Brittle nails: what should you consider?

Brüchige Nägel: Was solltest du beachten?

Finely manicured, healthy nails are part of basic personal hygiene for most people. It is regularly snapped, filed and sometimes even painted. But unfortunately this is not always possible.

Especially if the nails are brittle, this can often mean that you can no longer care for the nails so well. In the worst case, this can be uncomfortable or even painful. In order for you to solve this problem, we are going to tell you about brittle nails in detail in this article.

the essentials in brief

  • Brittle nails are indicated by cracks or chipping of the nail layer. They also differ in the location of the damage
  • There are many causes of brittle nails. The most common are malnutrition and dehydration of the nails.
  • A balanced diet and the right care can help against brittle nails. In extreme cases, you should see your GP or dermatologist.

Background: What you should know about brittle nails

First of all we would like to give you all the information about the background of brittle nails. This way you know the appearance, causes and symptoms, so that you can then optimally care for your nails. In the following section we will answer all your questions about brittle nails.

What do brittle nails look like?

As already mentioned in the definition, there are two main types of brittle nails: In onychoschisis, the exposed, white part of the nail is torn. It usually looks like an upper layer of the nail is peeling off. In onychorrhexis, the nail on the nail plate is affected. So the part that rests directly on the finger. The nail can be deeply torn there. Thickening of the nail can also occur(1).

Why do I have brittle nails?

Unfortunately, the causes of brittle nails cannot be determined with certainty. In general, however, science can say that it is probably related to a problem with the water holding capacity of the nails(2). Other causes could be the following(4):

However, many complicated metabolic processes are going on in the nails, which is why an exact cause cannot be named. So that means there are many other reasons why you can have brittle nails(3).

Which doctor should I see for brittle nails?

In general, if you have a problem like this, you can consult your family doctor. He knows your entire clinical picture best and can advise you. You may then also be able to see a dermatologist, i.e. a dermatologist. These doctors are specialists in all skin and skin-related problems. This includes hair, sweat glands, but also nails.

Besides brittle nails, what other symptoms can occur?

Since brittle nails can also occur due to malnutrition, you may also notice hair loss at the same time. Because even the healthy and full hair need the sufficient amount of nutrients . If these are missing, your body can react with these symptoms and general skin diseases(7).

Brittle nails: The best tips & tricks for healthier nails

Now that you've determined that you actually have brittle nails, you'll want to know how to treat them. There are many ways to care for your nails. In the following part you will find ways that can really help your brittle nails.

What can I do about brittle nails?

Since there are many different ways to treat brittle nails, we have summarized the most important ones in this clear table(8):

Treatment Explanation Application recommendation
balanced nutrition helps to supply the important nutrients particularly recommended if other symptoms of malnutrition occur
Gloves protects against external influences especially if you work a lot with water or chemicals
Filing instead of cutting Cutting the nails increases the risk of tearing the nail if the nails are sensitive to clipping
special nail polish strengthens the nails with healthy minerals and a protective film for particularly severely damaged nails, as recommended by the manufacturer/pharmacist/doctor

However, you should always follow the advice of your doctor when treating brittle nails effectively. He knows best how to fight the problem and can tell you more precisely what the causes and options are.

How do I care for my brittle nails?

In addition to the treatment recommendations above, you can take care of your fingernails in other ways. Here we show you which tools can still help against brittle nails.


For the care of the fingernails, oils can have a similar effect to creams. These oils moisturize the nails and make them more flexible. This way they are better protected against breakage and tearing.

Woman holds nail oil

A nail oil from the pharmacy can help to moisturize and protect your nails. (Image Source: Kelly Sikkema / Unsplash)

Specialty nail oils are a good choice, as they tend to contain special fatty acids and vitamins that nails need(9). They can be found in many pharmacies.


You can simply rub cream on your nails next to the skin after showering or bathing. Because what many may already know: long, hot baths and showers dry out, including the nails. You can find special nail creams in drugstores or pharmacies.

nail file

Again, we recommend filing your nails rather than clipping them. The right nail file can make a big difference. Conventional metal files are not recommended. Such a file can lead to splintering, especially in the case of sensitive nails(10).

A better option is therefore a sandpaper file. These are gentler on fingernails and have less risk of damaging them(10). Such nail files also have padded models, which are also gentle.

Frsu uses a nail file

Choosing the right nail file is important to protect nails from cracking and chipping. It is recommended to use a padded sandpaper file. (Image Source: Karolina Grabowska / Pexels)

Ceramic or glass files are particularly suitable for sensitive fingernails. Note, however, that such files are slightly more expensive(10). Finally, you can also go over your nails with a polishing file. These complete the process and smooth out the rough edges.


Fractured nails can have many causes. From water damage to poor nutrition, it can all come down to it. However, it is difficult to say exactly what is causing it, as many different processes are responsible for the structure of the nails.

To solve the problem, you can therefore use many different alternatives. On the one hand, you can supply your body with the most important nutrients "from within". On the other hand, you can protect and strengthen your nails through external influences. In worse cases, you should see your doctor, who will work with you to create a customized treatment plan to heal your brittle nails.


  1. Abeck, Dietrich. "brittle nails." Common skin diseases in general medicine. Steinkopff, 2010. 19-20. Source
  2. Samman PD, Christophers E. (1968) The main nail symptoms. In: Nail diseases. Heidelberg paperbacks, vol 29. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. Source
  3. Brittle fingernails - what to do? Source
  4. Iorizzo, M., et al. "Brittle nails." Journal of cosmetic dermatology 3.3 (2004): 138-144. Source
  5. Erpolat, Seval, et al. "Nail alterations during pregnancy: A clinical study." International journal of dermatology 55.10 (2016): 1172-1175. Source
  6. Dahdah, Maurice J., and Richard K. Scher. "Nail diseases related to nail cosmetics." Dermatologic clinics 24.2 (2006): 233-9. Source
  8. Brittle fingernails March 17, 2020, Martina Feichter Source
  9. Duarte, Ana Filipa, Osvaldo Correia, and Robert Baran. "Nail plate cohesion seems to be water independent." International journal of dermatology 48.2 (2009): 193-195. Source
  10. The right nail file: tips for well-groomed hands Source
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