Why do my nails break?
Well if I had £1 for everyone who had ever asked me this question I’d be a very rich woman now. I’d be richer still if I had a perfect solution, but the truth is that there is no magic recipe, because nails can break, bend and split for a variety of reasons.
Let’s start with a simplified lesson on what a nail is and how it grows.
Your nail grows from the germinal matrix or root. This is located in the skin fold at the top joint of each finger (the distal joint). Everyone is genetically different and your matrix reflects this in the size and shape of the nails.
The nail plate itself is very similar to the outer layer of the skin (cornified layer of the epidermis). It is made mostly from flattened, dead, keratin filled cells. These cells form the layers of the nail plate. Unlike the skin however, these layers contain very little fat. The nail is 10 times more permeable to water than skin even though nails themselves have a very low water content. This is a critical fact in understanding why nails break. It might also encourage you to wear gloves next time you clean the loo!
As the matrix produces more cells, the nail plate is pushed forward with the growth. The nail plate continues to thicken until it reaches the end of the lunular (half moon).
It is now known that mineral salts and many drugs can pass into the nail plate from the matrix. This helps to explain how the adhesion of the nail plate to the nail bed can change rapidly when there is a change in the diet or an illness.
Generally speaking, your nails are a good indicator of your overall health. So, if you suddenly notice a change in your nails it is worth looking at your diet and recent medication. Even touline free polishes can dehydrate the nail plate if left for too long and this can cause brittleness.
Oral contraceptives and hormone replacements, some antibiotics, (usually sulphides), chemotherapy drugs, Lithium and other anti-psychotics, anti-convulsants and retinoids (often found in skin creams!) can all have an impact on how well the nail plate adheres to the nail bed. They can cause the nails to become thin and brittle or cause the nail bed and nail plate to separate (onycholysis).
What can you do?
First and foremost remember that since the nail is formed inside the body and is dead by the time it reaches the tip of the finger, any preparations or treatments applied to the surface will have little impact on how the nail grows. Nail strengtheners, UV Gel overlays and polishes can all add strength and durability but they won’t cure the underlying problem.
Take a look at your overall diet, if it is largely healthy then this isn’t the cause but if it’s full of processed foods then unfortunately you may need to make some changes. Have you recently had an infection that required antibiotics? Some antibiotics can deplete the body of Vitamin B so it may be worth taking a supplement (please check for drug interactions first1)
Could you be causing the problem yourself? Are you applying nail polish at home and leaving it on for weeks on end? Do you pick at your cuticles or your Gel polish? Are you using your nails to prize open tins? Remember we are Nail Technicians not magicians and nails aren’t meant to be indestructible so maybe you just need to take more care of them.
1 All of the B-complex vitamins can interact with the antibiotic tetracycline, so you need to take these pills at separate times. Niacin can interact with nicotine patches, blood thinners, cholesterol medications, blood pressure medications and anti-seizure medications. Riboflavin interferes with a cancer drug called doxorubicin. Folate can interfere with certain chemotherapy medications, including methotrexate, when taken in high amounts.