Why Nails Split: Top Causes and Effective Solutions

split nails

Understanding why nails split is essential for maintaining their health. Nails can split due to factors like moisture exposure, physical trauma, bad habits, and nutritional deficiencies. In this article, we will delve into the main reasons behind nail splitting and provide practical solutions to keep your nails healthy and strong.

Key Takeaways

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  • Genetics, hormonal imbalances, and nutrition significantly affect beard growth, with testosterone levels and a nutrient-rich diet being particularly important.
  • Common issues like stress and poor beard care can halt beard growth, but managing stress, maintaining a proper care routine, and ensuring good nutrition can help restart it.
Split nails. Portrait of middle aged woman looking at her nails.

Understanding Nail Composition

A comprehension of nail composition is fundamental to understanding why nails split. Nails, technically known as the ‘nail plate’, are primarily made of a hard protein called keratin. This protein, along with small amounts of minerals like zinc, iron, and calcium, gives nails their strength and resilience. The nail plate is about half a millimeter thick and slightly curved, firmly attached to the underlying nail bed, which separates at the tip where the nail sticks out.

Nail growth originates from the matrix, located at the proximal nail fold. The matrix is responsible for producing new keratin cells that push the older cells out, forming the visible nail. The lunula, the light half-moon-shaped area at the base of the nail, represents the visible part of the matrix, significantly impacting nail health and growth. On average, fingernails grow at a rate of about 3 millimeters per month, while toenails grow more slowly.

A grasp of this structure sheds light on why nails tend to become brittle and split. Factors that affect the matrix or nail bed can lead to weakened nails, making them susceptible to damage. With this foundation laid, we can now explore the common causes of nail splitting.

Common Causes of Nail Splitting

Nail splitting, characterized by horizontal or vertical cracks in the nail, can be attributed to a variety of factors. These include:

  • Environmental influences
  • Physical trauma
  • Personal habits
  • Underlying health conditions

A grasp of these causes can help maintain the health and strength of your nails, as well as strengthen nails.

Let’s delve into some of the most common reasons behind nail splitting.

Moisture Exposure

Excessive moisture is a leading culprit behind nails brittle and splitting nails. Frequent exposure to water, such as doing dishes, washing hands, or even repeated use of nail polish, allows the nail plate to absorb moisture, which then evaporates, leaving the nails dry and more susceptible to damage. Using cleaning supplies and nail polish with harsh solvents and chemicals can cause nails to become even drier, potentially resulting in separation and cracking. This can be a common issue for those who frequently use these products.

Over time, long-term exposure to moisture can soften the skin around the nail and make the nails themselves brittle. This cycle of wetting and drying can lead to onychoschizia, also known as nail peeling or splitting. Wearing gloves while performing household chores can help protect your nails from too much moisture and harsh chemicals.

Physical Trauma

Physical trauma is another significant contributor to nail splits. Splitting of the nails can result from direct damage caused by sudden events such as stubbing your toe or smashing your finger. This can lead to weakening and vulnerability of the nails. Such injuries can lead to the nail growing with a ridge or split-like appearance.

Repeated stress from daily activities, such as typing or playing musical instruments, can also weaken nails over time. Additionally, the use of fake nails can cause injury and weakening of the natural nail, increasing the likelihood of splits. It’s important to be mindful of these activities and take preventive measures to protect your nails.

Nail Biting and Picking

Behaviors such as nail biting and picking can put considerable strain on the nails, resulting in self-inflicted damage like splits or breaks.These behaviors can damage the nail bed and make the nails more prone to splitting and breaking.

Breaking these habits is the key to maintaining nail health and halting further damage, and using nail polish remover responsibly can help in this process, especially when removing nail polishes.

Medical and Nutritional Factors

Nail splitting can also be linked to medical and nutritional factors. Conditions such as endocrine diseases, tuberculosis, and malnutrition can result in brittle nails. Deficiencies in essential nutrients like zinc, calcium, and iron can further exacerbate the problem.

Grasping these underlying issues is imperative for effectively addressing and preventing nail splits.

Infections and Skin Conditions

Infections and skin conditions can significantly impact nail health. Nail psoriasis, for example, affects about 10-55% of people with plaque psoriasis and can cause changes such as pitting or crumbling, leading to nail splitting. Treatments for nail psoriasis include topical corticosteroids, calcipotriol, or tazarotene, which can help manage symptoms and improve nail health.

Fungal, bacterial, or yeast infections in the nail bed can also weaken nails and cause splitting. These infections often require antifungal or antibacterial treatments to resolve. Additionally, conditions like lichen planus can contribute to nail brittleness and splitting. Proper medical treatment of these conditions is necessary to keep nails healthy.

Nutrient Deficiencies

Nutrient deficiencies play a critical role in nail health. Biotin, also known as vitamin B7, is essential for maintaining strong nails, and its deficiency can lead to splitting and brittleness. A well-balanced diet that includes biotin-rich foods can help improve nail health and prevent splitting. Some biotin-rich foods to include in your diet are:

  • Eggs
  • Almonds
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Spinach
  • Salmon

By incorporating these foods into your meals, you can support healthy nail growth and prevent splitting.

Iron and zinc are also vital for healthy nails. Iron deficiency, common during pregnancy due to increased blood volume, can lead to nail splitting. Similarly, a lack of zinc can cause nail brittleness and splitting. Ensuring an adequate intake of these nutrients through diet or supplements can help maintain strong, healthy nails.

Age-Related Changes

As we age, our nails tend to grow more slowly and become more brittle and prone to splitting. This change is particularly common in women over the age of 60, who experience split nails twice as often as men.

Recognizing these age-related alterations aids in proactive care for aging nails.

Effective Treatments for Split Nails in nails salon

An effective treatment for split nails combines adequate nail care and the knowledge of when to get professional help. Home treatments can be beneficial for minor splits, while more severe cases may need medical attention.

We will now examine the best practices for treating a split nail and split nails in general.

Split nails. Close up of beautiful elegant hand in a bowl with warm soapy water and antiseptic in nail salon.

Strengthening Manicure

A strengthening manicure focuses on fortifying the natural nails to prevent splits and breakage. This type of manicure often includes the application of nail hardeners or strengtheners, which contain ingredients like formaldehyde or calcium to reinforce the nail plate. Regular strengthening manicures can help build up the resilience of nails, making them less prone to damage.

Paraffin Treatment

Paraffin treatment is a popular way to deeply moisturize and nourish nails and the surrounding skin. During this treatment, hands are dipped into warm, melted paraffin wax, which helps to lock in moisture and improve circulation. The heat from the wax opens up pores, allowing for better absorption of moisturizing agents, leaving nails and skin soft and hydrated.

IBX System

The IBX system is a professional nail treatment designed to repair and strengthen damaged nails from within. It penetrates the nail plate to target imperfections and provides a protective shield. This treatment is particularly beneficial for nails that have been weakened by gel polish, acrylics, or other artificial nail enhancements. The IBX system helps to restore the natural strength and integrity of the nails.

Nail Conditioners and Oils

Nail conditioners and oils are essential for maintaining healthy, hydrated nails. Products containing ingredients like jojoba oil, vitamin E, and keratin can nourish the nail bed and cuticles, promoting stronger, more flexible nails. Regular application of these conditioners and oils can prevent dryness and brittleness, reducing the likelihood of splits.

Japanese Manicure

A Japanese manicure is a natural nail treatment that focuses on enhancing the health and appearance of the nails without the use of polish. This technique involves buffing a special paste made of natural ingredients like beeswax and vitamins into the nails, followed by a powder to seal in the nutrients. The result is a glossy, healthy-looking nail that is stronger and more resilient to splitting.

Proper Nail Care

Proper nail care is fundamental to maintaining healthy nails and preventing splits. Using clean and sharp nail clippers to trim nails straight across and rounding the tips softly can prevent snags and breaks. Moisturizing nails regularly with products containing alpha hydroxy acids (AHA), glycerin, or lanolin can strengthen brittle nails and prevent splitting.

Some tips for maintaining nail health include:

  • Avoiding the use of metal tools to push back cuticles
  • Buffing in the direction of nail growth
  • Regular moisturizing, particularly before bed with urea cream or mineral oil
  • Wearing cotton gloves after moisturizing

Following these tips can significantly improve nail health, including the use of clear nail polish.

When to Seek Professional Help

Should nail splits fail to respond to home treatments or if multiple nails are affected, medical advice should be sought. Persistent issues or signs of infection like redness, pain, or swelling may indicate an underlying medical condition that requires professional treatment.

Prompt attention to these issues can avert complications and promote healthy nails.

Preventing Nail Splits

Preventing nail splits is key to maintaining overall nail health. Simple preventive measures, such as proper nail care, protective measures, and a healthy lifestyle, can go a long way in avoiding splits and ensuring strong, healthy nails.

We will now share some practical tips to avert nail split and nail splitting.

Protective Measures

Wearing gloves while doing household chores can significantly protect nails from splitting. Using cotton-lined rubber gloves when cleaning helps to safeguard nails from drying out or becoming too soft, ensuring they remain strong and healthy.

Split nails. Woman hands close-up using nail file for manicure at home. High quality photo

Healthy Lifestyle Tips

Adopting a healthy lifestyle is key to maintaining robust nails. Here are some tips to promote healthy nail growth:

  • Consume biotin-rich foods like eggs, fish, meat, and sweet potatoes
  • Consider taking biotin supplements to improve nail firmness and hardness (limited research suggests)
  • Stay hydrated and moisturize nails regularly to avoid nail splintering and promote healthy growth

Avoiding habits like nail biting and picking, which are often driven by anxiety or nervousness, can also prevent nail damage. Implementing these healthy lifestyle suggestions can notably enhance your nail health and ward off splits.


In summary, understanding the causes of nail splitting and implementing effective treatments can help maintain strong, healthy nails. From proper nail care to addressing underlying medical conditions and making lifestyle changes, there are numerous ways to prevent and treat nail splits. By taking proactive measures, you can enjoy the benefits of healthy, beautiful nails.

Remember, your nails are a reflection of your overall health. Taking care of them is not just about aesthetics but also about ensuring your well-being. So, start today and make nail care a priority in your daily routine.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are my nails splitting all the way up?

It is likely that your nails are splitting due to injuries, fungal infections, or underlying conditions such as nail psoriasis. Make sure to consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

How can I prevent my nails from splitting?

To prevent your nails from splitting, keep them dry, moisturize regularly, wear gloves for household chores, and maintain a healthy diet with biotin, iron, and zinc. Taking these steps can help strengthen and protect your nails.

When should I seek professional help for nail splitting?

Seek professional help for nail splitting if home treatments are not effective, multiple nails are affected, or if there are signs of infection such as redness, pain, or swelling. It’s important to address these symptoms promptly to prevent further complications.

What role do nutrient deficiencies play in nail splitting?

Nutrient deficiencies, such as biotin, iron, and zinc, can lead to brittle and splitting nails. Ensuring a proper intake of these nutrients through diet or supplements can help maintain healthy nails.

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