Why Do My Nails Break So Easily?

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Photo: Mike Kemp/Corbis

Like hair falling out or picking a scab and having it come off in your hand, seeing parts of our bodies fray can be upsetting. No one wants to think about how rapidly we are decaying and reminders like a new mole sprouting an impossibly thick hair, or nails that break nonstop are understandably upsetting. But how upset should we be? Are brittle nails just another sign that our bodies are going to shit, or do they signify something worse? I asked dermatologist Dr. Barry Goldman to find out. “We get that question [about brittle nails] a lot,” he said. “Probably because someone read a southern novel about arsenic poisoning.”

Arsenic?!? Not a great start in terms of convincing me I’m not dying, Dr. G!! After I explained that this was a terrifying prospect, Dr. Goldman assured me the vast majority of people have some kind of streaking or ridging on their nails, and said he’s only seen one case of arsenic poisoning in his 20 years as a practicing dermatologist. As for what might be causing your nails to be so weak? I have good news and bad news.

The good news is you are not dying. The bad news is, we are all slowly dying in a lifelong process known as aging, and this is what is causing your nails to dry out. “From age we get dryness,” said Dr. Goldman, a very succinct, very wise man. Barring hypothyroidism or an iron deficiency, he suggested another common cause of dry nails is lifestyle choices, specifically anyone who is involved in what he referred to as “wet work.” Bartenders, waitresses, dishwashers, swimmers, and other people whose hands are submerged in water as part of their jobs should compare their fingernails to their toenails to see if all that water exposure is the culprit.

If you’re not employed in wet work and you’re still fairly young, consider your hand- and nail-maintenance habits: Are you picking off your shellac manicure? Leaving polish on for weeks without removing it properly? Failing to moisturize? A little cuticle oil goes a long way, as can a vitamin-B-rich supplement. Wearing gloves while you do the dishes is not only glamorous , but will also help keep your nails strong and healthy. Regular filing and at-home manicures can also stop breakage. And if all else fails, you can hand-model for SAW VIII SAW FURIOUS.

LIKELIHOOD OF YOU DYING: Extremely low, unless you’re in a Gothic novel.

Why Do I Have Brittle Nails?