Read below about brittle fingernails, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your brittle fingernails from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

A.I. Health Assistant

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having brittle fingernails

Take Quiz

Brittle Fingernails Symptoms

Like most people, you probably take your nails for granted. Toe nails. Finger nails. You might be good at trimming, painting or otherwise decorating them. It seems to be the aesthetics that concern you from day-to-day. How often to you give your nails credit for protecting the tips of your fingers? Or helping you pick up small objects? Until…

Your nails become brittle. You can't scratch your head without breaking them. Your dexterity is limited. You think they will heal, but in the meantime, you consider it to be a cosmetic concern. Or is it something more than that?

In addition to being brittle, your nails might also be:

  • rough
  • pitted
  • weak
  • dry
  • frayed and torn
  • discolored
  • slow growing

Nails, skin, hair, and sweat and oil glands are all part of your integumentary system. Your integumentary system holds you together. It prevents an excess loss of fluid from your body and helps your body regulate temperature. It protects all that is inside from all that is outside. But when your nails are brittle, it might not be just about your nails.

Brittle Fingernails Causes Overview

Inflammatory conditions and autoimmune disorders:

  • Brittle nails can be a symptom of an underlying inflammatory condition, such as lichen planus or psoriasis. Alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder, can also cause nails to be brittle. Inflammatory and autoimmune conditions can also involve your hair, skin and mucous membranes (like the inside of your nose or your lips).

Environmental exposures:

  • Frequent, prolonged exposure to water can cause brittle fingernails. In fact, water exposure is the most common cause of brittle nails. Whereas skin is waterproof, nails are absorbent and become brittle with repeated wetting and drying. Swimmers are susceptible to brittle nails, as are dish washers.

Frequent use of nail care products (especially nail polish remover - acetone or otherwise) can be harmful to your nails.

  • Many of these products are dehydrating, and can make your finernails brittle. Household or industrial cleaning products can be absorbed by your nails, causing injury including brittleness.

Nutritional:

  • Poor nutrition, from disordered eating (such as anorexia or bulimia), malnutrition, or protein, iron or calcium deficiency takes its toll on your health, and shows – on your skin, hair and nails.
  • Interestingly enough, it is an excess of dietary selenium – found naturally in seafood, muscle meat, organ meat, grains and cereals - that leads to brittle nails. Taking too high a dose of selenium supplements can have the same effect.

Other:

  • Brittle fingernails are not always caused by medical conditions, environmental exposures or nutritional deficiencies or excesses. Sometimes, it is just about your nails. Sometimes, it's genetic. Sometimes, it is simply due to the normal aging process.
  • And, brittle nails are common in children – especially boys. In childhood, nails can be brittle for no apparent reason. While unsightly, childhood brittle nails are usually not associated with any underlying condition, and resolves on its own after several years.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Brittle Fingernails

Updated on Aug. 29, 2018

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced brittle fingernails. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Low Calcium Level

    Hypocalcemia is a condition where there is not enough calcium in the blood. Calcium is a mineral contained in the blood, which helps the heart and other muscles function properly, and is needed to maintain strong teeth and bones.

    Problem should go away with home care within weeks.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, shortness of breath, irritability, general numbness, tingling foot
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Iron Deficiency Anemia

    Anemia is a condition in which the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells, which deliver oxygen. Iron deficiency anemia occurs when the body does not have enough iron. Iron helps make red blood cells.

    Resolves with treatment

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, headache, shortness of breath, dizziness, heavy menstrual flow
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  3. 3.Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis)

    Eczema is a form of skin inflammation that causes skin to be dry, itchy, red, and irritated.

    This is a long-term, recurring condition but symptoms are manageable with care.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    trouble sleeping, feeling itchy or tingling all over, dry skin, scalp itchiness, flexor surface rash
    Symptoms that never occur with eczema (atopic dermatitis):
    fever
    Urgency:
    Phone call or in-person visit

    Brittle Fingernails Checker

    Take a quiz to find out why you’re having brittle fingernails.

    Take Quiz
  4. 4.Allergic Contact Dermatitis of the Hand

    Allergic contact dermatitis is a condition in which the skin becomes irritated and inflamed following physical contact with an allergen. Common products known to cause allergic dermatitis include plants, metals, soap, fragrance, and cosmetics.

    1-2 days

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    hand itch, hand redness, scabbed area of the hand
    Symptoms that always occur with allergic contact dermatitis of the hand:
    hand redness
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  5. 5.Psoriasis

    Psoriasis is a skin disease that causes itchy or sore patches of thick, red skin with silvery scales. The patches mostly affect the elbows, knees, scalp, back, face, palms and feet.

    Psoriasis is a chronic condition. Often flare-ups come and go. In some cases, psoriasis goes away over time.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    itchy rash, red or pink, rough patch of skin, rash with well-defined border, painful rash, scaly rash
    Symptoms that never occur with psoriasis:
    fever, black-colored skin changes, brown-colored skin changes, blue-colored skin changes
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  6. 6.Anorexia

    Eating disorders are serious behavioral problems. They can include severe overeating, or not consuming enough food to stay healthy. They also involve extreme concern about your shape or weight. Anorexia nervosa is a condition where people have an intense fear about how their body looks and how much they weigh, leading to severe caloric restriction.

    80% of people will get better with years of effective counseling and therapy.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    anxiety, irritability, difficulty concentrating, decreased sex drive, frequent mood swings
    Symptoms that always occur with anorexia:
    fear of gaining weight
    Symptoms that never occur with anorexia:
    heavy menstrual flow
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  7. 7.Bulimia

    Bulimia Nervosa is an eating disorder. People suffering from this condition sometimes will eat huge amounts of food, and might take extreme steps such as making themselves vomit to avoid putting on weight.

    With appropriate treatment, recovery is very likely.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    anxiety, irritability, stomach bloating, trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating
    Symptoms that always occur with bulimia:
    vomiting after binge eating
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Brittle Fingernails Treatments and Relief

Seek medical care if you have brittle fingernails and:

Unless you have an underlying medical condition, keeping your fingernails healthy is mostly a matter of good nutrition and hygiene.

Approaches to a healthy diet and proper nail hygiene are listed below.

  • Nutrition

    • Eat a balanced diet, based on lean proteins, fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains. Avoid "junk food."
    • Iron and calcium deficiencies are easily addressed by taking supplements.
    • Biotin, as a supplement, can help to strengthen brittle nails.
  • Hygiene

    • Keep your nails trimmed.
    • Avoid biting your nails and picking at your cuticles
    • Resist the urge to change your nail color every few days; it is best to wait at least a week between manicures and pedicures
    • Avoid picking off your nail polish as this takes a layer of cells off of your nails

If these measures fail, see your primary care provider or a dermatologist (one who specializes in nails would be most helpful).

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Brittle Fingernails

  • Q.Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Q.Have you ever been diagnosed with diabetes?
  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Do you currently smoke?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our brittle fingernails symptom checker to find out more.

Take Quiz

Brittle Fingernails Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced brittle fingernails have also experienced:

    • 8% Fatigue
    • 3% Hair Loss
    • 3% Dry Skin
  • People who have experienced brittle fingernails were most often matched with:

    • 44% Low Calcium Level
    • 33% Iron Deficiency Anemia
    • 22% Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis)
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

A.I. Health Assistant

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having brittle fingernails

Take Quiz