Brittle fingernails are a common condition, occurring in about 20 % of
people; more women than men develop brittle nails.
Brittle nails usually break or peel off in horizontal layers, starting at the
nails free end. The term "brittle nails" can also refer to a condition in which
lengthwise splits appear in the nail. In either case, the nails structure is
Brittle nails may be caused by trauma to the nail, including repeated wetting
and drying, repeated exposure to detergents and water, and excessive exposure to
harsh solvents, such as those found in nail polish remover. If your nails are
regularly exposed to such stresses, it may be worth trying protective gloves
when washing dishes and doing other chores. In the case of nail polish remover,
gentler, less toxic brands have recently become available. Check with retailers
of natural cosmetic products.
Nail brittleness may also be caused by an underlying medical condition, such as
Raynauds disease, low thyroid function (hypothyroidism), or lung conditions.
Other possible causes include skin diseases (psoriasis, lichen planus, alopecia
areata) as well as endocrine disorders, tuberculosis, Sjgrens syndrome, and
malnutrition.Selenium poisoning can also cause brittle nails.
Because of all these possibilities, it is important to rule out a serious
underlying problem before trying nutritional or herbal treatments for brittle
nails. If a medical cause for this condition is not found, it may be worth
considering some of the following approaches.
Principal Proposed Treatments for Brittle Nails:
Although no herb or supplement has been proven effective for brittle nails,
there is some evidence that the B vitamin biotin might help.
Animal studies suggest that biotin supplementation can be helpful for deformed
hooves in horses and pigs. Since animal hooves are made of keratin, the same
substance from which human nails are made, these findings have encouraged
researchers to study the effects of biotin on brittle nails in humans.
Preliminary evidence from a small controlled study suggests that biotin may
increase the thickness of brittle nails, reduce their tendency to split, and
improve their microscopic structure. To arrive at their results, the researchers
used a scanning electron microscope to examine the effects of biotin in 8 women
with brittle nails who were given 2.5 mg of biotin daily over 6- to 9-month
periods. (An additional 24 individuals were also studied; 10 served as controls,
and the other 14 were examined in a way that makes the interpretation of their
results questionable.) Because all nail clippings were examined without the
researchers being aware of whose clippings they were looking at, these results
have some validity. However, the study was too small to allow definitive
Two small open studies also reported benefits with biotin supplementation.
However, because there was no control group in either study, the results cant
be taken as reliable.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full biotin
Other Proposed Treatments for Brittle Nails:
A number of other nutritional therapies have been tried for brittle nails,
including calcium, cysteine, gelatin-containing preparations, iron, vitamin A,
and zinc. However, as of yet, there is no real evidence that any of these
The herb horsetail (Equisetum arvense) is also sometimes mentioned as a
treatment for brittle nails, again without proof that it works. See the full
article on horsetail for more information.