Help is at Hand for Nice Nails!

A woman's hands with well groomed healthy nails.

Our hands take a lot of abuse. In the summer they’re baked by the sun, and in winter they’re frozen stiff by icy winds. Household chores expose our hands to further damage from chemicals and repeated washing. All of this can lead to unsightly nails.

Splitting nails are surprisingly common, but only rarely are they an indication of a serious health problem or vitamin deficiency. If your toenails are strong but your fingernails are chipping and breaking, the cause is most likely external.

Brittle nails can be caused by too little moisture (dry and brittle), or too much (soft and brittle). If nails are dry and brittle, repeated hand washing and drying is a likely culprit, although any situation with low humidity can lead to dryness. Soft and brittle nails are usually a result of overexposure to moisture or damage from detergents, cleaners, or nail polish removers.

Boost Nail Health

For dry nails, applying and retaining moisture makes a big difference—soak nails for five minutes, then apply lotion to nails and cuticles. Wearing gloves while washing dishes or doing household chores can be helpful for brittle nails.

Basic nail hygiene will go a long way toward preventing problems. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Never bite nails or pull off hangnails; keep nails trimmed using sharp manicure scissors or clippers.
  • Use an emery board to create a smooth, round edge at nail tips, and always file in one direction.
  • Tea tree oil has proven to be effective at reducing the appearance and symptoms of nail fungus.
  • Avoid nail polish removers that contain harsh chemicals like acetone or formaldehyde.
  • Eat a healthy diet rich in vitamins and minerals.

Nutrients for Nail Health

Supplements for Nail Health
Supplement Functions Supplemental Range
Calcium Aids in nail formation. 1,000 to 2,500 mg
Vitamin D Regulates calcium absorption for healthy nail growth. 400 to 3,000 IU
Iron Necessary for growth; great for nails. 15 to 45 mg
Magnesium Helps maintain healthy nails. 300 to 420 mg
Silica (Silicon) Essential mineral for healthy nails. 9 to 14 mg
Foods for Nail Health
Food Functions Suggested Daily Intake
Chia Seeds Help build strong nails. 1 tablespoon (Tbsp) of seeds
Hemp Provides protein for healthy nails. A sprinkle of seeds, or 1 Tbsp of oil
Oats Contain silica to keep nails strong. One serving
Spirulina Purifies with antioxidants to promote healthy nails. 1 to 8 grams of powder, or try tablet form

“Brittle Splitting Nails,” American Osteopathic College of Dermatology,

“Healthy Fingernails: Clues About Your Health” by Sherry Rauh,

Natural Beauty edited by Rebecca Warren and Shannon Beatty ($25, DK Publishing, 2015)

“Over-the-Counter and Natural Remedies for Onychomycosis: Do They Really Work?” by P. Halteh et al., Cutis, 11/16


Kelli Ann Wilson

Staff Writer

Kelli Ann Wilson is Assistant Editor at Taste for Life magazine. In her free time she enjoys reading, writing, photography, gardening, and spending time with her husband and two kids.