Brittle Toenails

The nail is composed of keratin, a type of protein. However, some people have slow keratin production. In some conditions, the keratin is destroyed.

This causes the nail to become dry and brittle. About 20% of the US population is suffering from brittle nails. Brittle nail is medically called onychorrhexis. It affects both the fingernails and toenails. The nails split and crumbled. Dry toenails with ridges are common too. (1)

What causes nails to be brittle and have ridges?

  • Aging – as a person gets older, the nail gets thicker. An aging body is less likely to retain moisture. It becomes prone to drying and there is a possibility of discoloration.
  • Hypothyroidism – Low level of thyroid hormone can make the nails and hair brittle.
  • Vitamin deficiency – Brittle toenails has something to do with vitamin deficiency and other nutritional problems.
  • Excessive use of products containing strong chemicals – Nail care products may sometimes contain strong chemicals, which could make the nails brittle. It is possible to have dry toenails from polish. If you love painting your toenails and you change the color every now and then, it could make your nails brittle. Nail polish is not the only reason for brittle toenails. Even the cuticle solvents and polish removers can make the nails brittle. Those who work in the nail salon are prone to nail problems.
  • Excessive use of strong soap – Some soaps contain chemicals that might cause sensitivity reaction to people with sensitive skin. Compulsive washing of the feet can also make your toenails brittle.
  • Fungal infection – Fungi can greatly affect the condition of the nails. They make the nails weak. Severe fungal infection in the nails can cause the nail to split and crumble. Other skin conditions can also affect the nails. Examples are eczema and psoriasis.
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon – the flow of blood is restricted because of the body’s extreme sensitivity to cold. As a result, the toenail is deprived of oxygen. It makes the toenails brittle and prone to crumbling. (1, 2, 3, 4,5)

A comparison between a healthy nail and dry, brittle

Image 1: A comparison between a healthy nail and dry, brittle nail.
Picture Source:

Brittle toenails, crumbling edges, and yellowish discoloration of the nails.image

Photo 2: Brittle toenails, crumbling edges, and yellowish discoloration of the nails.
Picture Source:

Symptoms of brittle toenails

  • A noticeable reduction in the strength of the toenails.
  • The toenails break more easily than the typical toenails.
  • The toenails are dry and crumbly.
  • The toenails appear thicker than the usual.
  • An abnormal white spot appears on the nail bed.
  • The nail bed changes in color. It looks more like an opaque or yellow.
  • The nail bed has ridges causing the edge of the nails to split. (4, 5,6)

Brittle Toenails Treatment

How to treat brittle toenails? The root cause of the problem should be addressed. Most of the time, brittle toenail is a result of vitamin deficiency. What vitamin deficiency causes brittle nails? Not having enough vitamin B complex, especially biotin causes the nails and hair to be brittle. You should increase your intake of vitamin B complex, especially biotin.

This vitamin strengthens weak nails. A 2.5 mg of biotin a day can significantly improve the condition of your nails. However, it would take around five to six months for you to see the desired result. (7, 9,10)

Applying a topical hydrosoluble nail lacquer can help improve the condition of the nails. You can see the desired result in just a few weeks. Hydrosoluble nail lacquer prevents further tearing of the nails. It improves the general condition of the toenails.

People suffering from diabetes and peripheral vascular disease are prone to having brittle toenails. Diabetes in particular causes a decreased sense of feeling. Wounds are slow to heal, especially in the lower extremities. Brittle toenails cause injury to the nail bed and exposes the foot to infection. If you have diabetes, it is a must to keep your feet clean and dry.

Keep your feet moisturized. If there is fungal infection, it should be treated immediately to avoid further complications. (5)

Toenails Home Remedies

Problems with brittle and weak toenails can be cured using the ingredients found in your home. Some of the effective home remedies for brittle toenails include the following:

  • A mixture of olive oil and lemon juice – the moisture of olive oil and antibacterial property of lemon juice make it an effective treatment for brittle toenails. Apply the mixture to the toenails at least two times a week. After a few weeks, you will notice a significant improvement.
  • Tea tree oil – This essential oil is known for its antibacterial property. It is used for dry toenails white lines. Apply the oil on the nails and after a few weeks you will notice desirable results.
  • Sea salt, vitamin E oil, lemon extract, essential oil (chamomile and peppermint) and egg yolk – A combination of any of the two ingredients mentioned can help in the treatment of brittle toenails fungus. Sea salt mixed with vitamin E oil can help get rid of the fungus-causing infection. All you need to do is to add the mixture into warm water. Clean your feet and soak in warm water mixture for about 30 minutes. Do this routine at least two times a week.
    You can also massage your feet using essential oils like peppermint and chamomile. After a thorough and gentle massage, you should put on a pair of socks. An egg yolk mixed with milk can help in preventing toenail infection. Apply the mixture on the nails and leave it there for a few minutes. Rinse with lukewarm water. (6, 8, 9, 10)

Caring for the toenails

To have a strong toenail, it is important to have a proper nail care. Keep the skin intact and the nail beds healthy. Applying a moisturizer and cuticle oil can help prevent infection and keep the nail bed healthy.

A healthy nail bed is essential for a healthy nail. File your nails regularly. If you notice any tears, you have to attend to it right away to prevent further damage. Pay particular attention to what you eat. Keep your body hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Eat a well-balanced diet and increase your intake of vegetables, fresh fruits, vitamins, and minerals.

It is embarrassing to have brittle and unhealthy nails. Severely brittle nails can sometimes lead to serious infection, which causes intense pain and lifting of the nail bed. If your toenail is brittle, do not be afraid because treatments are available. (4, 5,9)



Published by Dr. Jackie Te RN, MD under Skin.
Article was last reviewed on January 12th, 2022.

Leave a Reply

Back to Top