Brittle Nails

Nails often get brittler as a person gets older. Brittle nails are more prone to damage, such as splitting or peeling. This condition is also called onychoschizia. 

Brittle nails are often a typical part of aging. However, there are also several products and health conditions that can damage and weaken your nails. Learn more about brittle nails, including symptoms, causes, and treatment options.

Closeup of brittle nails

Elizabeth Fernandez / Getty Images

How Common Are Brittle Nails?

Brittle nails affect up to 20% of the population. They are more common among women and people over 50 years old.

Symptoms of Brittle Nails

Brittle nails are typically thin, weak, and fragile. You might notice that it’s easier for them to split, bend, break, chip, tear, crack, or peel. They can be either dry or soft, and they may look “worn down.” 

When your nails become brittle, it might take longer for them to grow and heal. Brittle nails also sometimes accompany other signs of nail problems, such as discoloration, pits, jagged edges, or a rough surface.

What Are Nails Made Of?

Nails are made out of a protein called keratin, which also helps to form our hair and the outermost layer of our skin.

Causes of Brittle Nails

In many cases, nails naturally become more brittle as we age. However, this is sometimes an indication of an underlying problem affecting your nail health. 

Other possible causes of brittle nails include:

  • Exposure to too much or too little moisture (through excessive hand-washing and drying or living in a humid environment)
  • Damage from detergents and other cleaning products
  • Raynaud’s syndrome, which causes a lack of blood flow to the fingers and toes
  • Nutritional deficiencies, such as iron deficiency anemia and low zinc 
  • Thyroid disorders, including hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) and hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
  • Skin conditions, such as psoriasis or eczema
  • Certain cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy
  • Using certain cosmetic products, such as gel nails and nail polish remover
  • Fungal infections
  • Autoimmune and inflammatory disorders, such as alopecia
  • Direct trauma to the nail

How to Treat Brittle Nails

There are several ways you can protect your nails against getting brittle and less healthy over time. These steps include:

  • Shaping and filing your nails on a regular basis
  • Buffing your nails in the same direction as their natural growth
  • Avoiding metal nail care instruments
  • Wearing protective gloves when doing household chores
  • Applying lotions that contain lanolin or alpha-hydroxy acids to your nails
  • Taking a biotin supplement every day (a type of vitamin B that promotes nail, skin, and hair health)
  • Using nail polish and nail polish remover less often, or choosing nail polish that contains nylon fibers
  • Avoiding gel nails
  • Eating foods rich in protein, iron, and zinc
  • Applying a nail hardener regularly

If your brittle nails are caused by another health problem, such as hypothyroidism, treating that condition directly will most likely improve the appearance and strength of your nails. Follow the advice of a healthcare provider correct any vitamin deficiencies or other problems that could be affecting your nails and/or skin.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

On their own, brittle nails typically aren’t a sign of a serious health condition. If your symptoms are bothering you, a board-certified dermatologist can help to advise you about how to improve your nail health.

However, you should see a healthcare provider if your brittle nails are accompanied by other symptoms, such as dizziness or fatigue. This can be a sign that your nail problems are due to an underlying condition like iron deficiency anemia.


If you notice that your nails are getting brittle and weak or are starting to break more easily, you’re not alone. Brittle nails are a common problem associated with normal aging. 

In some cases, your nails may be brittle because of another health condition–such as anemia, a zinc deficiency, Raynaud’s syndrome, or a thyroid disorder–or exposure to either too much or too little moisture. Frequent exposure to cleaning products and excessive hand-washing can also weaken your nails over time. 

You can protect your nails by shaping and filing them regularly, applying lotion, taking biotin supplements, and wearing gloves while doing household chores. A dermatologist can advise you on ideal nail care tips. Talk to your healthcare provider if you think your nails may be brittle because of another health concern.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. Brittle splitting nails.

  2. MedlinePlus. Brittle nails.

  3. Chessa MA, Iorizzo M, Richert B,et al. Pathogenesis, clinical signs and treatment recommendations in brittle nails: A review. Dermatol Ther (Heidelb). 2020;10(1):15-27. doi:10.1007/s13555-019-00338-x

  4. MedlinePlus. Nail abnormalities.

  5. National Health Service. Raynaud’s.

  6. American Academy of Dermatology Association. What is nail psoriasis, and how can I treat it?.

  7. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Artificial nails: dermatologists’ tips for reducing nail damage.

By Laura Dorwart
Laura Dorwart is a health journalist with a focus on mental health, pregnancy-related conditions, and disability rights. Her writing has been published in VICE, SELF, The New York Times, The Guardian, and many more.