Your nails are made up of scleroprotein known as keratin, specifically hyponychium, eopnychium, paronychium within the nail plate and bed and lunula in the free edges, nail groove and nail fold. The matrix at the base of your nail plate is the only living portion of the nail. The remainder is made up of the hard nail plate that protects the soft nail bed issue underneath. These areas are the most likely to become damaged and develop thick, clubbed, opaque, yellow, spotted or brittle nails.
Like your skin the nails can also dry out, which will make them more vulnerable to infections, breaks or tears. Toenails largely become dry because the body reduces the sebum supply to the nails which causes them to start becoming brittle. This can be caused by the aging process, submerging your hands in water for a long time, exposure to harsh chemicals such as those in your soap or detergent, overusing nail polish remover or excessive indoor heat.
The hair and nails can both show signs of a vitamin deficiency very easily. You need to ensure that you are getting an adequate supply of protein, folic acid, vitamin C, biotin and pantothenic acid or your nails can become weak and more likely to break.
If your nails have become brittle, are changing color or are becoming thick you may have a fungal infection. You may notice a yellow or brown color around the toenails or a change in the nail’s texture as the keratin is digested by the fungus. If your nail bed is infected it can cause the nail plate to separate from the rest of your toe.
If your nails are brittle it may be a sign that you are getting an inadequate amount of oxygen to the feet, which can signal a respiratory issue such as asthma. Psoriasis can mimic the symptoms of a fungal infection in the toenails, causing them to become brittle or fall off. Hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism can also cause the nails to split or separate easily. Dehydration, alopecia areata or eczema can also cause the nails to become brittle.
Throughout the natural aging process your body may begin to slow the sebum flow to the nails which can make them brittle.
Applying good hygiene to your feet will help you to avoid a fungal infection that can make your nails brittle. Carefully clean under the nails and around the feet and avoid walking barefoot in areas such as public showers where you could pick up an infection. Do not cut the cuticles on your toenails because these are used to create a seal between the nail and your skin. If you damage your cuticles it can cause water to penetrate your nail root.
Long toenails are much more likely to snag on items or get chipped if you bump your toes on something. Keep your toenails short so they do not hang off the end of the foot.
Applying a substance to the toes that can harden the nail tissue can help prevent breakage. Chemical hardeners are available that will help you grow more effective nail tissue.
Make a point of keeping your nails hydrated by placing petroleum jelly, lotion or other moisturizing agents on the nails. Coconut oil, olive oil, jojoba oil or almond oil are all known for keeping the nails moist and comfortable.
If your nails are dry you can soak them for 5 minutes and apply alpha-hydroxy acid or lanolin moisturizers to make them softer. Unless your doctor provides alternate instructions you should not soak your feet for over 10 minutes as this can dry out your toenails or skin.
If your diet is lacking the nutrition you need to keep your nails healthy you can take supplements to encourage healthy nail growth. There are many formulas that specifically encourage hair, skin and nail growth available in grocery and drug stores.
Any products that contain acetone, formaldehyde or toluene should be avoided because they will damage your nails. Nail polishes often contain formaldehyde and polish remover frequently contains acetone.
Wearing shoes that are too tight and pinch the toes can cause harm to your toenails.
If you have a fungal infection you will need to apply antifungal medication such as creams and ointments to treat it. Mild infections can be addressed with home remedies like apple cider vinegar, tea tree oil, oregano and olive oil. Severe infections should be addressed by your doctor.
If you lack the appropriate nutrients in your diet to grow strong nail tissue then your nails will be much more susceptible to damage. Eat foods that will provide you with plenty of B vitamins, vitamins A, C, D, E, zinc, iron, folic acid, calcium and biotin. Getting an adequate source of omega-3 fatty acids is also essential to preventing brittle nails.