Wonder what's causing your cracked nails? Even something as common as harsh shampoos or other hair products that come into contact with your hands may be responsible.

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They're unsightly, frustrating and occasionally painful but before you can take care of your cracked nails it's helpful to understand what is and isn't causing the problem. Approximately 20 percent of the population has brittle nails -- women and the elderly are particularly prone to the condition. Many people wrongly conclude that they need to increase their gelatin intake or that they should turn to iron supplements to prevent splitting. Truth be told, cracked nails usually result from an external problem: typically nail polish or nail polish remover, lots of swimming or too much time soaking hands in water.

Those are the issues, but the following are the fixes:

  • Trim: Limit the damage by trimming back your nails. Make them short and round the sides with a file. Nails don't grow very fast -- no more than.12 inches (3 millimeters) each month -- so don't risk snagging them. The regrowth period for an entire nail can last three to six months.
  • Moisturize: Dry nails lead to cracked nails. Apply a little moisturizer to your cuticles and nails each night to keep them supple but strong. A good moisturizer includes protein like keratin and collagen; occlusives such as petrolatum, mineral oil or lanolin; and humectants like urea or lactic acid.
  • Avoid chemicals: Cleaning products or even some dishwashing liquids can make your nails dry and brittle. You can't leave your home and dishes dirty, but you can experiment with less harsh products and limit your exposure.
  • Consider gloves: If you're often exposed to chemicals or if your hands are regularly wet, a pair of plastic or latex gloves can be a big help. Some people find plastic gloves uncomfortable, however. In that case, consider buying rubber gloves with a cotton lining.
  • Limit remover: Using nail polish remover more than every two weeks can cause brittle nails. If you can't cut back on the nail polish remover, at least buy those that don't contain acetone.

The vast majority of the time, cracked nails are a cosmetic issue. They rarely require a doctor's attention. Examine your daily routines for clues to what's creating the problem. Occasionally cracks occur when the nail is not too dry but instead too soft. Give them a good inspection and adjust your lifestyle accordingly. Pretty soon you'll have healthy, strong and attractive nails again.