If you have brittle nails that crack and split, anything from getting your hands wet too often to thyroid disease could be why it's happening. Learn the causes, and find out what steps to take to get the problem under control.
The most common reason for cracked nails is something that happens to everyone -- getting older. As you age, your nails become thinner and more likely to crack. This is most common in women over 60 but can affect men, too.
If your cracked nails are due to your age, you might also see peeling and ridges that run from top to bottom on your nails.
While you can't turn back the clock, you can take better care of your nails. Before bed, put urea cream or mineral oil on your nails and cuticles, then put on cotton gloves. During the day, put on cream after you wash your hands or shower. If that doesn't help, a dermatologist may be able to prescribe a stronger treatment.
Harsh Nail Products
Nail polish and nail polish remover contain strong chemicals. If you use them a lot, they can weaken and dry out your nails. That makes them more likely to crack. The glues and dyes in acrylic nails can also cause a reaction.
If nail products are the reason your nails are cracked, you may also have:
- Color changes, such as yellowing
- Dull nails
Avoid nail products that contain toluene and formaldehyde, two especially harsh chemicals. Biotin, a B vitamin pill you can buy over the counter, could help heal your nails. You shouldn't take it if you're pregnant. If your nails are still cracked after 6 months, see your doctor.
If you spend a lot of time with your hands in and out of water, like washing dishes, your fingernails can start to split.
If spending too much time with your hands in water is the cause of your cracked nails, you may also have:
- Very soft fingernails
- Cracking that's worse in winter months
- Normal-looking toenails that aren't cracked
A lotion with lanolin or alpha-hydroxy acid may soothe your nail area. Some people use a layer of clear nail polish to protect cracked nails. To prevent more splits, wear cotton-lined rubber gloves when your hands are in water. Gently file down any nail snags or uneven edges so they don't lead to more cracks.
If psoriasis is the cause of your cracked nails, you might also have:
- Tiny pits in your nail bed
- White, yellow, or brown nails
- Loose nails
- Crumbling nails
- Red nail beds
You could have psoriasis only on your nails, or you could have scaly redness elsewhere on your body. Either way, see a dermatologist, who can suggest a medicine that helps.
Your body needs iron to make healthy red blood cells that can move oxygen to all your tissue. If you don't have enough iron, you have a condition called anemia. Cracked nails can be one of the symptoms.
If low iron is the cause of your nail cracking, other symptoms you might get are:
- Shortness of breath
- Pale skin
- Cold hands and feet
- Sore, swollen tongue
- Cracks on the sides of your mouth
If you think you have anemia, talk to your doctor to figure out what's causing it. You may need to take iron supplements every day. If your case is severe, you could need a blood transfusion or IV treatment.
The thyroid is a gland in your neck. It makes hormones that control many of your body's actions, like breathing and heart rate. If your thyroid doesn't make enough hormones, you have what's called "hypothyroidism."
If low thyroid hormone is the reason you have cracked nails, other symptoms you could notice are things like:
- Brittle nails that break off
- Swelling in your lower legs
- Swelling around your eyes
- Itchy skin
- Thinning hair or bald patches
- Yellow-orange skin on your palms or the soles of your feet
- Doughy or swollen face
If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor. A simple blood test can check how well your thyroid is working. You may need to take a pill every day to give your body the hormone your thyroid can no longer make.