Last updated by Dr Sarah Brewer on
Brittle nails, flaking nails and peeling nails are a common and annoying problem. You can cure brittle nails from the outside with a daily care regime that involves using a moisturising oil and applying a strengthening product. Just as important is to treat brittle nails from the inside, by taking supplements that boost the formation of strong, healthy nails, such as biosin, silica and collagen supplements. Fingernails normally grow at a rate of 3mm to 5mm per month, so the cells within your nail bed need a continuous flow of protein, vitamins and minerals. As nails are non-essential structures, they often miss out when building blocks are in short supply, and during times of stress when blood flow to the peripheries is reduced. Nails are therefore one of the first parts of your body to show signs of nutritional deficiency, causing them to become either brittle or to become soft and peel with flaking nails.
- How to cure brittle nails
- Overcome brittle nails
- What causes brittle nails?
- Nutritional approaches for brittle nails
- Biotin for brittle nails
- Silica for brittle nails
- Nail treatments for brittle nails
- Overcome flaking nails
- What causes flaking nails?
- Nutritional approaches for flaking nails
- Collagen for flaking nails
- Nail treatments for flaking nails
How to cure brittle nails
Whether your nails are weak, brittle, flaking or peeling, I strongly recommend using Solar Oil to nourish your nails and cuticles. This blend of almond oil, jojoba oil, rice bran oil and vitamin E sinks in to improve the water resistance of your nails, improves nail strengthen and flexibility. I keep Solar Oil by my keyboard and apply it before I start typing every morning, and when I finish at the end of the day. It smells divinely of almonds.
And, to shape fragile nails, only use a glass or crystal nail file. These are finely ground and are less likely to cause chipping or peeling than a traditional emery board, as they help to seal the ends of your nails. File in one direction rather than using a sawing back-and-forth motion which shreds keratin and promotes splitting and flaking.
Overcome brittle nails
Nails that are brittle may seem hard and strong, but they break off before growing very long and split easily. Nail splits are sometimes horizontal but are often vertical and, if the nail splits into the underlying quick, are intensely painful.
What causes brittle nails?
Brittle nails can be hereditary or result from hormonal changes such as an underactive thyroid or the menopause. They can also occur in people with gluten intolerance.
Vertical splitting of the nails is considered a marker of vitamin C deficiency and can also occur if you are lacking in iron, zinc or silica. Iron supplements have been found to improve nail brittleness even in people who are not obviously iron deficient.
Poor hydration of the nail plate also leads to brittleness when the water content falls from the normal 18% to less than 16%.
Nutritional approaches for brittle nails
Increase your intake of silica, a mineral needed to cross-link proteins in the nail, increasing their strength and overcoming brittleness. As well as strengthening nails, silica also improves skin elasticity and bone mineralisation. Dietary sources of silica include unrefined wholegrains, oatmeal, rice bran, green leafy vegetables, carrots, alfalfa bean sprouts, nuts, seeds and cucumber rind.
Berries and citrus fruit are excellent sources of vitamin C and bioflavonoids that improve collagen formation and help prevent brittle nails. Watercress also provides vitamin C, B vitamins and vitamin E which are needed to build keratin.
While calcium only makes around 0.2% of the nail plate by weight, it contributes to nail strength through an effect on protein cross-linkages, so include dairy products in your diet.
Eliminate foods containing gluten (wheat, rye, barley) for a month to see if your brittle nails are linked with gluten intolerance. If this does help, seek medical advice to confirm the diagnosis.
Supplements designed to improve brittle nails tend to include biotin and/or silica. I advise trying a high dose biotin supplement first.
Biotin for brittle nails
Biotin is a B group vitamin which can improve the strength of brittle, splitting nails. Studies in which nails were examined by scanning electron microscopy showed that taking biotin supplements increased nail thickness by an average of 25% in those with brittle fingernails, reduced splitting and caused the arrangement of cells on the back of the nail to become more regular. In a study involving 45 women, taking 2.5mg biotin supplements per day for six months, 91% showed definite improvement in nail quality, with none of them considering treatment ineffective. Noticeable effects are normally seen within 2 to 3 months of starting to take supplements. As a bonus, it will strengthen your hair, too.
However, in one study, around one in three women showed no significant improvements, suggesting that biotin deficiency is not always involved in poor nail quality. If biotin doesn’t work for you, then take a silica supplement (or you could hedge your bets and take both together).
Silica for brittle nails
Silica is the organically bound, soluble form of silicon and, in its soluble form, is essential for healthy skin, hair and nails. Silica is needed for the function of an enzyme involved in collagen formation, and also contributes to tissue elasticity. The silica content of skin, hair and nails decreases with age as they become increasingly inelastic and brittle.
Dietary sources of silica include unrefined grains, green leaves, nuts, seeds, alfalfa bean sprouts and kelp. The silica found in supplements may be derived from algae, bamboo or a herb known as horsetail.
Taking silica supplements for 20 weeks was found to significantly improve skin, nails and hair, with reduced brittleness in women with photodamaged skin.
When 47 women aged 38 to 64 years with aged skin, fragile or thin hair or brittle nails took 10ml soluble silicic acid per day for 90 days, and applied it to their face as a mask for 10 minutes, twice a day, significant improvements in the thickness and turgor of skin, wrinkles, and in the condition of hair and nails were seen within 30 days. Ultrasound also showed a significant increase in the thickness of the underlying skin dermis.
Silica supplements aimed at improving hair, skin and nails may also include MSM (methylsulphonylmethane) which supplies organic sulphur needed for keratin cross linking.
Nail treatments for brittle nails
Apply solar oil to help strengthen the nail plates, soften cuticles and improve water retention.
Specialist nail lacquers formulas are available that are impregnated with protein, calcium and other substances designed to reduce nail brittleness and splitting. I’ve tried many of these over the years and did not find any that really worked until a friend (thanks, Shirley!) recommended Nailtiques. Using this range has helped to transform my nails and, judging from the number of five-star reviews, I’m not alone.
Nailtiques Formula 3 is designed to treat hard, dry, brittle or ridged nails and is ideal for post-menopausal dry, brittle nails. Use it on its own, reapplying it twice a week, or as a base coat or top coat with coloured nail polish.
Remove Nailtiques Formula 3 with acetone-free remover which will not embrittle nails.
Overcome flaking nails
Nails that are soft, thin and bendy tend to peel and flake easily. They may split in layers at the tips and do not respond well to nail polish.
What causes flaking nails?
A tendency towards weak, bendy nails that flake or peel easily is often hereditary, but can also result from an irregular supply of protein to your fingertips.
One protein building block that is especially important is cystine, whose disulfide bonds help to glue the keratin fibers together to increase nail hardness.
Thin nails have also been associated with low levels of magnesium, silica, vitamins A and D.
Nails with poor water resistance soon soften when the hydration of the nail plate increases from the normal level of around 18% to become greater than 25%.
Aways wear gloves when washing dishes and keep your hands out of the bath water when enjoying a long soak (apply Solar Oil and drape your fingers over the edge of the bath while someone peels you a grape!)
Nutritional approaches for flaking nails
Include a protein source with every meal, such as poultry, fish, lean meat, eggs, beans and nuts. Macadamia nuts are an especially good snack for nail health, as ten percent of their weight is protein, including all the essential amino acids, and they contain beneficial oils which are often added to hair and nail treatments.
As with brittle nails, silica can strengthen thin peeling nails by increasing the cross-linking of nail proteins in the nail, increasing their strength and is found in a nuts, seeds and a variety of vegetables, including bean sprouts.
Garlic is a rich source of sulfur-containing amino acids from which cystine is made, to increase nail strength, so add garlic to your diet or take garlic supplements. Taking garlic supplements also increases blood flow to the nails by as much as 55 per cent to improve the delivery of oxygen and nutrients needed for healthy nail growth.
If thinning nails are associated with a lack of oestrogen after the menopause, eat more soy products such as edamame beans, tofu and miso soup. Soy isoflavones help to maintain oestrogen levels after the menopause and can improve nail quality as well as reducing hot flushes and night sweats. These are best taken with a probiotic source to boost their conversion to the most active forms.
You can find more information on Diet and Menopause HERE.
Collagen for flaking nails
Eating cubes of jelly is a traditional protein boost for nails, but is not recommended as jelly cubes are high in sugar.
Collagen supplements are a better source. Collagen supplements designed to strengthen flaking nails usually contain silica, too.
I also recommend taking an evening primrose oil supplement to help moisturise nails from the inside, improving nail quality, optimising hydration, suppleness and sheen.
Read more about evening primrose oil supplements HERE.
Nail treatments for flaking nails
I have not found anything better than Nailtiques Formula 2 for nails that are soft, peeling, split or do not grow long.
The protein formula bonds nail proteins to prevent flaking, splitting or peeling, so they grow longer and stronger. Apply a new coat every day, over previous applications (it sets quickly within 30 seconds) and even over nail polish, until nails feel stronger, then continue to apply every other day.
A stronger version, Nailtiques Formula 2 Plus Nail Protein, is another option if you have used Formula 2 for at least 6 weeks and your nails still need extra help. Once they improve and become firmer (but flexible) switch back to Formula 2.
I have tried many other brands of nail strengther and found they just converted my nails from ones that were ‘weak and flaking’ to ones that were ‘brittle and split’. This is the only formula that seems to work as claimed.
Have you used any natural remedies to treat brittle or flaking nails? Please share your experience, tips and advice via the comments below. Thanks.
Image credit: pixabay