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What Do Your Brittle Nails Say About Your Health?

 

One of the more common nail findings I see during routine examination of the skin is splitting of the nails, known as onychoschizia. The splitting occurs at the free edge of the nail, separating the nail edge into layers. Why would I as a dermatologist care about the appearance of nails? Nails are an extension of the skin. And just like our skin can give clues about our internal health, so too can the nails. For example, onychoschizia could be a sign of a vitamin deficiency or an internal disorder. Although these are uncommon causes for brittle nails, it's something that I as an board-certified dermatologist and internist don't like to miss. 

 

I hope the following tips help provide more information about how dermatologists can help with more than just skin. Happy #DermTipTuesday!

Causes of Brittle Nails

 

External Causes

 

Clue: finger nails are brittle, but the toe nails are strong

Causes:

  • Too much moisture

Common culprit(s): household chores, i.e. dish washing

Clue: nails are soft and brittle 

Tip: wear cotton lined rubber gloves to minimize chemical and water exposures 

 

  • Too little moisture

Common culprit(s): climates low in humidity, acetone containing nail polish remover, dehydration

Clue: nails are dry and brittle

Tip: moisturize the hands regularly throughout the day and the cuticles nightly; use oily polish removers; drink plenty of water to remain hydrated throughout the day

 

Internal Causes 

 

Clue: finger nails and toe nails brittle

Causes:

  • Vitamin deficiency 

Biotin is a common and effective recommendation for brittle nails. In fact, biotin supplementation has been proven to help more with the appearance of nails than hair. 


Iron deficiency is another common cause of brittle nails. Women who are of child-bearing age are especially prone to iron deficiency, presenting with brittle nails more often than men. If you suspect you could have iron deficiency, it is best t