Brittle Toenails: Causes, Remedies, Prevention

Many people get brittle nails, making the fingers and toes look ugly. It badly affects the shape and structure of the nail by making it cracked, split, peeled, or chipped.

Toenails are more prone to becoming brittle, discolored, bruised, flaky, ridged, split, or cracked.

The nails becoming fragile and delicate is natural to older adults; a sign of weakness and disintegration of body parts that occurs with aging. But the fragile and flaky nails in young people could be a visible symptom of poor nutrition, ill health, or infection.

Various nail problems are common in the elderly, and family physicians are best placed to diagnose and treat those issues.

Dr. Dana Stern, M.D., a well-known dermatologist, and podiatry specialist from New York, says, “If you were to look at the nail under a microscope, it looks almost like layered roof shingles.” According to her, nails are 10 times more water-absorbent than skin. Even the strongest nails can become brittle when the structure and composition of the nails are altered.

What Causes Brittle Toenails And Fingernails

Nails become brittle and weak due to several reasons.

Most people have brittle fingernails or toenails because of old age, frequent exposure of nails to water, heavy moisture, or regular use of nail polish over the years.

Here are some of the major reasons that account for the brittleness of the nails:

Brittle nail syndrome

Nails may easily become breakable because of excessive dryness. A lack of nutrients like iron, zinc, or biotin can also cause this condition. A lack of vitamins C, D, E, and B is also responsible for the diminishing health of the nails. A sufficient intake of biotin is necessary for healthy and strong nails.


The nails can become fragile because of severe health issues like lupus, jaundice, lichen planus, psoriasiseczema, anemia, endocrine disorders, heart ailments, fungal infections, autoimmune hepatitis, etc.

Fungal infections

Many of the problems that affect the nails are caused by different types of fungus infections; some of them make the nails weak.


Low thyroid hormone in the body makes the nails fragile. The most visible symptoms of hypothyroidism on nails are nail ridges, thickening, discoloration, and soft nail beds.

Acid body pH

The pH level of anything above 7.0 is alkaline, and anything below 7.0 is considered acidic. People with high acid pH levels usually suffer from weak nails and other health problems like gastritis, loose teeth, chronic fatigue, ulcers, dull hair, etc.

Protein deficiency

Nails are made of a fibrous protein called keratin. A protein deficiency in the diet can cause brittle nails.


Excessive dryness of the nails caused by dehydration in the body makes the nails fragile, Lack of little moisture causes dry skin and nails. An adult must drink 8 glasses of water daily to keep the skin, nails, and hair healthy.

Manual labor

Many people get brittle nails because of the type of hazardous manual labor they perform daily. Wear industrial gloves if you have to perform work that may directly hurt or damage your nails. Nails can also turn dry and brittle with frequent exposure to harsh chemicals.

Nail polishes

Most polishes you use on nails contain harmful chemicals that can make nails to become weak. Nail polishes or nail polish removers thicken the nails and reduce their natural firmness. Avoid nail care products containing formaldehyde, acetone, or toluene, which harm nail health.

Lack of nutritious diets

Having a balanced diet daily is essential for well-being and health. Eat nutrient-rich organic foods like vegetables, lean meatseggs, dairy products, whole grains, nuts, and fruits. For healthy nails, vitamins A, C, D, E, and B complex, protein, iron, zinc, and biotin are necessary. Iron deficiency is also one of the causes of brittle nails.

Home Remedies For Brittle Nails

Brittle, cracking, dry, or splitting nails need to be treated in time to prevent total damage to nails.

Effective natural remedies can help you overcome the problem of fingernails or toenails turning brittle and discolored. Natural remedies are safe and effective without any side effects. However, you must be consistent and regular with the home remedies to get the best results.

Here are 12 popular natural remedies for making your fragile nails strong and beautiful.

1. Apple cider vinegar soaking

Apple cider vinegar is an excellent remedy for getting rid of soft and brittle nails. ACV is naturally endowed with several essential nail growth nutrients like magnesium, calcium, potassium, iron, and zinc. Most importantly, ACV can protect the nails from fungal infections that damage the nails in several ways.

How to use: Take 20 ml of ACV in a bowl and add equal water. Soak the nails in this ACV solution for 5 minutes, and repeat this treatment daily to make your nails and cuticles healthy and strong.

2. Biotin, iron, and zinc supplement

A deficiency in nutrients like biotin, iron, and zinc can make your nails fragile.

You must undergo a periodic medical examination to ascertain if your body lacks any crucial vitamins for healthy nail growth.

Most people develop weak nails, particularly due to poor intake of biotin-rich diets. In such cases, a daily intake of biotin supplements can strengthen nails and hair. It is good to consume biotin-rich foods such as cereals, cauliflower, egg yolks, whole grains, soybeans, milk, fish, and bananas.

3. Coconut oil

Coconut oil is a versatile oil that has numerous health benefits, including nail nourishment and protection. It can moisturize dry nails and prevent fungal infections that damage the nail.

How to use: Apply coconut oil on nails daily and massage the nail for 5 minutes using the oil. Repeat the application of this oil on nails twice daily to strengthen the nails and ward off fungal infections. Alternatively, you can soak the nails in coconut oil mixed with lemon juice for 10 minutes daily before bed.

4. Petroleum jelly

Petroleum jelly can do a world of good if your nails have become fragile, cracked, or flaky because of excessive dryness. Daily applying this lotion on the nails can keep the nails and cuticles hydrated and healthy. Lanolin is an excellent alternative to vaseline to keep your hands and nails moist.

How to use: Smear some petroleum jelly or Vaseline on your nails twice daily (preferably once in the morning and once before retiring to bed in the evening).

5. Lemon juice soaking

Lemon juice is excellent for fighting nail infections and removing conditions that make the nails brittle and cracked. Lemon juice is also beneficial for removing the discoloration of the nails caused by stains.

How to use: Slightly warm up three tablespoons of olive oil or argan oil in a bowl in a microwave oven and add one tablespoon of lemon juice to it. Apply the lemon juice solution to the nails with a cotton ball until the nails are well-soaked. For best results, continue the treatment daily until the nails are strong and healthy.

6. Horsetail

Horsetail is a popularly used herbal remedy for various hair and nail treatments. The leaves of this herbal plant contain high amounts of silica, which is beneficial for making brittle toenails and fingernails strong and healthy. This herb is also beneficial for getting rid of discoloration and spots on the nails.

How to use: Add two teaspoons of dried horsetail leaves powder to 1 cup of hot water. Soak your nails in this water for 15 minutes when the water has cooled down. You can pat dry the nails after soaking and apply olive oil to retain the moisture on the nails.

7. Vitamin E oil

If your toenails have turned brittle due to dryness, Vitamin E oil is one of the best remedies for it. Vitamin E oil can provide the much-needed hydration and moisture badly required for dry and flaky nails.

How to use: Apply the vitamin E oil to your nails with a cotton ball before you retire to sleep at night. You can also use this oil for massaging the nails and cuticles to strengthen them.

8. Sea salt soaking

Sea salt contains very useful minerals that can improve the strength and structure of the nails. It can add shine to the nails and elasticity to the cuticles.

How to use: Take a bowl of warm water and add two tablespoons of table salt. You can also add two drops of each lemon, myrrh, and frankincense essential oil to the saltwater solution. Soak your nails in salt water for 10 minutes daily; pat dries them, then apply petroleum jelly to keep them moisturized and soft.

9. Tea tree oil

Tea tree oil is best for treating the fungal infection that might damage the nails and make them brittle and cracked. The antifungal properties of this natural oil can easily remove all types of microbial infections affecting the nails.

How to use: You can directly apply the tea tree oil to the infected nails with the help of a cotton ball. To strengthen the nails, massage them with a mixture of vitamin E oil and tea tree oil; rinse the nails after 30 minutes of applying the oil.

10. Egg yolk and milk soak

Consuming eggs and milk can supply the body with the protein and calcium required for strengthening the nails.

It is beneficial to soak the nails in a mixture of egg yolk, which makes the nails strong and prevents cracking, peeling, or splitting of the nails. This mixture makes the nails bright, soft, and flexible by moisturizing them.

How to use: Thoroughly dilute an egg yolk in two tablespoons of milk and massage this mixture onto your nails. Let the application remain on the toes for 20 minutes, and then wash the nails with lukewarm water.

11. Blackstrap molasses

Blackstrap Molasses is one of the best-known natural diets for the abundant iron minerals required to make nails healthy and strong. It also contains several other nutrients beneficial to the body.

How to use: Mix one tablespoon of blackstrap molasses in one cup of milk or water and drink once or twice daily for two weeks. This treatment is said to be unhealthy for diabetic patients.

12. Beer soaking

Soaking the nails in beer effectively gives the nails strength and softness. Beer contains potassium, biotin, phosphorus, and selenium, which are useful for making the nails healthy and strong.

How to use: Take one-half cup of beer in a bowl and add one-quarter cup of apple cider vinegar. Soak your nails in this mixture for 15 minutes, and repeat this treatment twice a week.

How To Prevent Brittle Nail Problem

In most cases, it is easy to prevent and protect the nails from becoming brittle by taking the necessary care and exercising caution. Here are a few useful tips for keeping your nails healthy and strong.

  • Wear protective hand gloves to prevent the nails from getting exposed to water or chemicals while doing various manual tasks.
  • Keep your nails well moisturized and healthy by applying petroleum jelly or nail care creams on nails and cuticles.
  • Stop using artificial nails on your weak nails.
  • Do not cut the cuticles, as they are necessary to protect the nails from fungal infections.
  • Avoid nail polishes as much as possible; if you must use them, only use fortified polishes.
  • File your nails regularly.
  • Do not use harsh and chemical-rich nail polishes and removers.
  • Treat and get rid of nail fungal infections at the initial stages itself.
  • Make sure to have a healthy and balanced diet daily that contains all the nutrients required for healthy nails, skin, and hair.
  • Drink eight glasses of water daily to keep your body well hydrated.
  • Use moisturizers with avocado oil, shea butter, and vitamin E.

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