My nails are very flaky and appear to break at even the lightest bump

red and white manicure with love print

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Dear Diana

My nails are very flaky and appear to break at even the lightest bump. I do wear gloves for washing up and try and avoid using too many chemicals when doing housework but I can never seem to grown them all to the same length.

Joanna Williams, Cornwall

Long-term exposure to water or chemicals such as detergents and nail polish are most often the cause, so you are right Joanna to wear rubber gloves doing the chores, especially wet work.  Keep fingernails dry and clean to prevent bacteria from growing under your fingernails. It could just be a sign of ageing! Nails can be strengthened by taking biotin (vitamin B7) supplements, and by frequently applying moisturising cream rub the lotion into your fingernails and cuticles. Applying a nail hardener might also help protect and strengthen your nails.

Always keep fingernails dry and clean, this prevents bacteria from growing under your fingernails. Brittle nails can sometimes be caused by a fungal nail infection and this can be easily cleared up by taking a course of antifungal tablets.  However, nail abnormalities can tell a lot about your health. So if this simple care doesn’t improve your nails, and you haven’t injured or been biting them talk to your GP – especially if your nails have changed in colour, texture, shape or thickness. Flaky nails are most likely to be a sign of a fungal nail infection or injury, but can sometimes indicate a more serious underlying disease. Nail psoriasis and  lichen planus are skin conditions which can affect the nails, and either an underactive thyroid or overactive thyroid, which control hormone production, just might be the cause of your brittle, crumbly nails.


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