11 Causes of Brittle Nails You Should Know About

Many people take their nails for granted, and trimming equals taking care of them, but when it breaks or bends, it can cause immense pain. You might leave it thinking it to be a cosmetic or temporary issue, but brittle nails can tell a lot about your nail health and other underlying causes.

1. Symptoms

Some symptoms of brittle nails include- roughness, discolour, slow growth, dryness, pitted, and torn.

2. Causes of Brittle Nails

2.1 Too much Moisture

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You might’ve noticed that your nails can bend when your hands have been in the water for quite some time. This is because they swell and shrink and harden back after the water is wiped out.

If you spend too much time in the water or do activities that require you to use your hands in water often, your nails can become soft and break easily, leading to brittle nails. If, with water, there are also hard chemicals such as acetone or detergent soaps or powders, the change from soft to hard nails makes the peeling off easy.

2.2 Too little Moisturizer

If your nails are hard naturally, then not using moisture can cause brittle nails. Even if you moisturize, everyday activities of washing hands and doing dishes can remove the moisture, so you should apply it at frequent intervals. Besides activities, sometimes dry weather or the winter season can also be a supplementing factor.

2.3 Age

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Not for everyone, but age can be a cause for brittle nails. With time, the nails dry out and have slow growth. Toenails become thick and harden, while fingernails get thinner and break off easily.

2.4 Raynaud’s Syndrome

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This is an extreme condition and is regarding blood vessels. A common symptom of Raynaud’s syndrome is brittle nails. Your nails don’t get enough blood and hence break off easily. Your doctor might prescribe you calcium channel blockers to prevent nails from breaking.

2.5 Low Thyroid or Hyperthyroidism

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This condition creates either too few or too many hormones, and its symptoms include weight gain, hair loss, and brittle nails. Nail conditions cause hormone levels to affect mineral absorption and lead to less sweat in the body, making the nails break off.

2.6 Anaemia

It means iron deficiency, and due to this, the body lacks RBCs that carry oxygen in the body. It is primarily caused by due to blood loss which can be due to injury to childbirth or menstruation. Consuming a low-iron diet can be a leading cause as well.

2.7 Cancer Treatment

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Some cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, have brittle splitting nails as a side effect. The dry skin makes nails thin and break easily and also grows slowly. 

2.8 Eczema

There are many names for this skin condition, like atopic eczema or dermatitis. It causes rashes. Not contagious, AD causes are genetic, affecting the ability of the skin to protect itself from bacteria and allergies due to which brittle nails occur.

2.9 Nail Care Products

Using too many nail care products like nail polish remover or acetones can harm your nails as they’re loaded with chemicals and lead to dehydration and, thus, weak, soft nails that get broken easily.

2.10 Nutritional Causes

11 causes of brittle nails
by: Robin Stickel/ Pexels 

2.10.1 Low Nutrient Intake

Rare but possibly, brittle nails are caused due to low vitamin and mineral intake. You can either start a balanced diet or start taking supplements for healthy nails.

2.10.2 Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia is an eating disorder. Its causes are- periods of binge eating to habits that prevent weight gain through excessive exercise or fast keeping. This causes nutrition deficiency and, thus, thin and weak nails, or as called Brittle nails.

2.10.3 Hypocalcemia

It means low calcium. It is needed for healthy teeth, nails, and bones. If you suffer from this, your bones can become brittle and fracture easily, and nails can become thin and dry and break off on their own. You can either consult your doctor or increase calcium through your diet.

2.10.4 Selenium

Excess selenium can be a leading cause of the breaking of nails. Some foods in which it is found include seafood, organic meats, cereal, and grains. You can consume excess selenium through supplements as well.

2.11 Psoriasis

An inflammatory condition & autoimmune disorder makes surface skin cell overgrowth and itchy, red, and painful rashes. It affects nails causing small dents or nail pits, oil drop discolouration, or pitting. The condition is treatable through various methods, but the easiest and most efficient is to improve your diet, quit smoking and alcohol, and reduce stress.

3. How to Care for Your Nails

Here are some ways to strengthen brittle nails: 

3.1 Wear Gloves

When cleaning, wearing gloves, especially rubber gloves, helps protect nails from harsh chemicals and also prevents sweating.

3.2 Biotin Supplements

Biotin helps to strengthen brittle nails. Take the supplements in moderation, as they can have side effects. Other supplements for nail health include gelatin and calcium.

3.3 Avoid Artificial Nails

The nail is filed to stick the artificial nail making it thinner, and chemicals cause weakening & thus affect nail health.

3.4 Dietary Changes

Protein increases keratin which helps with split fingernails. Iron provides cells with oxygen. It helps with nail splitting and to strengthen nails as iron increases blood flow.

Apart from protein and iron supplements, try to avoid junk food and consume dark green leafy vegetables and whole grains as much as possible.

3.5 Short Nails

Keeping your nails trimmed and filing will help you keep your nails healthy. Long nails can break off, harming your skin and nails. Also, less surface area for water can prevent chemicals from getting absorbed.

3.6 Coat with Clear Polish

Nail hardener or clear polish can prevent splits and clipping of the nails. It should be acetone-free as it harms nails, and nylon fiber inclusive strengthens them. 

3.7 Moisturize or Apply Lotion

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Applying moisturizer according to your skin and up to an adequate amount helps with brittle nails, especially the ones containing lanolin or alpha-hydroxy acid. It primarily keeps your nails hydrated.

3.8 Don’t use Nails as Tools

Using nails for things like opening a soda can or boxes can break them harm the skin and nails, and slow the growth too.

3.9 Limit Manicures

It reduces the chemical exposure to nails and thus protects them, which strengthens them.

3.10 Be Natural

Removing nail polish and leaving the nails natural for some time will give nails time to recover and become healthy.

3.11 Avoid Alcohol-based Sanitisers

11 causes of brittle nails
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With COVID-19, the use of sanitisers has become common, but they can dry your nails. Even though it’s non-negotiable in health aspects, you can minimize its use and thus help your nails recover.

3.12 Get a Paraffin Wax bath

It’s a nail treatment where paraffin wax moisturizes the skin.

4. When to See a Doctor? 

Brittle nails alone aren’t a big issue, but they can warn enough of an underlying condition. For instance, brittle nails are accompanied by hair loss, fingernails falling off, mood swings, diarrhoea, or nausea.

If you’re experiencing one or more of the above symptoms, along with brittle nails, seek help from your healthcare provider immediately and take the necessary steps.


1. Can Brittle Nails Be Restored? 

Yes,  brittle nails can be restored with proper care and treatment. 

2. What Are the Best Known Home Remedies to Treat Brittle Nails?  

Making use of a moisturizer,  coconut oil, or tea tree oil helps retain moisture and strengthen the nails. Maintaining a healthy and nutritious diet helps as well. These are a few things you can do at home to treat brittle nails. 

Last Updated on December 25, 2023 by