Peeling Fingernails: Meaning, Causes and How to Stop Nails from Peeling and Splitting

We use the hands for most of our day-to-day activities and as a result, they are in constant contact with harsh substances and environments. These often aggravate the fingernails and cause them to peel off in layers, break, split, etc. depending on the underlying causes, peeling fingernails may be accompanied by other problems such as hair loss, dry skin, etc.

What Causes Fingernails to Peel Off In Layers?

You are probably wondering, Why are my nails peeling in layers”. Well, peeling fingernails and toenails may be indicative of a medical condition but when only the fingernails are involved, it is typically the result of an external aggravation. Causes of peeling fingernails can be broadly classified into internal and external factors. They include:

  • Overexposure to moisture: Whether from swimming, dishwashing, name it, frequent wetting of the hands can cause the nails to become weak or even peel and split.
  • Nutritional deficiency: Peeling fingernails may be a sign of mineral or vitamin deficiency. Low dietary intake of iron, calcium, and B12 complex vitamins (particularly biotin) has been attributed to incidents of peeling fingernails. Proteins an amino acids are also required for proper nail growth and form.
  • Medical conditions: Hypothyroidism has also been linked to weak fingernails that are prone to peeling, splitting, etc. in addition to other symptoms such as thinning hair, weight gain, fatigue etc. Psoriasis, yeast infection, and lichen planus may also cause drying and peeling of the fingernails.
  • Harsh weather conditions: Weather changes, most notably being the onset of winter and the resultant low humidity, can also dry the nails and cause them to peel.
  • Harsh nail care products: The acetone in most nail polish removers has since been known to dry the nails and make them fragile. Acrylic nails have also been shown to have a weakening effect on the nails and may explain why your fingernails are peeling in layers. Nail polishes and other products with formaldehyde may also have a negative effect on your nails.
  • Medications: Peeling fingernails could also be the side-effect of certain medications.
  • Aging: Fingernails that are prone to peeling and splitting may as well be a part of the natural ageing process.
  • Damage to the nail: Trauma to the nail itself e.g. from nail biting and picking, using the nail as a tool, gardening, typing (with long nails), etc. can also cause peeling and other problems.

How to Stop Nails from Peeling

Effective treatment regimen for peeling fingernails should encompass preventative as well as remedial measures. Below are some tips and home remedies to help you stop this problem and grow strong healthy fingernails and toenails:

Minimize Contact with Water and Chemicals

When it comes to brittle fingernails and toenails, water come at the top as a potential culprit. Do you spend a lot of time washing the dishes or performing an occupational or personal chore that involves contact with water? If you do, limit exposure to water by wearing a pair of gloves with cotton lining.

Detergents and harsh chemicals such as thinners can also can also cause damage to your nails. Wear appropriate gloves when working with any of these chemical substances.

Say Bye to Acetone

Featuring in most nail polish removers, acetone is perhaps the most popular ingredients for the purpose but its damaging effect for fingernails and toenails have been widely documented. It is advisable to take a break from nail polishes altogether (including gel polishes) for a while but if that is not possible, try limiting your use of nail polish removers and if that is still not a viable option, go for acetone-free products such as the one from Karma Naturals.

Avoid Trauma

  • If you are one of the people who keeps biting their nails when nervous, bored etc., it is time you stopped this harmful habit.
  • If you also have a knack for picking things with your fingernails e.g. thumb tacks, screws, etc., it is also time you stopped using them as a tool.
  • As for those who still use metal files for manicures, emery boards as well as crystal glass and rubber surface nail files are the way to go in 2016.
  • Keep your fingernails short to prevent them from tugging on clothing and other materials as this can worsen the problem.
  • File your fingernails the right way: Instead of filing them in a back and forth motion, do it in one direction to prevent peeling and other problems.

Moisturize the Nails

Peeling fingernails tend to be accompanied by dryness and moisturizing the nails is often a crucial part of the treatment. Any good quality moisturizer will do the trick – just apply it all over the nails and cuticles – but you will especially like to consider one of the following options.

  • Vaseline: To start with Vaseline is a cheap and readily available yet very effective way to moisturize and heal peeling fingernails.
  • Olive oil: Olive oil also gets rave reviews from skin care experts and users alike for its rich nail nourishing and repair All you need to do it wash your nails in warm water and then soak them in a bowl containing a few teaspoons of olive oil once or twice daily.
  • Nail oil: If you want, you can as well go for one of the many commercial nail oils available today. For the best healing action, look for products with vitamin E and jojoba oil.
  • Good quality lotions: The American Osteopathic College of Dermatology recommends good quality lotions with either Alpha-Hydroxyl Acids (AHAs) or lanolin. Soak your nails for 5 minutes and then work the lotion into your nails and cuticles.

Watch Your Diet

Adjusting your diet to incorporate more of the vitamins and minerals whose deficiency is linked to peeling fingernails and other problems is yet another important consideration when seeking to treat the problem. Below are a few tips:

  • Take plenty of protein from such food sources as lean meat, fish, beans, poultry etc.
  • Incorporate lots of iron rich foods such as green leafy vegetables baked potato (with the skin on), lentils, lean meat, spinach, white beans, fortified cereals, etc. Taking iron supplements daily can also help to overcome peeling fingernails and other symptoms associated with brittle nail syndrome. If you go for multivitamins, check the label to ensure that the product indeed contains iron.
  • Include natural sources of vitamin B (especially biotin) such as Swiss chard, cauliflower, and cucumber in your meals. Berries, green leafy vegetables, eggs, fish, chicken, and lean meat are also good sources of vitamin B. Alternatively, consider taking biotin or B vitamin supplements. For biotin supplements, aim for 2 to 4 mg daily for a period of 6 months. Note: Biotin is not suitable for use during pregnancy according to the AOCD.
  • Add vitamin A to your diet by incorporating food sources such as carrots, cod liver oil, and beetroots.

Strengthen the Nails

This is perhaps one of the most controversial tips for fixing peeling fingernails but it is still effective if implemented the right way. If the nails feel soft, the AOCD thinks that they could benefit from hardening them by applying a clear nail polish once per week or nail polishes to which nylon fiber has been added (of course not using the remover prior to each application).

Skinsight also says that formaldehyde based nail strengthening polishes may also help but is quick to add that they should only be applied to the growing edge of the nail. There are also acrylate based hardeners on the market but they have a major drawback in that some people are allergic to them.

That is how to fix peeling fingernails. If the condition persist even with consistent use of this home remedies, see your doctor. It is also advisable to seek medical attention if your nails show symptoms such as clubbing, thickening, discoloration, and lines. These may be indicative of more serious medical conditions.