Ask the Doctor: Why do my nails keep peeling and what can I do about it?

Question: No matter what I do, my nails keep chipping and peeling. I eat a fairly balanced diet and keep myself hydrated. I do a normal amount of washing up and some gardening, but nothing extreme. Why do nails peel like this and what can I eat, ingest or do to prevent it?

dr Grant replies: Brittle nails are a common nail condition in all age groups. Brittle nails can give a dull, rough appearance and make the nail more prone to breaking, splitting, and peeling. It occurs with age and often during pregnancy. Sometimes the exact cause is unknown.

Frequent showering, washing hands, and swimming, as well as exposure to cold, can contribute to brittle nails. Be sure to wear gloves when washing dishes, cleaning the house, or gardening. Dry your hands well after washing and use a preservative and fragrance-free hand cream in the evening to strengthen the skin’s natural barrier. Look out for products with urea and lactic acid as they provide excellent hydration.

The answer to your problem may lie in the answer to some of these questions:

  • When did you first notice your brittle nails?
  • what are you working on
  • What are your hobbies?
  • What are your nail care habits (if any)?
  • What do you wear on your nails (if anything)?
  • What is your medical and drug history?
  • Does anyone in your family suffer from a similar nail disorder?

It’s a bit like detective work – if you can uncover possible causal factors, you might be able to crack the case! Examination of the nail begins at the nail plate – the hardened part that grows out and needs to be cut. It is assessed for discoloration; detachment from the nail bed; Changes in thickness and surface texture, including pitting, burring, and longitudinal or transverse grooves.

The nail bed is the area under the nail and includes the surrounding skin and cuticles. This area should be examined for skin discoloration, erythema (redness), growths (eg, warts), scales (eg, psoriasis), cuticle attachments, and blood vessel abnormalities. Other skin conditions that can cause brittle nails include psoriasis, eczema, lichen planus, alopecia areata, and fungal infections.

Some systemic diseases, such as iron deficiency, endocrine disorders (eg, diabetes and thyroid disease), or peripheral artery disease (which more commonly affects older people), can cause brittle nails. Is your diet high in calcium and iron? Animal protein in the form of red meat, chicken and fish is rich in heme iron. Plant sources of non-heme iron include spinach, broccoli, lentils, beans, tofu, and some fortified breakfast cereals/breads. Potatoes, pumpkins, and butternut squash are also good sources of iron. You might consider taking a multivitamin that’s specifically designed for your hair, skin, and nails.

Chances are your nails are healthy and you simply need to follow general nail care advice every day. The most obvious thing to do is to take your fingers out of your mouth and keep your nails dry and trimmed short.

Try to avoid injury to the nail plate or nail bed. Try to avoid contact with possible skin irritants or chemicals. Do not wear nail polish or artificial nails. Finally, try to protect your hands from cold or wind. I suggest applying a preservative-free nail or cuticle oil at night. If you’re still concerned, it’s always worth seeing your GP for a full assessment.

dr Jennifer Grant is a GP at Beacon HealthCheck Ask the Doctor: Why do my nails keep peeling and what can I do about it?

Fry Electronics Team

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