Are you concerned about paper thin, weak fingernails and associated symptoms such as hair loss? Your diet (nutrition) could be to blame but beyond dietary deficiency of minerals and vitamins, there are other causes of weak, peeling fingernails – sometimes with ridges – ranging from benign to more serious. Continue reading to discover not only not the common causes but also how to fix weak fingernails at home.
What Does Weak Fingernails Mean?
For seniors, weak fingernails that feels soft and easily chip, crack, split, or peel may simply be a sign of ageing. Nails get progressively brittle as we grow older, says the NYU Medical Center and is indeed the most common cause of this nail problem.
For young people, however, soft, weak fingernails and toenails often means that you have been exposed to factors that impacts on the structural integrity of the nails. The Medicine Net identifies two major factors: exposure to harmful chemicals and products or an underlying medical condition.
What Causes Thin, Weak Fingernails
To better understand how to fix weak fingernails, it is perhaps better to highlight the most common causes of this nail condition. That way you will be better equipped to not only treat the problem but also prevent its re-occurrence:
- Nutritional deficiency: According to the WebMD, low dietary intake of vitamins such as “folic acid and vitamin B-12 can cause weak, ridged, and even peeling nails”. Inadequate intake of protein and essential minerals such as iron, calcium, zinc, copper and selenium can also cause weak fingernails and in some cases, hair loss.
- Long–term use of nail polish: If you have been using nail polish for quite some time, it may explain why your fingernails are thin and weak, says the MedicineNet. This is especially true if you use nail polish removers with acetone as they dry and weaken the fingernails and toenails.
- Excessive exposure to moisture: Spending lots of time working with water e.g. dishwashing, swimming, etc. can also cause weak fingernails.
- Exposure to harmful chemicals: From paints to thinners and certain detergents, these harsh chemicals can cause weakening of fingernails and other symptoms associated with nail disorders e.g. splitting, cracking, peeling etc. Alcohol-based sanitizers are also often harsh to the nails.
- Dryness: Just as excessive wetness, very dry environment can be harmful to fingernails.
- Medical conditions: According to the MedlinePlus, thin, weak nails and hair are among the early symptoms of hypothyroidism (hair loss is also common). Anemia, Lichen planus, anemia, fungal infection (notable for yellowing of the affected nails), alopecia areata, and eczema can also cause weakening of fingernails and associated symptoms include among others. In case of chronic soft fingernails, seek medical attention to rule out these diseases.
- Have weak fingernails with ridges? Then your genetic makeup may be to blame; heredity is thought to play a role in nail ridging (vertical). According to the Mayo Clinic, vertical ridges (from the tip of the nail downwards) are typically harmless but horizontal ridges (running across the nail) are usually a sign of health conditions ranging from malnutrition to heart and respiratory conditions.
- Weak, brittle nails may be one of the symptoms of menopause. This is largely attributed to hormonal (especially estrogen) fluctuations and the corresponding fluctuation in fluid balances in the body.
The American Osteopathic College of Dermatology suggests an easy way to tell if you are dealing with an internal (e.g. vitamin deficiency) or external factor (e.g. harsh detergents): if you have weak fingernails but strong toenails, high chances are that you are dealing with an external factor rather than internal factor.
Weak Fingernails Treatment – How to Fix Soft, Weak, Peeling Fingernails and Toenails
Thin, weakened nails that crack, split, or peel easily steal from the aesthetic appeal of the nail that every woman desires. Luckily you can effectively strengthen soft fingernails with nothing more than simple home remedies that are affordable and easily available – you could even have them in your house already. Below is a guideline on how to strengthen weak fingernails at home:
Take Biotin Supplements
The MedicineNet recommends biotin (a vitamin) supplementation can help to strengthen and fix thin, weak fingernails. A study published in the Journal of Cutis showed a 25% nail thickness increase after supplementation with 2.5 mg of biotin over a period of six months.
The American Osteopathic College of Dermatology suggests you “Get the “Biotin ultra” 1 mg. size as it also comes as much smaller pills and take 2 or 3 a day. It takes at least 6 months, but does really help at least 1/3 of the time.” It however cautions against using biotin pills during pregnancy.
Watch Your Diet
Including essential nutrients and vitamins can also help to fix weak fingernails. Below are some dietary considerations:
- Include lots of biotin-rich foods such as whole grains, liver, lettuce, egg yolk, cauliflower, soybean, fish, lentils, bananas, avocado, and milk in your diet.
- The WebMD recommends eating more cold cereals, beans, and whole grains as these are extra rich in vitamins especially folic acid.
- Avogel recommends taking foods rich in magnesium to increase your body’s ability to absorb calcium. You will want to add foods such as whole grains, dried fruits and seeds, and nuts.
Use Nail Hardeners
Nail hardeners can as well help strengthen and fix weak fingernails but choosing the right product is key to effective treatment. The WebMD suggests looking for nail hardeners formulated with nylon or sulfhydryl protein. A product that contains these two ingredients is even better.
What about formaldehyde and calcium based nail hardeners? Although they also do the job, the WebMD says that they often harden the nail too much that it become susceptible to cracking.
Moisturize Your Fingernails Frequently
According to the MedicineNet, moisturizing the problematic fingernails after soaking them in water for some few minutes can help fix them. It is in fact arguably the best treatment for weak fingernails.
Petroleum jelly does a great job but a moisturizing lotion or cream with a low water content will as well serve the purpose.
Burt’s Bees Lemon Butter Cuticle Crème is also popular among skin care experts and bloggers.
Simply apply the product of your choice directly on your fingernails or toenails regularly. For an even more powerful weak fingernail treatment regimen, the WebMD suggests applying a moisturizer on the nails at night and then sleeping with a pair of cotton gloves or socks (for toenails).
Massage Your Nails
Massaging your fingernails and toenails can help treat them naturally by increasing blood flow to them. Simple massage the nails and cuticles, and the surrounding area of skin gently after applying a moisturizing lotion. As an added benefit, this will also hydrate the nails and the skin around them.
Wear Protective Gloves When Working
This is more of a preventative rather than treatment measure but it is so important if you are to fix the weak fingernails effectively. It doesn’t matter how much effort you put I you continue exposing your hands to the causative factors.
When washing dishes, gardening, cleaning, or doing any other task that involves getting into contact with water and harsh detergents or chemicals, get a pair of rubber gloves with cotton lining on.
Apply Nail Polish (But Appropriately)
Whaaat! I know it sounds counterproductive but as the WebMD says, nail polish helps to slow down evaporation of water from the fingernails and may be worth your effort if you have not been using nail polish.
They are however quick to emphasize that you should not use nail polish all that often nevertheless. You should re-apply at intervals of not more than one time each week.
Caution: If you think nail polish, lacquers, adhesives, or any other nail care and beauty product is responsible for weakening of the fingernails or toenails, avoid using it for a while to see if the condition improves.
Use Appropriate Nail Polish Removers
To effectively fix weak nails, it is advisable to completely avoid traditional products that contain acetone. Acetone strips the nails of their oils and moisture, making them dry and weak. Instead, look for acetone-free polish removers e.g. soy-based products the likes of Priti NYC.
Filing keeps the nails neat and beautiful but it can also cause damage to them if done incorrectly.
The WebMD recommends filing your nails in one direction as opposed to back and forth. The latter approach can weaken your fingernails or toenails and cause them to split, crack, or peel.
Natural Oil Treatment
Coconut, castor, argan, jojoba, avocado, and olive oil all make for a great way to treat thin, soft fingernails naturally. They all help to moisturize and strengthen the nails. As regards how to fix weak fingernails with these oils, a guideline is provided below:
- Pour some oil of your choice in a small bowl.
- Soak your hands in the oil for 10-15 minutes.
- Massage the fingernails (or toenails) gently throughout this treatment session.
- [Optional] For an even richer strengthening, cover the oil with a pair of gloves overnight.
- Wipe the hands dry with a paper towel.
- Repeat this treatment every day until you achieve the desired results.
Vitamin E Oil
Vitamin E oil is lauded for its ability to seal in in moisture and is among the best home remedies for weak fingernails. It is also touted to help strengthen soft fingernails and toenails. Here is how to go about fixing weak fingernails with the oil:
- Pop a vitamin E capsule open.
- Dab the oil gently on your nails and cuticles.
- Massage the fingernails for 5 minutes hereabout, then leave the oil to soak in naturally.
- Repeat this remedy daily to get rid of the problem.
Rich in minerals, sea salt is a great natural remedy for bendy fingernails. It not only strengthen the nails but also soften the cuticles.
- Add a couple tablespoons of sea salt to a bowl of warm water.
- Pour in two drops each of frankincense oil, wheat germ oil, myrrh, and lemon essential oil.
- Soak your nails in the resulting mixture for about 15 minutes.
- Rinse your hands with warm water and then pat them dry before applying a moisturizing lotion or cream.
- Repeat this home treatment twice or thrice daily until those weakened nails get cured.
Tea Tree Oil
For weak fingernails and toenails that are accompanied by a yellow hue (often due to fungal infection), tea tree oil may be beneficial thanks to its strong antifungal properties. You will want to mix it with vitamin E oil for an even more powerful remedy as outlined below:
- To a small bowl, add ½ teaspoon of vitamin E oil.
- Pour in 2-3 drops of tea tree oil.
- Apply the oil-mixture on the nails, cuticles and surrounding skin.
- Massage it in gently for a few minutes and then allow it to work in for another 25-30 minutes.
- Rinse your hands with lukewarm water.
- Apply a moisturizer.
- Use this remedy twice daily until you get the desired results.
Soak Your Hands in Beer
Yes, you read right. Beer is an unlikely home remedy for weak fingernails but some people will swear it works.
It contains vital minerals for strong nails e.g. such as selenium, phosphorus and potassium, not to mention that it is a rich source of biotin. These are thought to help strengthen nails but there is still no scientific evidence.
The guideline below outlines how to fix weak fingernails with beer:
- Warm ¼ cup of olive oil under low heat to make it warm to the touch.
- Pour in ¼ cup of apple cider vinegar followed by ½ cup of beer.
- Dip your nails in the mixture for 10-15 minutes.
- Allow the nails to dry naturally, then rinse off with water.
- Use this at-home treatment for thin, soft fingernails one to two times every day until the condition heals.
According to Avogel, nettle is an effective herbal remedy for weak fingernails during menopause, but you may still want to use it at any other time in your life – men too. It is claimed that nettle contains high amounts of silicone which often helps to fix nail and hair problems. The site recommends taking nettle orally.
How to Prevent Weak Fingernails and Toes
- Change nail polish less frequently. The WebMD recommends keeping your fingernails “nails a break from polish every few weeks.” saying that this allows “allows air to reach your nail beds”. Buffing your nails to attain a brilliant, natural luster would do during such breaks.
- Use gentle soaps and detergents to avoid fingernails damage.
- Avoid acetone-containing nail polish removers.
- Apply a moisturizer every time you wash your hands or finish working with water or harsh detergents.
- Drink plenty of fluids to keep your overall body hydrated.
- Apply lotion to your fingernails before applying nail polish: According to Ellen Marmur, MD, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai, NYC, applying lotion helps to “fill in microscopic gaps in the nail, like a primer, and hydrate it so it’s not as susceptible to damage from what you put on after.” Allow the lotion to dry in (or wipe off the excess if any), then apply your polish as usual.
- Stay away from alcohol-based hand sanitizer products.
- During manicure, skip soaking your nails in water.
- Avoid biting your fingernails or pick at your cuticles, says the Mayo Clinic.
- American Osteopathic Academy of Dermatology: Brittle Spitting Nails
- Avogel: Brittle nails and the menopause
- Health supplements nutritional guide: Brittle Fingernails | Brittle Toenails
- Mayo Clinic: Are nail ridges in fingernails a cause for concern?
- MedicineNet: Brittle Nails
- MedlinePlus: Hypothyroidism
- Medscape: Hair and Nail Disorders of Childhood
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Vitamin H (Biotin)
- WebMD: Quiz: Nail Problems Solved