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Brittle Nails: Natural Treatment and Prevention

Updated on July 31, 2012

Brittle nails are common today, especially among women. Over time, continual exposure to water, toxins found in many nail applications, soaps and cleaning products can cause nails to lose their natural oils. These oils act like adhesives which bind the nail layers together. The first sign that fingernails are becoming brittle is a fraying of the edges. Eventually the layers come apart and splitting occurs. Using nail hardeners weakens the nail further because they contain formaldehyde, alcohols and other chemicals which strip away the natural oils. These hardeners may make the nails stronger in short term, but after a couple of weeks the nail becomes more brittle than ever. Other possible causes of brittle nails are internal health conditions such as nutrient deficiency, hypothyroidism, Raynaud’s disease, tuberculosis and endocrine disorders. A good way to tell whether brittle fingernails are cause by external stresses or internal health conditions is to check the toenails. If they are in good condition brittle fingernails are caused by external stresses.

Brittle Nail Natural Treatments

Daily exposure to water through cleansing, soaking and swimming causes nails to absorb water that leads to brittle nails. According to Herbert Luscombe, M.D., professor emeritus of dermatology at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University nails absorb between twenty to twenty-five percent of their own weight in water. This causes nails to expand when wet and contract when dry. Continual expansion and contraction weakens nails and makes them brittle.

Fortunately, there are steps that can be taken to make nails strong enough to withstand the daily traumas they must endure:

Biotin - Studies have shown that biotin has the ability to thicken nails and protect them against cracking and splitting. The best source of biotin is cauliflower. Other rich sources include lentils and peanuts. To receive the full benefits of biotin one study suggests that supplementation is necessary. In the study people consumed 2.5mg of biotin daily and found a significant increase in nail thickness and strength after six months.

Shea Butter, Jojoba oil, Avocado oil - brushing any of these rich oils on and underneath the nail and massaging it after each water exposure helps restore moisture necessary for proper cohesion. In fact, these oils are better than commercially sold nail care products because they don’t contain alcohol, which dries the nails. It is important to apply the oil after a water exposure because oil will not absorb into dry nails.

Clipping and Filing - Nails are brittle when they are dry so clipping and filing will only make them worse. Always clip or file nails after exposure to water. Clip with sharp clippers and gently file the edges afterwards.

Limit exposure to toxins - When doing rough work or exposing hands to harsh chemicals always wear gloves.

Nutrition - nail supplements are available. Ingredients will vary but they should contain biotin and silicon. Eating a nutritious diet which includes fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, fish, nuts and seeds will allow you to get a combination of nail nutrients which will work synergistically to strengthen nails. Healthy diet should always be the first and most important step to improving any health condition. Avoiding toxic, processed and refined foods is also important.

Nails grow slowly and it will take time to see an improvement to brittle nails. Depending on the condition of the nails, it could take up to one year of proper nutrition and nail care to fully restore them.


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    • Lea^ profile image

      Lea Smith 6 years ago

      I love learning about nail care. Thank you for sharing the article.

    • vellos profile image

      vellos 6 years ago

      Good stuff! I will pass this info along to my mom as she has mentioned having dry nails. I love your natural approach to health.

    • Becky Puetz profile image

      Becky 6 years ago from Oklahoma

      Thanks for the great information about treatments and advice for those that have this problem. A friend of mine suffers with extremely brittle nails that break off down to the quick, which is very painful. I plan to pass the ideas and tips you presented here, on to her. Excellent Hub, thanks for sharing.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the information. I need to strengthen my fingernails, so I’ll be following some of your suggestions! I like using shea butter on skin, so I'll try applying it to my nails after water exposure as you suggest.

    • GusTheRedneck profile image

      Gustave Kilthau 6 years ago from USA

      Hi Steve - Interesting information about keeping the fingernails in one piece. My own personal observation concurs with your opening remarks - cleaning stuff can really dry out those fingernails.

      Gus :-)))

    • bettybarnesb profile image

      bettybarnesb 6 years ago from Bartlett, TN

      I women grown older it is so important to take calicum and Vitamin D. It does help the nails. Wearing gloves also help. Great, Great hub. Happy New Year!

    • lindacee profile image

      lindacee 6 years ago from Arizona

      Thanks for the informative Hub! I occasionally have issues with flaking fingernails. I do not use nail applications, but am guilty of using cleaning products without gloves, so that could be part of the problem. I will be the first to admit I could use more help in the diet department. The new year is the perfect time to be more cognizant of dietary requirements and adopting healthier habits.

    • stevemark122000 profile image

      stevemark122000 6 years ago from Southern California

      Thanks katrinasui! Where did you get the quote "no herbs or supplements have been proven effective"? There is lots of evidence that herbs and supplements are effective for brittle nails. As with any natural remedy you will always find those that make claims that there is no evidence that they work. Usually the ones making such claims are the same ones that support the use of drugs or quack medicine as some call it.

    • katrinasui profile image

      katrinasui 6 years ago

      Although no herb or supplement has been proven effective for brittle nails, there is some evidence that the B vitamin biotin might help. Thanks for sharing brittle nails natural treatments.