Brittle toe nails

Brittle nails may dry out, crumble, split, develop jagged edges, become discolored and otherwise appear abnormal. There are a variety of possible causes of brittle toenails, and they range from the relatively harmless to serious health concerns. Treatment options depend on the underlying cause, so you should seek diagnosis of your condition from a doctor or dermatologist.

Drying Out

Toenails, like skin, sometimes become brittle when they dry out. This most often occurs with repeated exposure to moisture, according to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, or AOCD. The condition is exacerbated by low atmospheric humidity. Brittle toenails that are simply dried out are usually readily treatable by soaking the toes for about five minutes and then applying a moisturizer. Look for products containing lanolin or alpha-hydroxy acids.

Fungal Infection


Brittle toenails are a typical symptom of a fungal nail infection known as onychomycosis. Fungal infections of the toenails can be superficial or involve the entire nail bed. If the infection is only superficial, the nail can develop white patches that gradually expand to involve larger areas of the nail. The toenail can become rough and brittle, but generally doesn’t separate from the nail bed as long as the infection is only on the surface. When fungal infection is deeper, the nail may appear discolored, thickened, and brittle with classic “crumbling toenail” symptoms. This deeper type of fungal infection is the one most likely to result in the nail being lost.

Other symptoms include discoloration or dulling of the nail’s natural shine, thickening of the nail and changes to the shape of the nail, according to Treatment is usually a course of oral prescription antifungal medication such as terbinafine or itraconazole. In other instances, a topical antifungal prescription, such as ciclopirox, is the treatment.

Nutritional Deficiency

Although an uncommon cause, certain nutritional deficiencies can lead to brittle toenails. In particular, a deficiency of iron or biotin, one of the B-complex vitamins, might be to blame, according to dermatologist Dr. Audrey Kunin’s DermaDoctor website. Treatment typically entails increasing intake of biotin or iron-rich foods and possibly supplementation under a doctor’s supervision. In some cases, your doctor might need to determine whether underlying health conditions that affect the absorption of nutrients contribute to your deficiency.

Thyroid Disorders

Brittle toe nails

An underactive or overactive thyroid sometimes causes brittle nails as a symptom. This may be due to hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, but a number of health conditions affect the performance of the thyroid, and treatments vary. Although both types of thyroid dysfunctions can cause nail problems, an underactive thyroid is the more likely culprit for brittle toenails. Other symptoms include pale or yellowed skin, cold and dry skin, puffy eyelids and hands or weakened hair, according to the New Zealand Dermatological Society.

Blood Circulation Problems

Toenails indicate the condition of the circulatory system and heart, because they are the extremities. Hence, dry and brittle toenails signify blood circulation problems. This can also be a symptom of poor supply of oxygen to nails, which may be caused by respiratory problems.


Sometimes, toenails become more brittle as a part of the body’s natural aging process, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. To minimize damage, keep your toenails trimmed and moisturized, avoid picking at them and wearing constrictive shoes, and avoid nail polish. Nail polish itself can cause chemical damage and brittle toenails, according to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology.

Nail Care Recipes for Brittle Nails

The following are a few simple recipes and home remedies that can help care for your nails and at the same time prevent wear and tear of nails that are brittle.

  • Soak you nails in a bowl of warm almond oil or olive for half an hour daily. Do not wash your fingers but gently massage the oil into your fingernails. Practice this on a daily basis to cure brittle nails.
  • Apply a mixture of honey and lemon to your brittle fingernails and toenails. Massage this mixture into the nail and do not wash it off. This is a good brittle nails treatment.
  • Apply a mixture of a capsule of vitamin E oil and ¼ teaspoon warm olive oil to the strengthen brittle nails.
  • Prepare a scrub to harden nails by mixing a teaspoon of honey, a tablespoon each of olive oil and castor oil and ½ cup shelled, ground walnuts. Apply this paste to the hands, fingernails, toenails and feet and gently scrub them. Rinse off with lukewarm water and repeat twice a week.
  • Apply a thick layer of milk cream or petroleum jelly to your hands and fingernails and slip on cotton gloves before going out to best keep them moisturized.

Preventing brittle nails is better than indulging in brittle nails treatment. Appropriate nail care is essential to prevent your nails from all the different kinds of fingernail problems and to keep them looking healthy and gorgeous.

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