Brittle Nails

What are brittle nails?

Brittle nails are a serious dermatological problem. Nails becoming brittle, soft or thin and splitting is a common occurrence, usually prevalent in women and intensifying with aging. Dermatologists classify this as onychoschizia. Brittle nails can have cosmetic as well as medical causes.

What are the causes of brittle nails?

Washing nails too much, exposing the nails to harmful chemicals in detergents and soaps, repeated wetting and drying of nails which makes then expand and contract, can cause brittle nails. Nails can become brittle both when they are very dry or overexposed to water.

The medical reasons include vitamin deficiencies (iron deficiency being the most common reason). Other diseases like anaemia, thyroid, diabetes, poor peripheral circulation of blood can also cause brittle nails. Some major skin diseases psoriasis, alopecia areata can be the root causes of brittle nails. Genetic defects are also major contributing causes for brittle nails.

Habits like frequent repeated wetting and drying of fingernails can also cause brittle nails. Frequent washing can make nails dry and brittle. And when combined with low humidity and dry heat, the nails can split and break easily. Soft and brittle nails can happen because there is excess moisture or damage from chemicals such as detergents, cleaning fluids, nail polish removers etc.

Cosmetic reasons include frequent pedicures and manicures that can weaken nails over time. Using excessive nail coating products can also stop nails from getting the nourishment they need. Over treating the nails during manicure and pedicure can cause brittle nails. Pedicure and manicure procedures use a lot of tools like filer, cutter and remove nail cuticles. This gives good shape to the nails but can open it up to infection and also make nails brittle.

Dietary and health changes are a must to maintain nails in good condition. Nails and nail plates are made of a protein called keratin. Deficiency of this protein in the diet might cause nails to become brittle and chip in places. Biotin deficiency has also been linked with brittle nails. For healthy nails, there are a lot of nutrient requirements. Good healthy nails need a proper regular supply of iron, zinc, vitamin C, D and E. But calcium deficiency is not linked with brittle nails.

The most common, but often ignored cause of brittle nails is aging. Aging affects a lot of parts of the body, including the skin and nails. Brittle nails can easily occur due to the nails and skin losing their moisture content and becoming dry. As we age more, the chances of nails splitting and becoming brittle also become more.

Why does it need dermatological intervention?

Nails are always considered a reflection of the body’s general health levels. Healthy nails are thought to signify a healthy body. If the nails are discoloured, thickened or change in shape, including swelling of the surrounding skin, bleed or have intense pain, it can signal a problem on a deeper level, including serious liver, kidney, heart and lung diseases. Brittle nails, though not linked with other health issues can still be hard for a lot of reasons.

Brittle nails can seriously limit the usage of hands, and can break at the most inopportune of times, leading to pain and discomfort. People with brittle nails find it hard to grow them longer and can even peel off easily. Brittle nails can also be a result of nutritional deficiency or improper nail care.

What are the treatments?

Hydrate and moisturize nails using special creams and ointments, especially after they have been wet and dried is a good way to keep brittle nails at bay.

Doing the nail care routine when the nails are wet really helps. If the nails are dry, clipping and filing them can increase the splits and worsen the brittleness. Nails are softer after being in water for some time. It is better to use sharp nail clippers (blunt ones can cause cut or ruptured edges) and trim nails while they are soft and wet. Gentle filing can be done later and the nails can be buffed to prevent other foreign particles from entering into the split layers and damaging the nails.

Protecting the nails with gloves is a must. While handling chemicals or excessive water, it is better to protect brittle nails using gloves. Best Dermatologists in India recommend market versions of rubber gloves with linen linings to be used when doing household chores and other things that make the nails come into contact with harsh chemicals.

Dermatologist’s Intervention

Brittle nails can have many causes, preventive methods and remedies. If none of the above remedies work, or are found ineffective, it is better to consult a dermatologist. It is also recommended when other disease symptoms like that for anaemia, fatigue or skin pallor are observed, because dermatologists can do a battery of tests to determine the root cause. If brittle nails are accompanied by pits, discoloration, uneven texture or inexplicable white dots, it is better to go for dermatologists recommended treatments.

For more information and treatment procedures:

Dr. Rinky Kapoor is a renowned cosmetologist, dermatologist and dermato- surgeon expert practicing in Mumbai, India. She has work experience in the Fortis Hospitals, Mumbai, India as head of cosmetology and has co founded The Esthetics Clinic. Dr. Kapoor has successfully treated many difficult skin diseases successfully using non surgical and non invasive techniques.


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