Whether flaking at the tips, across the entire surface, or in layers, one thing remains true: flaking nails do no justice to your appearance. In addition to making your nails look uncared for, the condition is usually associated with slow nail growth and tendency to break easily. Below we seek to not only answer the question “why do nails peel and flake?” but also highlight easy ways in which you can treat and get rid of flaking nails for good at home.
Why Are My Nails Flaking
The causes of flaking nails are greatly varied, ranging from external to benign and serious internal (medical) conditions. These include:
- Aging: The natural aging process can cause your nails to become brittle and tend to peel and flake, MedlinePlus says.
- Menopause: According to ZocDoc, flaky nails are often a symptom of menopause. This is attributed to the hormonal fluctuations that occur during this stage of women’s life. Estrogen levels in particular fall significantly and since estrogen plays a role in water regulation, nails experience lows moisture levels, often culminating in their flaking.
- Thyroid disease: According to the NHS Choices, brittle flaking nails may occurs as result of either overactive (hyperthyroidism) or underactive (hypothyroidism) thyroid glands.
- Pregnancy: It is not uncommon for women to experience flaking nails during pregnancy. This is due to hormonal fluctuations which can either make the nails grow faster and healthier, or grow fast but get weak and thin, and even flake off.
- Frequent and long–term exposure to water: According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, frequent wetting of the hands, and thus fingernails, is the most common of dry, brittle nails that are peeling, flaking, splitting, etc. This can happen through swimming, dishwashing, laundry, gardening, and occupational exposure to moisture e.g. among salon service providers.
- Exposure to chemicals: Exposure to chemicals such as detergents, formaldehyde or acetone-containing nail polish removers, cleaning solvents, etc. may also be the reason why your nails are flaking. Adhesives used to fix fake nails (acrylic nails) can also cause brittle, flaking nails. The removal process for gel manicure can also take a toll on your nails in the long-term.
- Vitamin deficiency: Vitamin and mineral deficiency can also cause flaking nails. It is in particular associated with deficiencies in iron (iron deficiency anemia), Calcium, zinc, and biotin (a component of the B-Complex vitamins). This is especially likely during pregnancy.
- Skin disorders: Dermal conditions such as psoriasis can also be to blame for flaky fingernails, says ZocDoc. Lichen planus can also cause the problem, says NHC Choices.
- Yeast infection: Brittle, flaky nails can also be a sign of fungal infection.
- Trauma: A blow on the nails can cause flaking and so can biting of nails as well as using the nails for the wrong purposes e.g. scrubbing, removing staples, etc.
Flaky Nails Treatment
Flaking nails can be controlled and prevented with easy home measures that aimed at treating the symptoms while preventing future exposure to the causative agents. Below is a guideline on how to get rid of flaking nails:
Apply Nail Hardener
If the nails are flaky yet feels weak and bends easily, you can benefit from applying a nail hardener. This is especially handy if you just removed gel polish or acrylic nails. The American Osteopathic College of Dermatology (AOCD) suggests switching to a nail polish that contain nylon fibers. Whichever nail hardener you choose, apply only once or twice each week lest you end being counterproductive.
Protect Your Hands with Gloves
As already mentioned, excessive moisture can cause flaking nails and so can exposure to chemicals such as detergents, solvents, etc. When undertaking any activities that immersing your hands in water e.g. dishwashing, put on a pair of cotton-lined rubber gloves.
It is also advisable to wear gloves when performing chores that come with higher risk of traumatic injury to the nails e.g. gardening, construction work etc.
Use Nail Care Products Wisely
Prolonged used of nail polish removers that contain acetone as the active ingredient. Although acetone is very effective, it is not the most gentle when it comes to stripping the nails and cuticles of their moisture.
Some good acetone-free alternatives to look out for are Karma Naturals Nail Polish Remover and Pure Body Naturals Nail Polish Remover.
Moisturize Your Nails
If the flaking nails feel hard to touch and rigid (hard to bend), moisturizing is your best option in addition to proper diet. This is also true for nails that are flaking in layers.
The American Osteopathic College of Dermatology recommends looking for lotions that are formulated with alpha-hydroxyl acids (AHAs) or lanolin, giving Elon is a good example. Soak your hands in water for 5 minutes or so, then apply the lotion all over the nails. Eucerin and Aquaphor brands are also highly rated.
Jojoba oil, olive oil, and glycerin are also good choices for nail moisturizing. Vitamin E and jojoba is also highly acclaimed for the purpose.
Lynn Gray of Mavala also suggests using Mavala Mavaflex serum for nail plate hydration. In addition to its hydrating properties, it is formulated with calcium, urea and vitamin B5 to help fix flaking nails.
One trick that a lot of people swear to is applying a thick layer of petroleum jelly and then sleeping with a pair of cotton gloves.
Moisturizing the nails should not just be seen as a treatment but also a preventative approach; apply a moisturizer regularly, especially after washing your hands or working with water.
Go Easy On Your Nails
Improper filing can cause nails to flake. Filing the nails in the wrong direction can in particular cause the nails to flake at the tips. Coarse, metal files also do your nails more harm than good. Instead use very fine files to file your nails from one edge to the other rather than back-and-forth. Round the tips of the nails in a gentle curve (but don’t overdo it lest you invite ingrown toenails) to avoid further damage.
If you will be pushing back the cuticles (rather than cutting them which is by the way not recommended), use an orange stick rather than metallic equipment.
Try Supplement and Dietary Treatment of Flaky Nails
Addressing any likely vitamin or mineral deficiencies also constitute an integral part of flaky nails treatment. You will in particular want to:
- Include plenty of proteins in your diet. Just like hair, nails are made from a protein called keratin. Good sources of protein include lean meat, beans, fish, poultry, etc. for vegetarians, iron supplements such as Spatone Natural Iron Supplement may be a better option.
- Take foods rich in B-complex vitamins. Cauliflower, Swiss chard, cucumbers and green leafy vegetables are a great option, otherwise consider taking vitamin B or biotin supplements to keep your nails in great shape. The AOCD recommends oral intake of Biotin Ultra 1mg biotin supplements.
- Take foods rich in fatty acids such as flaxseeds, fatty fish (e.g. salmon, sardines, tuna, trout, and mackerel), and nuts. Evening primrose oil is also a good source of fatty acids; strive to take 1,000mg three times each day (with meals).
- Take foods rich in zinc e.g. shellfish, root vegetables, grains, nuts, and meat. These are especially helpful for white flaky nails.
More Tips to Help Get Rid Of and Prevent Flaking Nails
- Wear gloves in cold weather. This prevents drying and by extension brittleness and peeling of fingernails.
- Use nail polishes to which nylon fibers have been added for extra strength.
- Exercise regularly. This helps to boost circulation and thus aid in better delivery of nutrients to the nails.
- Give your nails a break from polish, gel manicure, acrylic, etc. until the nails regain their strength. In the meantime, you can be using a nail strengthener and moisturizers.
- Avoid fake (artificial) nails if they cause your nails to flake. These often create a gap between them and your natural hair where fungal growth can occur.
- Sip 1 cup of horsetail or nettle tea every day to provide your body with silica and other minerals that aid in proper nail growth.
- Don’t share your manicure and pedicure products. Ensure all equipment are sterilized.