Got Thin, Peeling, or Cracked Nails? Here Are 6 Reasons Why!

Getting a manicure is one of the most popular forms of self-care — but if your nails are thin, peeling, and cracked, one of the most enjoyable experiences becomes anything but. After all, nails that aren’t in tip-top shape aren’t exactly #ManiMonday worthy. 

Whether you’re into the perfect polish, or more of a naked nail type, it can be frustrating — or even embarrassing — to have nails that look less than presentable. But you’re not alone: according to medical research, nearly 20% of the world population suffers from weak, brittle nails. So what could be causing your nails to break so easily? Below, we’ve rounded up the top reasons behind weak and splitting nails — and what you can do to strengthen yours.

Woman getting a gel manicure which can weaken nails

4 minute read

#1 You have a gel manicure obsession 

Gel manicures look gorgeous, and they last longer than traditional ones, making them a great option for vacation. The thing is, they’re not so good for the health of your nails. In fact, they can actually lead to brittleness, peeling, and cracking. It’s not exactly the gel polish that’s to blame — this type of manicure has to be removed with acetone, which is also weakening. Plus, nail technicians will scrape and file and attack your nails pretty dramatically to attach and remove all that gel, which isn’t great for your nails, either. 

The fix: If you have a standing appointment at your nail salon, take a break and let your nails breathe between gel manicures. Switching to traditional nail polish may also help. Finally, keep your nails moisturized between gel manicures by regularly applying lotion or oil to your nails and cuticles (try: SLMD Hyaluronic Acid Serum). 

Removing gel nail polish with acetone which can make nails brittle

#2 You pick off your nail polish 

Peeling off polish (whether gel or traditional) when your manicure starts to chip isn’t just getting rid of a pretty coat of polish. You’re also removing part of the top layer of your nails, leading to thinning. It can take months for your nails to grow back healthy. 

The fix: Do not — we repeat — do not peel off your nail polish. Try a non-acetone polish remover to take off traditional nail polish without weakening them any further. When removing gel polish, allow them to soad thoroughly and don’t over-scrape.

#3 You do housework and dishes without gloves

Cleaning your kitchen and bathroom is a necessary chore. But repeated, prolonged exposure to chemicals found in cleaners as well as soap and water could be weakening your nails, leaving them brittle and prone to splitting. 

The fix: This one’s easy — throw on a pair of rubber gloves before scrubbing. This will prevent chemicals, soap, and water from touching your nails (and skin!) while you clean. Try slathering on an emollient barrier protectant like SLMD Body Seal to provide some intensive moisture while you're wearing those gloves.

Biotin which some experts recommend for healthy hair and nails

#4 You don’t eat a well-balanced diet

Sometimes, brittle or misshapen nails are caused by a vitamin or nutrient deficiency. This could be from any number of shortfalls, including various vitamins (like A, C or D) and iron. While the most commonly-touted hair and nail supplement is vitamin B7 (aka biotin), there isn’t a lot of clinical data to support the connection.

Biotin helps our body to convert the food we eat into glucose, which is what our body uses to produce energy. Biotin also helps us create the building blocks of protein — fatty acids and amino acids — and activate the metabolism in the roots of our hair and the cells of our nails. While biotin supplements aren’t typically harmful, they can potentially affect certain lab tests, so definitely talk to your doctor before taking them.

The fix: Eat a healthy diet rich in essential vitamins and minerals. With your doctor’s approval, add hair and nail supplements if you’re still not seeing an improvement.

Damaged and misshapen fingernails

#5 You use your nails as tools 

If you tend to use your nails to scrape, peel, or pry things off, then you leave yourself open to breaking them. While nails can be extremely handy (ahem), please — find a better tool for the job. Bonus: your manicure will last longer.

The fix: No surprise here, we strongly encourage you to use actual tools, like scissors, for prying, peeling, or scraping, instead of your nails. Keep them cut (relatively) short to prevent further injury, too. 

#6 You’re getting older 

You can’t stop the hands of time, and sadly, nails often become thinner or more brittle as you age. This may be the result of collagen changes as we age.

The fix: Apply a nail hardener to strengthen thinning nails caused by aging. You can also take some of the other measures we’ve already mentioned above: like laying off the gel manicures, wearing gloves when cleaning, making sure you get enough biotin, and using hand lotion or cuticle oil frequently.

Dr. Lee’s last word

As a dermatologist, I see a lot of different nail conditions in my practice — but having thin or weak nails isn’t necessarily a sign of an underlying condition. Lots of different lifestyle factors can come into play. Take care of your nails and maintain a healthy diet…if this doesn’t help your nails, talk to your doctor to rule out medical causes.

—Dr. Sandra Lee

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