Homemade Remedies for Brittle Nails

(Last Updated On: August 3, 2018)

Several factors can be involved when you have brittle nails (onychoschizia). Nail damage may be due to detergents and other chemicals in everyday items like dishwashing liquid, cleaning products, shampoos and conditioners.

Damage can also be caused by the manicure products that you use like nail polish, base coat, nail polish remover and false nails.

The other factor is your diet. If you don’t eat a balanced diet, and if the nutrients that you do eat can’t be absorbed properly, then you will have weak, brittle nails.

There is little that you can do to improve the condition of the nails that you currently have, but there is plenty that you can do to make sure that your new nail growth is healthy and strong.

Nail Basics

Nails are made of a protein called keratin. Keratin is made by cells in your nail matrix, and as keratin cells push upward they die and harden, turning into your nails. Via this process, known as keratinization, your nails will usually grow about one and a half inches a year.

All of the nail that you see on your fingertips is actually dead. You can hydrate your nails to improve their appearance and their strength but you can’t feed your existing nails in any way to make them stronger.

You nails need several types of nutrients to be healthy and to grow at an optimum rate.

When you eat protein in foods like meat, grains, fruits and vegetables, your body breaks it down into amino acids, and then uses those amino acids to create the thousands of different proteins that are needed to keep everything in your body running smoothly.

One of the proteins that your body creates from amino acids is keratin. So for strong nails you need to make sure that you obtain sufficient protein from your diet.

However, unless your diet provides sufficient amounts of other nutrients, your body won’t utilize protein efficiently.

Some of the amino acids used to make keratin rely on having adequate amounts of sulfur in the body. A great source of sulphur is garlic.

In order for the body to absorb protein correctly it needs access to vitamin A, and vitamin A is known to help to build healthy hair and strong nails.

Vitamin C is essential for collagen production. Collagen makes up the tissues in your body, including your nail matrix. Even though the body is incredibly good at recycling vitamin C so that small amounts can do a lot of work, many people don’t have enough vitamin C in their body for good health.

Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin and water soluble vitamins are not stored in the body. At a bare minimum (according to official health guidelines) daily vitamin C intake should be 90 milligrams for men and for 75 milligrams for women. Some vitamin C researchers and alternative health practitioners believe that the amount taken each day should be at least 3000 milligrams.

Vitamin B2 is necessary for new tissue development and vitamin B7 (biotin) is known to help develop strong, smooth nails.

Vitamins E and D along with iron, calcium and iodine also play a role in healthy nail development.

The nutrients in the food that you eat are absorbed through your gut wall into your bloodstream. If you have gut permeability issues, then many of the nutrients that you eat won’t be available to your body.

Likewise if you have poor circulation, then nutrients and oxygen won’t be delivered to your cells as effectively as they should be. Poor circulation often results in less blood flow to your extremities, and those extremities include your fingertips.

Strengthen and improve nails condition

Moisturize Well

Healthy nails are hydrated nails and your nails should contain about 7 – 12% water. When that water is lost nails become dry and brittle.

To ensure that your nails are well hydrated, you need to make sure that first and foremost your body is well hydrated, and then you need to prevent moisture loss from chemical exposure and from evaporation.

Drink plenty of fresh water every day and limit caffeine, alcohol and soda, all of which act as diuretics in your body and cause you to produce more urine and lose fluid.

Every time that you expose your hands to the detergents and other chemicals in household cleaning products and shampoos and conditioners, those detergents strip moisture from your nails.

Always wear rubber gloves when you do household cleaning chores to protect your hands from chemicals.

If you don’t already use a natural shampoo, then you might want to consider switching your brand. Regular shampoos contain some really harsh ingredients that damage your hair. And when your hands are lathering up the shampoo, those chemicals are damaging your finger nails too.

Check out artisanal soap making company Chagrin Valley, for luxurious (and inexpensive) all natural, moisturizing shampoo bars that won’t harm your skin, hair or nails.

Moisturize your nails and your cuticles every day to help to provide a barrier to evaporation and keep your nails natural moisture locked in. Moisturizing your nails will help to keep the layers intact and prevent peeling, splits and cracks.

If you work in an environment that requires frequent hand washing, then make sure that you moisturize several times a day, to keep that protective layer active.

When you have brittle nails, it’s a good idea to keep them free of nail polish. Nail polish can be very drying, especially the quick dry formulations, and it can suck a lot of moisture from your nails and leave them in really bad shape.

And every time that you use nail polish remover you are doing more harm to an already damaged nail.

Finally, to keep your nails hydrated be sure to wear gloves in cold weather because cold air and wind are very drying on skin and nails

Take Steps To Avoid Nail Infections

Bacterial or fungal infections will weaken your nails and cause slower growth.

Experts recommend that cuticles shouldn’t be cut and shouldn’t pushed back with tools. The cuticle is a natural barrier that forms a seal and prevents microbes from getting into your nail matrix. Once the cuticle is damaged, that area is ripe for infections. Your cuticle also keeps water out, so it’s important to keep it intact.

When you trim cuticles, you can remove too much skin which can lead to soreness, infection and inflammation, and even just pushing them back can open up minute gaps between the nail and the cuticle that let infection in.

If you want healthy nails, then regular moisturizing should be all that you need to do to keep your cuticles in good shape. As you moisturize, run your thumb over the cuticle to ease it back.

Professional Manicures Can Cause Nail Weakness

Researchers have found that those who regularly get their nails taken care of at nail salons were more likely to experience problems including dry, brittle nails and chronic nail bed infections.

Those who get gel manicures are even more likely to contract infections and the researchers think that this is due to the chemicals used at the salons and the tools used passing along infections.

Check your nails for signs of infection by looking at them sideways. The area around your nail bed should be flat and of normal skin color. If it is raised or red, then that is evidence of infection, and that infection will be causing your nails to grow more slowly and making the new nail growth weak.

While you have problems with your nails you may want to avoid nail salons, and then once your nails have recovered and are healthy, you can ask your manicurist to use the tools that you take with you, rather than the tools that have been used (and often improperly disinfected) on other clients.

Are You Low On Iron?

Are your nails concave or do they have small depressions on the surface? If your nails exhibit these characteristics then you could be low on iron.

Iron is a vital nutrient that your body needs in order to form a healthy supply of the red blood cells that carry oxygen around your body. Like every other cell in your body, your nail cells growing in your nail matrix need oxygen, and if the oxygen level in your blood is a little low, then they won’t get an optimum amount of oxygen and new nail growth will be weak.

Signs that you may be low on iron include pale skin, lack of energy, leg cramps, shortness of breath and difficulty sleeping.

In addition to not eating enough iron in your diet, heavy periods can also cause low iron levels.

If you think that you may be deficient in iron, see your doctor for a blood test. While iron supplements are readily available over-the-counter, if you don’t need them then they can cause more harm than good. So don’t just supplement with iron without a definite test.

Take A Biotin Supplement To Strengthen New Nail Growth

Biotin is one of the B vitamins and researchers have found that this vitamin has the ability to increase nail thickness and prevent nails from splitting and breaking.

In one study, a 2.5 mg biotin supplement was given to people with severe nail problems. After six months of supplement use 91% percent of the participants experienced an improvement in the health and strength of their nails, with nails increasing in thickness by 25% and less prone to splitting.

Some supplements are padded out with useless fillers and the amount of the vitamin printed on the front of the label can be misleading. To make sure that you buy a biotin supplement with the full 2.5 mg of biotin, read the ingredient panel on the back of the bottle and look for the total amount contained in each capsule.

when-your-own-nails-are-in-bad-shape

Don’t Wear False Nails

When your own nails are in bad shape, it can be tempting to get a set of fake nails to cover up the problems, but the adhesives used to fix the nails in place causes damage to the surface of the nail, making it weaker still.

Whenever false nails are glued on, there are always micro areas that didn’t completely adhere to the nail surface and these tiny pockets are a perfect breeding ground for bacteria and fungus.

It’s better to be patient and wait for your own nails to grow in than to inflict more damage and compromise healthy new nail growth.

Avoid Picking At Or Peeling Away Old Polish

Picking at nail polish or peeling it off in layers instead of using a nail polish remover, takes a thin sliver of your nail away, leaving you with a slightly thinner nail each time you do it.

If you have a habit of peeling off your nail polish, you will end up with a thinner more brittle nail.

Always remove your polish with a solvent remover.

Choose Gentle Nail Polish Removers

They type of nail polish remover that you use will affect the health of your nails.

Those containing acetone cause a lot of nail damage. Acetone strips too much moisture from your nails and leaves them brittle and more likely to flake, crack and split.

Acetone free nail polish removers are widely available, so there is no reason to use damaging acetone.

Once you’ve removed your nail polish, wash your nails, apply moisturizer and wait for a while before you apply more polish. It’s important to rehydrate your nails to keep them strong.

Nail Hardeners Won’t help

Nail hardeners make your nail behave in an unnatural way and they contain damaging chemicals.

Nails are supposed to be flexible, this allows them to absorb the countless tiny impacts that they suffer each day as you use your hands.

When you use hardeners, you actually make your nails more prone to breaks, splits and cracks because you have compromised their flexibility. When you already have brittle nails, the last thing that you need is a product that makes them even more brittle.

Strong nails come from the inside, from good nutrition, and by nurturing your new nail growth with vitamins and minerals you will soon have no need to resort to this type of product.

Watch Out For Chlorine

The chlorine used as a pool disinfectant wrecks skin, hair and nails.

Before you hit the pool, always rub a protective layer of coconut oil or vaseline onto your finger nails to form a protective barrier and prevent chlorine damage.

For Healthy Nails You Have To Eat The Right Foods

As already mentioned, your nails are made up of a protein called keratin and amino acids are used to manufacture that protein.

There are 20 different amino acids in total. Ten are made in your body and the other 10 have to be obtained from your diet. These dietary amino acids are known as essential amino acids.

All animal based foods contain a full complement of essential amino acids and these foods are known as complete proteins. When you eat muscle meat, organ meats, fish, eggs, milk, cheese and other dairy products you obtain complete proteins.

Vegetarians and vegans must take more care with their diet because plant based proteins are incomplete. They don’t contain all of the necessary amino acids.

Different plant proteins are made up of different amino acids, and by eating a varied range of these proteins the full range of amino acids can be acquired.

A very common combination of plant based protein sources that provide all of the necessary amino acids is rice and beans.

The two foods don’t have to be eaten at the same meal, just on the same day.

Your diet should also include good sources of vitamins and minerals.

Every function in your body requires these nutrients and if you have vitamin or mineral deficiencies (as many people do), your body won’t function as well as it should.

People with nutrient deficiencies suffer from more frequent infections, chronic diseases, premature aging, fatigue, eye problems, skin problems, reproductive issues, thin and brittle hair and weak nails.

Milk, yogurt and other dairy products are all good sources of protein, calcium, zinc, iron and vitamin B12.

Eggs are one of the richest sources of protein and also provide high levels of folate (the natural and superior form of folic acid) and vitamin B12.

Organ meats (liver, kidney, heart) and pâtés made from them are rich in iron, vitamin A, vitamin B12 and folate.

Legumes (lentils, beans, peas etc) are rich in healthy fiber and also give you protein, zinc, iron and folate.

Green leafy vegetables are rich sources of calcium, folate, Vitamin C and vitamin A.

Citrus fruits and many brightly colored vegetables are rich in the Vitamin C that your body needs for thousands of functions including making the proteins that it needs.

Yellow and orange vegetables like carrots and peppers are rich in Vitamin A which is necessary for strong nails.

Biotin – a vital nail building material –  is found in liver, meat, milk, egg yolk and most vegetables.

Eating a diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables should provide all of the vitamins and minerals that you need, but because much of the food that makes its way onto supermarket shelves has been grown in degraded soils that no longer contain minerals, or host the healthy food-soil-web necessary to produce vitamins, that food is no longer as healthy as it used to be 20 or 30 years ago.

If you can, you should try to make sure that you purchase organically grown produce from a farmers market or through your local community supported agriculture program (CSA).

If not, you can make up for the nutritional shortcomings of commercially available food by growing your own food garden, or by using bioavailable vitamin and mineral supplements.

Many cheap supplement brands use forms of vitamins and minerals that your body can’t easily make use of, and these nutrients pass out of your body unused as urine.

The NOW brand produces quality supplements and If you chose their multi vitamin and mineral supplement, you can get a good range of supportive nutrients for less than ten cents a day.

Finally, if you have any issues with gut permeability, then your body won’t have access to the nutrition that it needs even if you eat a healthy diet.

Your gut needs to be permeable to allow nutrients to pass into your bloodstream, but when it is too permeable, larger particles of incompletely digested food can pass through. In addition to compromising nutrition this hyper-permeability also leads to food sensitivities and autoimmune diseases.

Gut problems can be caused by stress, medication, poor diet and other factors. One way that you can help to ensure healthy gut function and allow a damaged gut wall to heal is by eating bone broth.

Bone broth contains gelatin and gelatin can help to heal and protect your gut. Bone broth is a source of complete protein and is also rich in the amino acid cysteine which is needed for keratin production, as well being a good source of many other nutrients.

Bone broth also helps to protect your body’s supply of B vitamins, including biotin. When you eat muscle meat and eggs, you take in large amounts of an amino acid called methionine.

Methionine is important but too much of this amino acid raises blood levels of another amino acid called homocysteine. To break down homocysteine, your body needs to use a lot of B vitamins, and this process can leave you at risk for vitamin B deficiency even if you have good B vitamin intake.

Bone broth contains glycine, and glycine can break down homocysteine without using B vitamins, leaving your body free to use them for other purposes.

To make a flavorful and nutritious bone broth all you needs are some bones, vegetables, herbs and water.

Ingredients:

  • 4 quarts water
  • 1 teaspoon Himalayan mountain salt
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar or rice wine vinegar (helps to draw the minerals out of the bones)
  • 2 large onions, unpeeled and coarsely chopped
  • 2 carrots, scrubbed and coarsely chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
  • 1 bunch fresh parsley
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, lightly crushed
  • 2-4 lbs meat, fish or poultry bones (mixed is fine)

Directions:

  1. Place all ingredients in your slow cooker and set on high. Or add everything to a large stock pot and bring to a boil on the stovetop.
  2. When the ingredients have reached a boil, reduce the slow cooker setting to low for 12-24 hours, or your stove top to its lowest heat setting.
  3. The longer you leave the broth to cook the richer and better tasting it will be.
  4. Strain the broth through a fine mesh strainer.
  5. Store your bone broth in the fridge until you need to use it.

By avoiding further damage to your nails, taking steps to keep moisture locked in, and by obtaining a full range of nutrients, your nails will soon grow in stronger and healthier. It will take at least 6 months for new nail growth to fully replace your old brittle nails, so be patient and persevere.

Written by Irina Radosevic MD
Irina graduated from the University of Belgrade, School of Medicine as a Doctor of Medicine (MD) and spent over 3 years working in the Clinical Hospital Center Zvezdara, in the Department of Emergency Medicine. She also undertook a postgraduate in Cardiology from the same University and had previously worked for over a year as a Physician and Nutritionist Dietitian for the Fitness club Green Zone. She eventually left her chaotic but fulfilling job in the ER to pursue her passion of writing, travelling and mountain climbing which has included writing a first aid course for the alpine club of Belgrade. Irina currently works as a VA for PintMedia focusing on medical and travel writing. Feel free to connect with Irina on LinkedIn and FaceBook. Her CV can be seen here.