Brittle nails are usually also classified as either soft or dry. Soft brittle nails tend to be thin and peel easily, while dry brittle nails are prone to splitting and breaking. The most common causes of brittle nails are exposure to environmental factors, but they may also be a symptom of an underlying medical condition or a vitamin deficiency.
One of the most common causes of brittle nails is exposure. Frequent washing and drying of the hands can cause the nails to lose moisture, become dry, and break very easily. Other things that cause brittle nails — the soft type — can include exposing the nails to cleaners, detergents, and nail polish remover. This problem can be prevented by applying a moisture-rich lotion to the hands, minimizing manicures, and wearing gloves while cleaning.
Other causes of brittle nails are related to medical conditions and vitamin deficiencies. Such issues are much more common in women than in men. Many women may find that their nails become brittle as a side effect of menopause. This is often due to the falling levels of estrogen in such a woman's body. Since estrogen plays a large role in regulating the amount of water in a woman's system, a sudden drop in this hormone can lower a woman's hydration level, which can lead to a change in the texture of the skin and nails.
Brittle nails can also be a symptom of iron deficiency anemia. This is a condition in which a person has low levels of iron in the body, which results in a lower number of red blood cells. Anemia can be eased by consuming foods rich in iron or taking a daily iron supplement.
People that have hypothyroidism often have brittle nails as a symptom of the condition. The thyroid is a gland responsible for many bodily functions, including maintaining the metabolism. When the thyroid does not produce enough hormones, as in this particular ailment, the sufferer's metabolism will slow down. This condition requires medical care by a doctor.
A lack of certain vitamins in a person's diet can lead to brittle nails as well. Vitamins A, E, and C are important for healthy nails that do not break or peel easily. If adequate amounts these vitamins are not taken in through food and drink alone, a daily vitamin supplement can be taken.
Causes of brittle nails can often be diagnosed by comparing the fingernails to the toenails. If the fingernails are brittle but the toenails are not, the problem may be related to environmental factors rather than another cause. If the nails of both the toes and fingers are brittle, there may be an undiagnosed medical or dietary problem.