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Symptoms of Brittle Nails: How Do You Know If You Have Brittle Nails?

If your nails crack, chip, split, peel, or simply are weak, you may have brittle nails.

Brittle nails occur for a variety of reasons. They may be a normal sign of aging or the result of polishing your nails too frequently. When the weather is cold, brittle nails may result from dryness. Weak nails also can be a sign of a health issue.

Before you assume the worst or head to the doctor, learn how to strengthen brittle nails and the reasons why you might be experiencing them.

RELATED: What Do Your Nails Say About Your Health?

Causes of Brittle Nails

Some health conditions can cause brittle nails. They include:

  • Raynaud’s syndrome: This disorder causes circulation problems in the extremities, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. When the smaller arteries in the hands and feet narrow, those extremities might feel numb or cold. Not surprisingly, this can affect nail health.
  • Hypothyroidism: Low thyroid levels can cause more than just brittle nails. You might also notice fatigue, weight gain, dry skin, thinning hair, memory problems, depression, and constipation, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
  • Anemia: Low iron levels can cause your nails to be brittle, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. You also may experience fatigue, shortness of breath, headaches, dizziness, cracks in the side of your mouth, or frequent infections. If blood work shows low iron, your doctor may recommend iron supplements.
  • Cancer treatment: Brittle nails can be a side effect of cancer treatment, especially chemotherapy and other targeted therapies. If you’re undergoing cancer treatment, talk to your oncology team about how to keep your nails and skin healthy and moisturized.

Irregular nails of all kinds also can reveal other health problems. If you’re experiencing other nail problems, make an appointment with your doctor to check it out.

Why are my nails soft and bendy?

Weak, soft fingernails may be caused by overexposure to moisture, such as cleaning solutions or dishwater, or chemicals, such as nail polish remover, and others used in manicures and artificial nail applications.

How to Strengthen Brittle Nails

Do you frequently wash your hands or do the dishes? Nails that fluctuate between wet and dry environments can become brittle. In fact, the most common reason for brittle nails is that they simply dried out.

If you want to strengthen your nails, there are several easy and inexpensive options:

  • Moisturize. Try a dedicated nail oil or a hand lotion with alpha hydroxy acid or lanolin. If nails are soft but brittle, they may be too moist, so cut back on the moisturizer.
  • Limit manicures. To strengthen brittle nails, limit the number of manicures you have to avoid subjecting nails to the chemicals in nail polish and polish removers. Especially avoid acetone-based nail polish removers. For soft, brittle nails, a layer of polish may actually help.
  • Go natural. Remove all nail polish and leave them free of polish for a few months to give your nails a chance to recover.
  • Avoid alcohol-based sanitizers. Hand sanitizers are a convenient way to keep germs at bay when soap and water aren’t available. But alcohol can dry out your nails and skin.
  • Get a paraffin wax bath. As an indulgent nail treatment, an at-home paraffin wax bath soothes and moisturizes nails and hands. Soak your hands in the bath for 10 to 20 minutes; then give the wax time to dry before peeling it off.
  • Wear gloves. When washing dishes or working with cleaning fluids, wear rubber gloves to protect your fingernails.

Brittle nails can be signs of other health conditions, so be sure to let your doctor know of any other changes you notice.

 

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on . Updated per Merkle's SEO re

About Dermatology

The UPMC Department of Dermatology diagnoses, treats, and manages numerous hair, skin, and nail conditions and diseases. We care for common and uncommon conditions, and our treatments include both surgical and nonsurgical options. We operate several specialty centers for various conditions. The UPMC Cosmetic Surgery and Skin Health Center is a comprehensive dermatologic laser facility, offering a full range of cosmetic services and procedures. With UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, we offer a Skin Cancer Program that provides complete care from screenings, diagnosis, treatment, and beyond. Find a dermatology provider near you.