How to Treat Cracked Nails


Personal Hygiene ­Image Gallery Repairing cracked fingernails takes time. See more personal hygiene pictures.
©iStockphoto.com/Linda Steward

Your fingernails say a lot about you. Neatly trimmed and well-maintained nails hint that you take care of yourself. Nails bitten to the core signal that you may be anxious and stressed. But split and cracked nails mean your nails need a little attention -- otherwise, they may catch somebody else's.

When your nails start to crack and split, it's natural to point the finger at something in your life. You may think you need to eat more gelatin or take iron supplements, but neither of these is to blame -- cracking, splitting nails typically result from repeated exposure to water over long periods of time. Baths, showers, dishwashing and swimming can all break down the cells that hold your nails together, and so does frequent use of nail polish and nail polish remover [sources: Gibson, Mayo Clinic].

But you can repair the damage. Before you call the salon to schedule an emergency manicure session, take a good look at your nails. If they're dry and cracking, it's going to take time and patience to repair them. Fingernails grow slowly at a rate of about 0.08 to 0.12 inches (2 to 3 millimeters) per month. Because it takes your nails three to six months to grow from cuticle to tip, you'll have to maintain treatments and preventions for a while [sources: American Academy of Dermatology, Nemours Foundation].

Before you do anything with those cracked nails, you need to gently clip excess parts that could catch on something and cause tears that go deeper into the nail bed. Then you need to figure out what's making your nails crack and split. Keep reading to what causes cracked nails and how to treat them.

Moisturizing Cracked Nails

Cracked nails are dry nails. Exposure to water breaks down the glue-like keratin that strengthens and holds together the top layer of your nail -- too much of the abrasive chemicals in nail polish remover can also have this effect. To counter the dryness, you need to keep your nails moisturized.

Moisturizing your nails is simple. Whenever you use hand lotion or moisturizer, just take an extra moment to rub it in and around your nails. You should use moisturizer after washing your hands, taking a bath, doing dishes or using nail polish remover. If you forget during the day, apply a small amount of moisturizer to your nails and cuticles before you go to bed at night. This simple step will go a long way toward healing your damaged nails [sources: Gibson, Rauh].

Of course, not all moisturizers are created equal. So many lotions, creams and other moisturizing products populate the shelves of your local drug store that you may wonder which is best for your nails.

Look for moisturizers that contain the following ingredients:

  • Proteins, such as collagen and keratin, strengthen cells in the nail plate, making the nail more resistant to splitting and cracking.
  • Occlusives, such as petrolatum, lanolin and mineral oil, slow the rate of moisture loss from your nails, preventing dryness.
  • Humectants trap moisture in the nail plate to prevent drying and cracking. Common humectants include urea, lactic acid, glycerin, propylene glycol, alpha hydroxy acids and phospholipids [sources: Draelos, Rauh].

You may have to spend a few minutes reading lotion labels, but the time will be well spent. A moisturizer that contains a protein, an occlusive and a humectant will give your nails the moisture they need to prevent and treat dry, cracked nails.

Continue reading to learn about other preventive tips and home remedies that will keep your nails looking and feeling healthy.

Home Remedies for Cracked Nails

Living with cracked nails can be frustrating and sometimes even painful, but there are some simple steps you can take at home to prevent, repair and minimize damage to your nails:

  • Watch the water. If you expose your nails to a lot of water over the course of the day, you may want to invest in a pair of cotton-lined rubber gloves or disposable plastic gloves. You should especially consider wearing gloves when washing dishes or cleaning with chemicals.
  • Go easy on the chemicals. Harsh soaps and chemicals can dry out your nails, making them split and crack. If you use a lot of chemicals and soaps, be sure to wear those gloves while doing so.
  • Switch it up. You can't avoid soap all the time, so you may want to use a different soap. Mild soaps that contain moisturizers are gentler not only on your nails, but also on your hands.
  • Limit the remover. Nail polish remover, especially varieties that contain acetone, can be drying to fingernails. Try not to use nail polish remover more than once every other week and look for removers that don't contain acetone.
  • Trim your nails. Nails that are ragged and chipped are more likely to catch and split. Keep fingernails short, cut straight cut across the top, and gently file the sides to a rounded shape [sources: Gibson, Nissl, Skinsight].

For more information on treating cracked nails, see the links on the following page.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

Sources

  • American Academy of Dermatology. "Nail Fungus & Nail Health." (Accessed 10/6/09) http://www.aad.org/public/publications/pamphlets/common_nail.html
  • Draelos, Zoe Diana. "Nail Cosmetics." eMedicine. (Accessed 10/6/09) http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1067468-overview
  • Gibson, Lawrence E. "Split Fingernails: What Causes Them?" Mayo Clinic. (Accessed 10/6/09) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/split-fingernails/AN01861
  • Mayo Clinic. "Nails: How to Keep Your Fingernails Healthy and Strong." (Accessed 10/17/09) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/nails/WO00020
  • Nemours Foundation. "Your Nails." Kids Health. (Accessed 10/6/09) http://kidshealth.org/kid/htbw/nails.html
  • Nissl, Jan. "Home Treatment for Weak, Brittle, or Splitting Nails." WebMD. (Accessed 10/06/09) http://www.webmd.com/hw-popup/home-treatment-for-weak-brittle-or-splitting-nails
  • Rauh, Sherry. "Healthy Fingernails: Clues About Your Health." WebMD. (Accessed 10/6/09) http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/features/healthy-fingernails-clues-about-health
  • Skinsight. "Nail Splitting (Onychoschizia)." (Accessed 10/6/09) http://www.skinsight.com/adult/onychoschizia-selfCare.htm