleness include (3):

  • Thyroid imbalance, whether hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism
  • Psoriasis of the nails
  • A fungal infection of the nails
  • Lichen planus, a skin condition affecting the nails
  • Reactive arthritis

A thyroid imbalance is the most common medical cause of nail brittleness.

Thyroid disease can also cause hair loss.

Of the two most common thyroid disorders, hypothyroidism is the most common culprit in causing brittle nails.

Hypothyroidism leads to hormonal imbalances, which in turn slow your natural metabolism.

A slower metabolism causes you to sweat less.

Less sweat can lead to drier skin and more-brittle nails since sweat serves as a natural moisturizer (4).

Your brittle nails can also be a result of certain deficiencies in your diet, including dehydration and nutrient deficiency.

The most likely deficiency to cause brittle nails is a deficiency in iron, also known as anemia.

If your fingernails seem to be brittle but your toenails are strong and healthy, it is likely your brittle nails are caused by external factors, rather than a vitamin deficiency or some internal disease or imbalance (5).

External factors that can contribute to brittle nails include (6):

  • Washing your hands frequently
  • Exposure to extreme temperatures or weather conditions
  • Exposure to dry, cold weather for extended periods
  • Repeated trauma or injury to your nails
  • Use of chemicals, such as nail polish removers

This list illustrates how easy it is to change aspects of your life if you are wanting to increase the strength of your nails.

Eliminating or changing a few habits can lead to stronger, healthier nails.

 

Treating Brittle Nails Conventionally

Depending on what is causing your brittle nails, conventional treatment for this condition is very similar to how you might treat brittle nails naturally.

The methods and remedies discussed below are not the only natural, but also cover the conventional methods for treating this disorder.

If your brittle nails are caused by a medical condition, such as hyperthyroidism, you should work with your doctor to develop a treatment plan that will address the underlying cause.

 

Treating Brittle Nails Naturally

There are several steps you can take to improve the appearance and strength of your nails.

The following natural treatments can help restore the moisture and nutrients to your body that keep your nails strong and healthy.

 

Drink Plenty of Water

Dehydration is a leading cause of brittle nails.

When you are chronically dehydrated, it affects your hair, skin, and nails significantly.

Be sure you are drinking plenty of water, and also eat foods that are moisture-rich, like cucumbers and watermelon.

Staying hydrated will keep your skin and nails moisturized, helping them stay healthy and strong.

Aim to drink eight to ten eight-ounce glasses of water per day, but you should drink more when it is very hot out if you are at a higher elevation, or when you are exercising.

 

Eat a Healthy Diet

In addition to drinking plenty of water, you can also help your nails be stronger and healthier by eating a healthy, well-balanced diet that contains nutrient-dense foods.

If you struggle to get sufficient vitamins and minerals from the foods you eat, you can take a multivitamin supplement to help with any deficiencies you may have that could be causing your brittleness.

 

Use a Nail-Strengthening Hand Cream

In addition to staying hydrated inside, you should also keep your skin and nail beds hydrated from the outside.

After you wash and dry your hands, you should apply a nail-strengthening hand cream to help relieve your brittle nail symptoms.

Keep a dispenser next to your sink to help you remember to apply it regularly.

Keeping your skin and nails moisturized can greatly help alleviate brittle nails.

 

Watch Your Exposure to Water

If your hands spend a lot of time in water each day, your skin and nails are losing a lot of moisture.

Doing dishes is a common household chore that can lead to brittle nails.

Wearing protective gloves while you are cleaning or doing dishes is one way to protect your nails from harsh chemicals and water exposure.

This can help your nails retain moisture, and remain strong and healthy.

If you opt to wear gloves, you may consider wearing cotton gloves under the rubber or vinyl waterproof gloves.

Cotton gloves absorb excess water and sweat while you clean, and the outer gloves protect you from the hot water and detergent.

 

Create a Natural Cuticle Cream

Keeping your cuticles neat and healthy is an excellent way to improve the health and strength of your fingernails.

You can purchase natural cuticle creams, or you can make your own using simple, moisturizing ingredients that will help your nails and cuticles remain hydrated.

You can use cuticle cream both at the base of your nails, as well as on the nails themselves, to provide extra moisture and keep them from becoming brittle.

One favorite recipe is to combine one tablespoon of beeswax with one and one-half tablespoons raw shea butter and one-half teaspoon of coconut oil.

Place these ingredients into a small glass container, then place the container into a saucepan.

Add enough water so that the water rises about halfway up the jar.

Gently heat the water, stirring the contents of the jar constantly to combine and melt them together.

After everything is melted and combined, remove from the heat, then add several drops of your favorite essential oils to the mixture.

Oils that are particularly good for your nails include lavender, myrrh, lemon, and tea tree essential oils.

You should also add two drops of Vitamin E oil to your mixture.

Stir well to combine. Allow this to cool, then seal with an airtight lid.

Use up to five times per day.

Another natural cuticle treatment uses almond oil, papaya, and egg.

Mix together two tablespoons of papaya juice, one-half teaspoon of almond oil, and one tablespoon of egg yolk.

Whisk to combine thoroughly, then brush the mixture onto your nails and cuticles.

Allow to sit for about 30 minutes, then rinse with cold water.

Apply this daily until nails start to appear stronger and less brittle.

 

Trim Your Nails Regularly

When your nails are long, they are more likely to rip, tear, or crack.

Long nails get caught on clothing, hair, and other objects more easily.

While you are strengthening your nails, keep them short and tidy at all times.

You should trim your nails after you shower, as they will be less likely to break when they are softer.

 

Change Your Polish Remover

The chemicals in nail polish remover dry your fingernails out and can make them brittle.

The most drying chemicals in nail polish remover include formaldehyde, acetone, and toluene.

Nail polish remover is not only bad for your nails, but also toxic in other ways, as it can cause skin, eye, and lung irritation.

You can opt for a less caustic, commercial polish remover containing acetate, or you can create your own polish remover using essential oils like grapefruit, orange, and lemon.

Combine several drops of each with equal parts rubbing alcohol and apple cider vinegar for best results.

 

Try Natural Nail Strengtheners

Broccoli seed oil is a natural supplement that can help strengthen your nails and cuticles.

The essential fatty acids in these seeds help build up your hair, skin, and nails, providing them with the nutrients they need to repair and get stronger.

Add a drop of broccoli seed oil to each nail bed, massaging into the cuticle and nail thoroughly.

Try this procedure at night, just before bed.

You can also massage either coconut or argan oil into your nails and cuticles to achieve similar results.

Taking an omega-3 fatty acid supplement can also help strengthen your nails.

This essential fatty acid is necessary for both for strong hair and nails and healthy skin.

Fish oil is a good source of omega-3s, as is flaxseed.

 

Take Biotin

If your diet is lacking in Vitamin B7, also known as biotin, taking a supplement can help you restore strength and health to your nails.

This vitamin is necessary for the production of keratin, so when you are deficient, you will notice weak, brittle nails, as well as possible hair loss or very dry hair.

Biotin can be found naturally in foods like oats, tomatoes, onions, eggs, sweet potatoes, and almonds, too, so be sure to include these in your healthy, nutrient-dense diet.

Many biotin supplements also contain other nutrients necessary for nail health.

Look for those that contain iron, calcium, folic acid, and Vitamins A, C, D, and E.

 

Use Vitamin E

Vitamin E has long been a nail care staple for good reason.

The antioxidants in Vitamin E are good for your skin and nails, and the moisturizing nature of Vitamin E oil also helps heal brittle, dry nails.

To use, simply puncture a Vitamin E capsule, then squeeze the oil directly onto your nail beds.

Massage the Vitamin E into your cuticles and nails to help restore moisture and revitalize brittle nails.

 

Apply Some Olive Oil

As an essential fatty acid and moisturizer, olive oil is another good addition to your nail care routine.

To create your own nail soak for restoring brittle nails, combine a one-quarter cup of olive oil with five drops of lemon juice.

Stir to combine thoroughly, then soak your nails and cuticles in the mixture for up to 15 minutes.

You can store the leftover mixture in the refrigerator to use again, repeating this treatment at least twice per week.

 

Say “No” to Artificial Nails

Sometimes it may seem that covering up your nails is the best solution for brittle nails.

Unfortunately, artificial nails can actually make your nail brittleness worse, drawing out moisture and taking away the top layer of your natural nail when you remove them.

While artificial nails may mask your brittle nail problem, in the end, it will only make the problem worse.

 

Precautions

In the majority of cases, brittle nails are merely a cosmetic problem rather than a health issue.

In some instances, the cause of your brittle nails can be medical, such as a thyroid disorder, but generally, external factors or minor nutritional deficiencies are the culprits.

If you notice any of the following symptoms, though, you should talk with your doctor, as they may be a sign of a more significant medical problem.

Symptoms that could be concerning include:

  • Changes in the color of your nail, especially a dark streak under the nail or discoloration of the entire nail.
  • Changes in the shape of your nail, such as nails that become curved.
  • Separation of the nail from the nail bed or other surrounding skin.
  • Bleeding under or around the nails.
  • Pain or swelling around or under the nails.
  • Thinning of the nail
  • Thickening of the nail

If you notice these or other symptoms, along with your brittle nails, talk with your doctor.

You may have a more serious nutrient deficiency, a thyroid imbalance, or other problem that needs to be addressed.

An easy way to treat and heal brittle nails, though, is to address the habits that could be contributing to their brittleness.

Wear gloves when you clean or wash dishes, and avoid using harsh chemicals either to clean or to remove nail polish.

Keep your body and skin hydrated, applying hand cream and cuticle treatment regularly to help nails stay moisturized.

Wear your nails short to avoid ripping or tearing, and cut your nails regularly.

Make sure you are getting enough water and nutrients in your diet, which will help you have strong nails starting from the inside, as well.

Use natural herbs, essential oils, and other ingredients to keep your hands, feet, and nails soft and moisturized to avoid nail brittleness.

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2 Comments

  1. Pauline A. Hankins
  2. Arline Hartman

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