By Rachel Frederickson, PA-C
During the last two years, you may have noticed that your nails have been more likely to split and peel. In fact, I have had an increased number of patients bring up concerns about brittle nails since the pandemic started. While this may be surprising, there is good reason for it. As many as 20% of the population suffers from onychorrhexis (nail ridging and splitting) and onychoschizia (nail peeling). Let’s delve into what causes nails to become brittle, what to avoid and what to add to your daily routine to grow strong healthy nails.
While there are many causes of brittle nails, excessive water exposure to your hands is the #1 cause. Washing your hands multiple times a day causes nails to absorb water like a sponge, but when left to dry out, they crack and peel. Cleaning dishes without gloves and exposing your hands to harsh soaps and detergents will strip the nail of its natural oils, leading to damaged nails. It’s no wonder that the increase of handwashing, sanitizing, and cleaning that came with the pandemic is causing more people to experience brittle nails. Our Colorado winter weather brings a drop in humidity and forced dry heat indoors, which can also worsen the problem.
Another common cause of brittle nails is age. Over the years, our fingernails naturally become thinner, more fragile, and lose natural oils. Medical conditions such as iron deficiency anemia, thyroid disease, and Raynaud’s phenomena can lead to brittle nails. Inflammatory conditions of the nails such as psoriasis, eczema, and lichen planus can cause the structure of the nail to change. These concerns can be reviewed with your dermatologist.
Prevention Tips for Nail Care
If you struggle with nails that crack and peel, it’s best to avoid acrylic nails, gel nails, and nail polishes containing formaldehyde or formalin. All of these products can lead to dry, weakened nails and can potentially cause an allergic reaction to the skin surrounding the nail. Acetone-based nail polish removers will quickly dehydrate nails. Instead, use nail polish removers made without acetone no more than once a week. Avoid cutting or trimming back cuticles. Our cuticles play a vital role in protecting the nail and preventing infection. Never use your nails as a tool as the sheer forces easily split nails.
Tips for Stronger Nails
Lastly, let’s focus on daily tips to improve your nail health. Always wear vinyl, nitrile or other rubber gloves when washing dishes and cleaning the house. If you feel that your hands sweat easily in gloves, purchase cotton-lined cleaning gloves or try wearing white cotton gloves under your cleaning gloves to keep your hands dry. One of the most important steps to healthy nails involves moisturizing your hands and nails in the morning and before bed with a thick, moisturizing hand cream. Look for Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Hand Cream (Fragrance-Free) or CeraVe Healing Ointment at your local pharmacy. Elon Lanolin-Rich Nail Conditioner is also a good find at Amazon.com. Sleep with white cotton gloves on for added benefit.
Keep your nails short and try a crystal glass nail file, which is much more delicate on the nail and minimizes rough edges and chipping. Make time for regular cardiovascular exercise to help improve circulation to your fingers and toes. This can help to reduce vertical nail ridges. Ensure that you are eating a diet rich in protein, fruits, vegetables, nuts and healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids. Choose water as your main source of hydration. Vitamin B7, also known as Biotin, has been shown to help 30-50% of people grow stronger, healthier nails. You can take over-the-counter Biotin 2.5mg for at least 6-9 months to see if it works for you.
If you notice vertical ridging of your nails, you can apply a specialized ridge filler base coat. Consider ella+mila Ridge-Filler Base Coat or Dermelect Cosmeceuticals Makeover Ridge Filler to help you achieve a smooth finish to your nails. For nails that peel or split at the tips, a nail strengthener can make your nails more resilient. Try ella+mila First Aid Kiss Nail Strengthener or Karma Organic Deep Nutrition Nail Strengthener to add strength and shine to your nails.
Visit Our Dermatology Office in Castle Rock, CO
Start with a few of these tips today to build strong, healthy nails. Your Vanguard dermatologists and advanced practice providers are always here to help you with any nail concerns that you may have.
Rachel Frederickson has been a board-certified dermatology physician assistant (PA-C) since 2002. She specializes in medical dermatology for the whole family, offering a gentle and thorough approach in caring for her patients’ skin concerns. Her specialties include skin cancer screenings and biopsies, acne, rosacea, eczema, and allergy testing for contact dermatitis and rashes. Rachel is accepting new patients in the Castle Rock office.