Causes, Symptoms, Prevention, Treatment, Ayurveda Understanding

Causes, Symptoms, Prevention, Treatment, Ayurveda Understanding


Article by Dr Manasa S, BAMS & Dr Raghuram Y.S., MD (Ayu)

Brittle nails are a condition where the nails are either dry and brittle or soft and brittle. This condition of brittle nails is medically termed as ‘onychoschizia’.

‘Brittle nails’ are not a disease by itself, rather indicates an underlying condition. The reasons for brittle nails could be an external factor and or internal factors. This condition is more prevalent in women than in men.

Causes of Brittle Nails

Common causes for brittle nails

Less moisturisation of nails – Frequently wetting and drying of the nails which are associated with activities like hand washing and washing dishes using harsh chemicals can take off the moisture from the nails and cause dryness and brittleness. Few individuals experience dry and brittle nails only during hot, dry environments or during winter months.

Excessive moisture – When someone uses too much of moisture / moisturizer on hands and nails, it causes soft and brittle nails. This can also happen due to excessive use of ‘nail polish remover’ to remove the colours. Acetone is present in most nail polish removers. Long term or repeated use of these removers can make the nails to become brittle.

Other causes

Some other factors and underlying conditions which could cause brittle nails include:

Age – As the person ages, the strength of the nails diminishes over time and this can cause brittleness of the nails.

Chemotherapy – Brittle nails may be one of the side effects of chemotherapy for cancer.

Anaemia – Brittle and dry nails could be due to anaemia caused by iron deficiency.

Thyroid disorder – The hypoactive thyroid – hypothyroidism or hyperactive thyroid – hyperthyroidism can disturb the proper absorption of certain minerals that play an important role in the growth and maintenance of the nails. As a result, the nails may split and break away more easily.

Raynaud’s syndrome – In Raynaud’s syndrome the blood flow to the hands and feet are diminished which makes the proper growth of the nails difficult resulting in dryness and brittleness of the nails

General measures to keep up the health of nails

Below mentioned tips are useful in maintaining ‘nail health’ –

  • One should wear rubber gloves while washing the utensils and clothes
  • One should avoid picking or biting the nails
  • Proper trimming the nails without damaging them and also maintaining / taking good care of trimmed nails
  • Nail polish remover which has acetone as the main ingredient should be avoided as far as possible
  • Using metal tools or sharp instruments should be avoided while caring the nails

Care of brittle nails at home

Moisturising the nails and hands – Regular application of moisturiser to hands and nails during morning and night increases the moisture and might help those having dry and brittle nails to an extent.

Using gloves – Wearing gloves while washing utensils and clothes helps to prevent the dry and brittle nails.

Management through diet

Taking some steps in relation to making certain changes in the diet can help in strengthening the brittle nails –

Inclusion of good amounts of protein – Keratin is the protein which makes up for the larger part of the nails. Consuming right amounts of proteins is important for boosting the production and maintenance of strong nails.

Getting adequate iron rich foods – Anaemia is one of the factors for brittle nails. Anaemia caused by iron deficiency should be treated promptly by inclusion of iron rich foods.

Consuming supplements – The ‘American Osteopathic College of Dermatology’                              recommends the consumption of ‘Biotin vitamin supplements’ for a minimum of six months helps to maintain a normal structure of nails. Along with Biotin, regular consumption of calcium and gelatine might also help.

When is the time to consult the doctor?

Most cases of brittle nails do not require treatment. They require simple measures like regular moisturisation and avoiding exposure of nails to harsh chemicals. But, some conditions of brittle nails require prompt treatment when they are associated with following conditions –

  • Redness, swelling, or soreness of the skin folds around the nail
  • Fungal infections along with brittle nails
  • Protein or iron deficiency disorders
  • Psoriasis which affects the nail beds
  • Thyroid disorders such as hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism and Grave’s disease
  • Raynaud’s syndrome where the brittle nails are because of diminished flow of blood to the fingers

Ayurveda perspective of Brittle Nails

There is a condition named ‘Nakha Bheda’ mentioned in the ‘Vata Nanatmaja Rogas’ – specific disorders caused by aggravated vata. Nakha Bheda means ‘splitting or fissuring of nails’.

Dryness and brittleness is caused by aggravated Vata. Treatment, medicines, foods and lifestyle activities which help in keeping the vata in a state of balance shall be considered in treating the brittle nails.

Related Reading – ‘Nakha Bheda’



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