6 causes for brittle nails – and what helps against it

Every second to third woman suffers from brittle, porous and torn fingernails. This can be quite annoying, because cracked fingernails feel nasty, and they also make you feel like you’re hanging everywhere. Not to mention that they are not nice to look at. What makes fingernails brittle and what you can do about it, we explain in cooperation with the Hamburg dermatologist Nadine-Marie Röckl.

Where do brittle fingernails come from?

How is it possible that your fingernails are constantly tearing, they are brittle and porous, and your girlfriends’ nails are not? That could be due to the following:

1. brittle nails due to too frequent hand washing

Fingernails consist mainly of horn plates and to a lesser extent of water and fat. However, frequent hand washing and contact with soaps and other cleaning agents cause the grease to be washed out more often. “In addition, the horn cells of the nail swell up through contact with water and shrink afterwards when drying”, explains expert Nadine-Marie Röckl, “The hold between the individual cells is lost as a result”. The result: the nails look brittle and fragile.

Frequent hand washing and contact with washing-up liquid dries out fingernails. © Alliance / Shutterstock.com

Our tip: Firstly, wash your hands less often and secondly, always use a nourishing hand cream afterwards.

To prevent your hands from coming into contact with water and detergent during cleaning work, wear (rubber) gloves when washing dishes, cleaning the house, washing the car, but also when working in the garden. These not only protect your nails from drying out, but also minimize the mechanical stress on your fingernails. “Amazon glove bestseller: Washable pair with lining for only 5 Euro.

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2. vitamin deficiency favours porous fingernails

Brittle fingernails can give an indication of a lack of certain vitamins and minerals. Make sure you eat a healthy and varied diet so that your fingernails are soon healthy and strong again. Nadine-Marie Röckl explains which vitamins and minerals are particularly important for our nails and in which foods they are contained:

  • biotin (vitamin B6): liver, egg, oatmeal, walnuts, mushrooms, spinach, banana
  • Folic acid (vitamin B9): wheat germs, chickpeas, kale, spinach, lamb’s lettuce
  • Cobalamin (vitamin B12): meat, fish, eggs, milk
  • vitamin C : Kiwi, peppers, citrus fruits, Petersilie
  • E isen Wheat bran, black pudding, beetroot, calf’s liver, chickpeas, pumpkin seeds
  • Zinc: oysters, wheat bran, pumpkin seeds, sesame, sunflower seeds, cashew nuts

Brittle fingernails can be an indication of a vitamin and mineral deficiency. © Vladislav Noseek / Shuttertsock.com How useful are vitamin pills?

3. artificial fingernails promote brittle fingernails and nail fungus

Do you often wear artificial fingernails? This could be the reason for your brittle fingernails. Because your own fingernails suffer from the wrong nails in several ways. “Artificial nails and gel modelling cause less oxygen to reach the nail”, explains our expert. “In addition, tiny cavities can form between the natural and the artificial nail, in which fungi or bacteria can nestle.”

By milling the natural nails in preparation for the application of artificial nails, bacteria and fungi have an easy time penetrating the thinned nails. Nail fungus can develop.

If you suffer from itching, eczema, redness and swelling around the nail, you could also have an allergic reaction to the acrylic of the artificial nails. Also UV -lamps used to cure the coatings can be critical. This is because it is unclear in which spectrum the lamps radiate and what long-term consequences, such as the development of skin cancer, are imminent.

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Our tip: Do not use artificial nails to cover your brittle fingernails, because this only ends in a vicious circle. Give your fingernails a break instead.

Caution: Nail polish and nail polish remover dry out your fingernails. © Tamara83 / Shutterstock.com

4. fingernails suffer from the dry heating air in winter

In winter many women complain about dry skin and flying dry hair. But your nails also suffer during the cold season from the low humidity and the temperature fluctuations between indoors and outdoors.

Our tip: Fingernails and cuticles are now happy about an extra portion of care, i.e. hand cream or lotion. Due to the protective grease film on skin and nail, less moisture can escape from the skin and nail cells. “The cream acts like a small sealant, but must be renewed after each wash”, advises Nadine-Marie Röckl.

5. brittle fingernails can indicate illness

Brittle fingernails are fortunately mostly a cosmetic problem. Only in rare cases do they indicate a disease. However, they can be a side effect of the following diseases: hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, psoriasis, anaemia, pathological narrowing of the blood vessels in the hands and feet (Raynaud’s syndrome) and circular hair loss (Alopecia areata).

Our tip: “If fingernails and toenails are affected at the same time, this could be due to a disease. Doctor’s advice makes sense here. If, on the other hand, the toenails look strong and healthy, but the fingernails are brittle, porous and thin, this suggests external circumstances such as washing your hands too often, disinfecting or using too much nail polish,” explains the dermatologist.

6. brittle fingernails are hereditary

Unfortunately not a rumor. If your parents or grandparents suffered from brittle fingernails, it is very likely that you too have a predisposition for brittle fingernails. The only thing that will help is regular care and a balanced diet.

Chewing on the fingernail can lead to torn and brittle fingernails. © Traveliving / Shutterstock.com

What can you do about brittle fingernails?

The good news is that since brittle fingernails are often only a cosmetic problem, you can take some steps to prevent splintering, porous fingernails. We have collected the most promising measures for you.

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  • Pay attention to a balanced diet: As mentioned above, the right diet with enough biotin (vitamin B7), cobalamin (vitamin B12), vitamin C, folic acid (vitamin B9) as well as iron and zinc can prevent brittle fingernails.
  • Don’t bite your nails: Biting your fingernails will hurt your sensitive fingernails and make them porous.
  • Take a nail polish break: “Both nail polish and nail polish removers, which incidentally also includes acetone-free nail polish removers, contain plenty of chemical substances such as alcohol and solvents (for example butyl acetate or ethyl acetate). These ingredients extract moisture from the nail, making it dry and brittle. Therefore, take regular breaks. By the way, a fingernail needs about 6 months to completely renew itself once, because it only grows about 1mm in 10 days”, says our expert.
  • Treat your fingernails to an oil bath: Dip your fingernails in lukewarm olive or almond oil for a few minutes and massage the oil into the nails. Then dab the remains just a little bit. “This acts like a small sealant on the nail plate and also makes cuticles and nails look well-groomed,” says Marie-Nadine Röckl.
  • Do you have hand cream or nail care oil on your bedside table: Introduce a little bedtime ritual. When you go to sleep, treat your hands and nails to a care. “Even better: Put on thin cotton gloves and let the care work as a cure overnight”, says the dermatologist.
  • Trim your nails properly: “Scissors and nail clippers can further damage an already brittle nail, because the nail lacks elasticity, so that it tears more easily and existing cracks progress”, says the expert, “It is better to use a (glass) file to shorten and shape the nails. Attention: Always file in one direction (from the outside to the middle) and avoid sawing movements.
  • Choose the right paint: You are welcome to use a nail hardener to strengthen brittle fingernails. However, most nail hardeners contain chemical substances such as formaldehyde, which dehydrate the nail. “In pharmacies, on the other hand, there are varnishes whose effect has been proven in studies. Look out for a special ingredient here: hydroxypropylchitosan. This ingredient ensures that the actual active ingredients, e.g. silicon, can actually penetrate the nail plate”, Nadine-Marie Röckl knows.

Treat your fingernails to an oil bath more often. © DUSAN ZIDAR / Shutterstock.com

SOS -help with brittle and torn fingernails

There are special nail adhesives that can stabilize the fracture site. Apply a drop of the nail glue over the torn area. Cut a small piece of paper from a tea bag and press it onto the nail glue. Excess paper can be easily cut or filed off after drying. You can then apply nail polish. The nail glue and the tea bag will cover the crack and give the nail more stability. Try it out!

Brittle fingernails are usually an indication of incorrect care and careless handling of water and detergents. With our tips, your fingernails will become healthy and strong again. If your fingernails remain brittle, consult a doctor to rule out illness or malnutrition.