By Gary M. White, MD

picture here Here, the thin, brittle nail has split.

It is common for the nails to thin with age. They may become more brittle as well. Brittleness of the nails can result from repeated use of nail polish remover or excessive hand washing. Rarely, hypothyroidism can cause brittle nails.


The nails may lose thickness and strength. The patient complains they break easily and women note that they can't grow their nails as long as they used to.


In one laboratory study [J Exp Biol 2008:211:3677], human nails were more brittle when fully dry and more prone to fracture and split when wet. For this reason, application of Vaseline or other emollients daily after washing/showering may help to prevent dehydration and thus improve strength. Alternatively, nail polish or artificial nails may be tried.

There are several older studies supporting the use of oral biotin, although none are randomized, placebo-controlled trials. In one study, oral biotin at a dose of 2.5 mg/day seemed to help most patients after 5-6 months [Z Hautkr. 1989 Jan 15;64(1):41-8.]. Another study used a scanning electron microscope to document a 25% increase in thickness of the nail with oral biotin [J Am Acad Dermatol. 1990 Dec;23(6 Pt 1):1127-32].


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