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Nails are frequently a reason for visits to the cosmetic dermatologist and the dermatologist.

Their main purpose is to protect the fingers and toes. The nail, its adjacent tissue and the fingertips constitute a functional unit as a sensory organ for touch and are responsible for making precise movements.

They are also important in the biomechanics of the feet, as abnormal nails can affect a person’s gait and cause bone deformities.

Nails also have an important role in human life, for things like scratching and tickling. They are also the object of aggression when bitten in times of stress or as a manifestation of an obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Lastly, we must not forget their significant aesthetic function. since well-kept nails contribute to a person's good appearance.

The composition of nails

The main component of nails is keratin, a protein that we also find in hair and skin, and which is responsible for providing structure and elasticity. In addition, nails contain 10% of water, lipids (5%) and calcium.

It is precisely this high content of lipids that makes nails 1000 times more permeable to water than the skin. Due to their porosity, they hydrate and dehydrate very quickly.

Fragile nails

Fragile or brittle nails are nails that tend to be fragile or where nail plate tends to break.

Brittle nails affect 20% of the general population. Women suffer from this disorder twice as much as men, and it is more common in the elderly.

The most frequent symptom is when horizontal layers peel away from the free edge of the nail. In other words, the nails "open up in layers".

This disorder, called onychoschicia, makes many routine activities difficult, such as getting dressed (since the nails get caught in the tissues), combing or caressing (since it is very easy to scratch someone). On the other hand, it may lead to other disorders such as bacterial or fungal infections.

Causes of fragile nails

One of the main causes of fragile nails is ageing itself. Even so, there may be multiple causes of fragile nails that coexist.

In this sense, it should be considered that a small percentage of onychotic cases are due to diseases such as fungal or bacterial infections, dermatoses such as eczema or psoriasis, or systemic disorders such as those that may affect the liver or kidney.

Also, certain drugs such as those used for treating cancer, some anti-inflammatories and high doses of vitamin A can lead to brittle nails.

In turn, low iron levels, which is very frequent in women of a childbearing age as a consequence of menstruation, can also weaken nails. 

Regarding external factors, permanent manicures, excessive dehydration in the hands and feet, contact with certain chemical substances (like detergents, bleaches, enamels, hardeners or nail polish removers with acetone) as well as trauma can also cause fragile nails. 

Tips for caring for nails

  1. Keep your nails clean and dry to prevent infections caused by germs under your nails.
  2. Moisturise your nails regularly using specific creams.
  3. Use a nail hardener or replenisher that is toluene, sulfonamide and formaldehyde-free.
  4. Protect your hands with rubber gloves when working or coming into contact with water, detergents or harmful chemical agents for long periods of time.
  5. Keep your nails nice and short and slightly rounded to prevent cracks or peeling.
  6. Keep a fine-textured nail file handy to prevent future damage or to minimise breakage.
  7. Cut your nails after a bath or shower. Dry nails are more likely to break.
  8. Use acetone-free nail polish remover. Acetone produces excessive dryness and increases the risk of breakage and peeling.
  9. Do not remove the cuticle during a manicure as it protects your nails from infections. Use a suitable product to soften the cuticle and then scrape it away gently with a stick.
  10. Do not use your nails as a tool for tough tasks (levering, scraping, poking and so on).
  11. Get out of the habit of biting your nails.
  12. Take a nutritional supplement that contains a variety of nutrients to encourage good nail growth and improve their appearance, strength, resistance and elasticity.

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