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Splitting Fingernails: Causes and Preventive Measures

Fingernails can crack and break due to several reasons. Health imbalances can make the nails brittle and lead to their splitting.
Medha Godbole Nov 18, 2018
Fingernails are made up of a structural protein called keratin. Since keratin is porous, it makes the nails vulnerable to wear and tear, trauma, and dehydration. The splitting of nails is also known as onychoschizia.
There can be several factors as well as certain health conditions that can replicate this condition and therefore, must not be neglected as a mere cosmetic problem.
The human nail is structurally a lot more complex than it seems and consists of various parts, each having a role to play. The structure of the nail consists of the nail plate, nail groove, lunula, and the eponychium.
While the nail plate is the translucent and hard portion made of keratin layer, the nail groove directs the growth and is located along the sides of the nail fold. The dead skin around the cuticle is the eponychium and lunula is the white-colored crescent-shaped area located at the base of the nail plate.
There can be several external and internal factors that may be triggering the splitting of fingernails and must be examined.

Causes of Brittle Nails


A telltale sign of dehydration or inadequate consumption of water can be observed from dry nails that are on the verge of cracking or splitting. The skin around the nail may start to wither or show signs of discoloration before the nail actually starts to chip.

Excessive Moisture

Fingernails that are constantly exposed to moisture such as water or chemicals often become weak and pliable.
The repeated wetting and drying of nails can damage the layers of keratin thereby causing cracks and eventual breakage. Handling chemicals and using abrasive soaps and detergents can also cause the nails to get damaged.

Inordinate Use of Nail Chemicals

Dehydration and nail damage can result from excessive use of nail polish, remover, and nail-hardening enhancers.
The oil between the layers of nail fiber is absorbed by the chemicals in these products thereby resulting in peeling and splitting of the nails, and drying up of the nail bed.

Inadequate and Wrong Care

A wrong type of nail file or wrong method of filing is another cause of damaged fingernails.
It is often advised to cut and file nails after they have been softened in oil or lukewarm water. This process helps reduce friction and the danger of cracking the nails to a large extent.


Fungal and bacterial infections can also cause the nails to swell, shrink, and break. Nails that are not cleaned often and are allowed to collect dirt are at a greater risk of developing infections. Biting the nails and the ridges around the cuticle can also make the area an easy target for infections.

Unhealthy Lifestyle

Detrimental habits such as smoking and excessive drinking are known to affect the overall well-being of the body.
Chipped and discolored nails are common among people who practice such unhealthy habits. Smoking deprives the body of vital and adequate amounts of oxygen which can severely dehydrate the nails on the hands and feet.

Poor Diet

Calcium deficiency can lead to brittleness and splintering of fingernails. Lack of proteins and vitamins in the diet can steal the sheen of the nails, making them lackluster and brittle. Splitting fingernails are often found among people who practice severe dieting or starve themselves, which goes on to adversely affect their health.

Health Problems

Health conditions such as anemia, hypothyroidism, malnutrition and tuberculosis are known to cause the nails to become brittle and crack. Nails forming cracks and chipping is not a sign that must be taken lightly and must be checked by a physician. Underlying health problems may trigger such a symptom, which if diagnosed in time can be treated swiftly.


Nails tend to age faster if their density is thinner. Also, the older we get the weaker our nails become, which explains why elderly people often have brittle nails.

Preventive Measures

Handle With Care

It is imperative that protective gloves are worn by those who handle chemicals on a daily basis.
Such gloves must also be worn by those who need to use tools regularly, so that the fingernails and hands can be safeguarded from injury. Dishwashing gloves must be worn to keep the fingernails from absorbing too much moisture.

Nail Filing

Fingernails must be filed from the edge towards the center and in a single direction only. Avoid filing back and forth. Let the nails grow a couple of millimeters before you decide to shape them. Instead of a metal file, use a grit emery board in order to reduce the friction.

Avoid Nail Treatments

It is better to steer clear of nail chemicals if the problem of chipped nails persists. The chemicals in these products shall only worsen the condition thereby delaying the healing process.

Moisturize Nails and Pamper Them

A lanolin-based lotion or simple essential oils can aid in soothing the damaged fingernails. Applying a mixture of honey and lime to the nails will help reduce fungal infections if any and soften them.

Balanced Diet

The key to a healthy life hangs heavily on a well-balanced diet. Supplements must be added to the diet with the approval of a physician.
The good news is that this damage can be controlled and it can be done without too much effort. Needless to say, consult a medical professional in case the fingernails show signs of infection, bleeding, or causes throbbing pain and swelling.
Disclaimer: This is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for professional medical advice.