Brittle nails: How can I keep my nails healthy?
“My nails are very fragile, what supplements should I take to improve them?” This is a question we are often asked in our daily practice. Brittle nails (onychoschizia) is a common nail disorder that affects women more commonly than men. It is manifested by nails that break easily. One may also complain of other signs such as loss of luster and nails that peel off at the nail tip. Brittle nails are caused by nail plate dehydration. Malnutrition and hypothyroidism can be associated with brittle nails therefore it is important to consult a dermatologist to evaluate the need for further workup and laboratory testing. However, in most patients, this condition is caused by exposure to harsh environmental factors: for instance, frequent hand washing and soap use leads to significant nail dehydration. Also, exposure to particular chemicals such as acetone, glues used for artificial nails and nail polish can contribute to nail dryness.
The treatment of brittle nails is twofold: first and foremost the patient needs to avoid exposure to water and soap as well as other chemicals that can worsen their nail condition. This can be done by wearing protective gloves when possible, and choosing gentler nail polish removers (acetone–free nail polish removers). The second step in the treatment is moisturizing the nail plate. This should be done at each hand washing after patting the hands dry. Petroleum jelly hydrates the nail plate intensively and provides lasting relief from dryness, however it is too oily. There are specialized moisturizers in the market that are designed to hydrate nails while providing a better tolerance. Multiple vitamins have been used in the treatment of brittle nails, however there are few studies to support their use. Biotin is a vitamin that has a proven efficacy for the treatment of fragile nails. Biotin can be found in many food sources including whole-grain cereals, whole wheat bread, eggs, dairy products, peanuts among other sources. However the dose needed for treatment are high and often the patient may need supplementation for two or three months. Once the symptoms are relieved, it is important to continue applying the necessary precautions to avoid relapse.