What is the cause of cracking and breaking nail?

The reasons can range from medical problems to environmental or nutritional deficiencies.

Many people, especially women, suffer from this problem. In fact, this question is frequently asked at the pharmacy. The name for this problem is Onychorrhexis, although we call it that when the problem is serious and turns into an ailment. Nails scratch, flake and split, not when it’s totally temporary. Generally, this problem, although unpleasant, does not last long if the causes are avoided and treated.

Nails are made up of a protein called Keratin, this protein is made up of layers, which is why when the nail is healthy, it is strong. But when it is not, it breaks and flakes or peels, and it breaks easily. The nail grows approximately 0.1mm a day, completely renewing those of the hands in a period of approximately 3 to 6 months, so if there has been this problem due to a deficiency or metabolic problem, it will remain during this period of time until it renews all of it. With age, the rate of nail growth slows.

The cause of cracking and breaking nail

There are different reasons why this can happen, from medical problems to environmental problems or nutritional deficiencies or genetic pre-availability to weak nails.

Pathological problems

  • Hypothyroidism: When less than the normal amount of thyroid hormone is produced for the proper functioning of the body. This causes slow metabolism in the body and various other problems (which I will not describe now), skin problems and brittle nails.
  • Psoriasis: This problem, when it affects the nails, causes them to break, dry and peel.
  • Lichen Planus: it usually affects knees and elbows more, although when it affects the nails, it can also cause them to break.
  • Iron deficiency anemia: red blood cells are responsible for transporting nutrients to different organs and parts of the body thanks to hemoglobin, iron is part of the composition of this substance. When there is a lack of iron, red blood cells cannot function properly, so not enough nutrients reach the nails (and other parts of the body).
  • Raynaud’s disease: this disease causes a lack of irrigation of the extremities due to vasoconstriction of the arteries, mainly in winter or with low temperatures.
  • Vitamin deficiencies and poor nutrition: also lack of vitamin A, C, D, folic acid, group B vitamins including biotin and B12 or cyanocobalamin, causes brittleness in the nails, due to poor keratin formation and hydration.

External factors that can cause frailty

When there is no known pathology and the nails continue to break, it may be for other reasons:

  • Extreme dryness of the same, especially in winter due to the cold, heating and greater environmental dryness.
  • Likewise, dust can cause extreme dryness of the hands and breakage of the nails.
  • Extreme contact with water, both for frequency and duration of contact with water, likewise water baths, even if they are hot, for a long time.
  • Contact with aggressive soaps or detergents, as well as contact with detergents and other chemical products such as household cleaning products.
  • Excess manicures, both due to excessive use of files and polishing, as well as nail varnishes with solvents such as toluene, formaldehyde or camphor and acetone or nail polish remover.


Obviously, knowing the factors that cause nail brittleness or peeling, to prevent these, it seems simple that the solution is to address the opposite problems. How to reduce the use of soaps, the time and frequency of exposure of the hands in water, for this it is better to use soaps without detergents or very mild after drying the hands, the habit of applying moisturizing cream is very important, some people with this it will be enough.

I advise that next to the hand soap we always have a tube of cream so once dry we will make an effort to apply cream. Other people need a cream that leaves a protective film on them that will protect them from cold or other aggressions. These are the creams that, although they may show a little more greasy residue, are the ones that will have the most occlusive and healing action.

Insist on the use of gloves, both to go down the street and to protect the nails and hands from environmental factors, such as work gloves, to protect them from water, soaps and other chemical substances.

Space out the manicure treatments with filing and polishing, letting the nails breathe for a while without painting them with enamels, applying oils to the nails or paraffin baths that will nourish them more deeply and will form a film when applied at a warm temperature.

Taking vitamin supplements usually helps to form a higher quality keratin or protein layer and thus achieve a stronger nail.

The supplements must contain:

  1. Group B vitamins: Among them, Biotin (also called vitamin H) and vitamin B12 (cyanocobalamin) are fundamental, the latter also helps to improve the white part of the beginning of the nail, it also helps to improve the thickness of the nail .
  2. Vitamin C: improves the skin around the nails, preventing the formation of hangnails and inflammation of the surrounding skin.
  3. Vitamin A: a deficiency of this vitamin can cause discoloration of the nail, as well as being associated with anemic problems and some stains.
  4. Vitamin D: helps improve the absorption of calcium that forms an important part of the nail.
  5. Silicon: to improve the formation of keratin in the nails.
  6. Zinc sulfate: important in the growth of the nails, when there is a lack of this, the nails grow defective, although some studies question whether an extra supplement of this conditions an increase in nail growth.
  7. L-Methionine: this amino acid is a precursor to the synthesis of collagen, which is why we can also find supplements with sulfur, since this mineral is in the L-methionine molecule, it is also important in the transport of zinc in the body .
  8. L-Cystine: like methionine, it is essential in the formation of proteins and the synthesis of collagen.