Having brittle, weak nails is no fun. Apart from the obvious aesthetics of them not looking nice, there’s also the fact that they can be painful if they split – but there are things you can do to help keep your nails looking and feeling great! We reached out to nail experts to talk all about the causes of brittle nails: what causes them and what you can do to help make them a thing of the past!

What causes brittle nails?

Let’s start by saying there’s no one solution to brittle nails. A number of factors, including genetics come into play – and the treatment options also differs from person to person. “Healthy nails, like a healthy body, are hydrated, strong and supple. But loss of moisture, flexibility and durability can occur at any time – causing you to develop brittle, dry, damaged nails, or alternatively soft, weak, fragile nails, both of which require a specific, prescriptive treatment – the ‘one product fits all’ mantra doesn’t apply to nails…” says Leighton Denny. So make sure to try out a few and see what works for you. 

Here are a few reasons your nails might be brittle.

Overexposure to chemicals/washing

“Overwashing and excessive exposure to chemicals, such as those in nail polish remover, can dry out the nail and cause brittleness,” says Marion Yau Celebrity Harley Street Nail Expert and Nail Surgery Specialist at Harley Medical Foot and Nail Clinic. This can also include frequent handwashing and using hand sanitizers which have a lot of drying alcohols in them, this can really dry out the nails.

Manicures are a lovely treat but depending on the type and frequency they–could also be contributing to the damage as that’s a lot of chemicals on the nails.

Internal Health

A lot of your nail problems may stem from internal health and even could be a sign of vitamin deficiencies. If you’ve noticed a change in your hair too, then it’s worth considering that something may be going on internally too.

“Brittle nails can result from hypothyroidism and an iron shortage. Iron is crucial for healthy nails since it feeds cells with oxygen and nutrients. Low iron levels result in limited nutrition and oxygen, which over time causes the nails to become brittle.

The thyroid hormone is important as it is regular in a lot of body function. When there is a low level of thyroid the body slow down and the skin and the nail cycle growth cycle slow down leading to brittle nails with also discolouration and changes in sharp.” Marion Yau Celebrity Harley Street Nail Expert and Nail Surgery Specialist, Harley Medical Foot and Nail Clinic.

As you age, your nails may also get weaker the cells in our bodies produce keratin (which is what our nails are made up of) at a slower rate, which can cause the nails to weaken and appear dry and dull.

How can you treat it?

There are two ways you need to treat brittle nails – both internally as that might be factoring in to while your nails are brittle, but also in the external treatment of the nails themselves.

Outer Beauty

“When washing dishes and clothes, use washing gloves, and to replenish moisture in the hands and nails, use a moisturising disinfecting soap like Dermol.

The surface of the nail can be damaged and become brittle by overfilling the nail file, microtrauma from shoes, plucking, and biting. Use a glass file to reduce brittleness. Glass files have smooth grit and don’t abrasively rip at the nail fibres when filing. Don’t file too much,” Says Marion Yau  Celebrity Harley Street Nail Expert and Nail Surgery Specialist. Harley Medical Foot and Nail Clinic.

If you’re frequently handwashing, you should also be following up with a moisturising hand lotion to restore moisture and protect your hands as they may be oversaturated and have swelled up from the water. Look for a hand with alpha hydroxy acid or lanolin to protect the nails. Using a cuticle oil too could help strengthen the nails, along with nail strengthening polishes designed for boosting the nail.

Leighton Denny says “If your nails are often stiff, break easily and have little flexibility then it’s likely you have dry/brittle nails. If you’ve noticed the surface of your nails often look dull, dry and have started flaking then you need to be using a hydrating nail treatment regularly. This is going to help re-balance and re-hydrate damaged nails and leave them with a much healthier and stronger appearance.”

A frequent manicure wearer? Perhaps limit those manicures to give those nails a chance to recover…. You could even go completely natural for a while to allow your nails to just breathe.

Inner Beauty

If you think your brittle nails may stem from an internal issue, then supplementation ideally supported by a nutritionist and speaking to a doctor is the first thing you should be doing to address the issue at the root cause.

“Collagen contains most amino acids found in keratin (Glycine; Valine; Serine; Tryptophan; Lysine; Methionine; Cysteine), the building block of your nails. When your body lacks these amino acids, your nails can become brittle and rough, resulting in breakage or splitting. So, taking a collagen supplement can safely and effectively improve brittle nails and boost nail health. Remember, when choosing a collagen supplement, make sure to read the ingredients label and confirm that it contains amino acids that make keratin,” says Stephen Small, Clinic Nutrition.

Do you take care of your nails? Brittle nails can be signs of other health conditions, so be sure to let your doctor know of any other changes you notice.