What is Onychorrhexis?

Onychorrhexis is a condition characterized by brittleness of your nails. This condition makes your nails to easily break off1. Currently, research has shown that nearly 20% of the whole population has this condition. This condition affects both men and women equally.

Onychorrhexis on nail

Normally your nail consists of keratin which protects the nails from damage. The cells in the nail also grow to replace the older ones. Nails allow water and other fluids to enter and these fluids can make your nails to become moist or dry. This makes your nail to become brittle1, 3.


There are several causes responsible for onychorrhexis such as:

Medical conditions

The following existing medical conditions may cause onychorrhexis:

Thyroid disorders

Thyroid gland is located in your neck and it is one of the endocrine glands. It produces thyroid hormones to control your body’s metabolism. Thyroid problems normally affect the production of thyroid hormones; the hormone can be secreted in excess or in low quantity. When thyroid hormones are low, it leads to a condition called hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism is caused by an autoimmune disorder and it is prevalent in women and those people above the age of 65. A person with hypothyroidism may exhibit symptoms such as the skin is dry, fatigue, pain in the muscles and joints, a slow a heartbeat and irregular period in women.


Anemia is a condition where your blood contains many abnormal red blood cells or hemoglobin. Red blood cells are responsible for supplying the cells in your body with blood and oxygen to enable them function properly. If red blood cells are abnormal or their number decreases, your cells will not function well because they lack oxygen. There are various causes of anemia such as genetic where infants inherit defective genes from infected parents. Poor diet especially eating food without iron may increase your risk of developing anemia.


Eczema is a condition in which your skin appears cracked, rough, red and swollen. The cause of this condition is not known but it is associated with both environmental and genetic factors. A child may inherit this condition if one or both parents had eczema. Environmental factors may also aggravate the symptoms of this condition. These factors include:

  • Allergens such as pollen and dust
  • Hormonal changes especially in women during their menstrual cycle and pregnancy.
  • Certain bacteria, viruses and fungi
  • Irritant substances such as detergents, soaps etc.


There are some drugs that can elevate your chances of developing onychorrhexis. These drugs include retinoid which is used to treat skin problems such as warts, wrinkles and acne. These drugs may cause side effects on your skin such as changing the color of your skin, swelling, redness and dryness.

Too much use of nail remover

Nail polish removers such as acetone when applied in excess on your nails will make them dry causing brittleness. Other chemicals and nail hardeners may also cause your nails to become brittle. In case you applied a detergent on your nails, it will destroy some layers of your nails. On the other hand, cuticle solvents used in excess make your nails wet or moist hence causing them to become brittle.

Risk Factors

Research has shown that age is the main factor contributing to onychorrhexis. As people become older, their nails grow slowly. Also older people have been exposed to too much sun and other conditions that make their nails brittle.


Brittle nails are the chief sign and symptoms of onychorrhexis. You may also experience the following symptoms; your breaks off easily, longitudinal ridges appear on your nails and keratin, the protein layer of your skin may break.


The first step in diagnosing onychorrhexis is through a physical examination. This is done by assessing both of your toes and fingers. If you notice that both your toes and fingers are split, then an internal medical condition is responsible for this. However, if you notice that your toenails are strong and fingers are split, then an external condition is responsible for this.

If the cause is an internal condition, your doctor will ask for your medical history including any existing medical condition and medication. Your doctor may also carry out a hemoglobin test to determine the level of hemoglobin in your blood and also determine if your thyroid gland is performing well. Your doctor may also use imaging technology such as MRI Scan if a cancerous lesion is suspected to be present.


If your brittle nails are making you uncomfortable, see a dermatologist to advise you on the best method to treat the condition. Brittle nails can be treated by the following:

Use of lotions

You should look for lotions that have lanolin or alpha hydroxy acids and apply on your nails.

Use of biotin

Get biotin and apply it on your nails. Biotin will help to make your nails stronger.


You can enhance the esthetic of your nails by doing the following self-care measures:

  • Eat a balanced diet especially that which has Vitamins A, Vitamins C, calcium and iron.
  • Keep away from nail products which are harmful such as toluene
  • Apply cream that has moisture on your nails on regular basis.
  • Do not keep long nails because they are more vulnerable to breaking.
  • Select nail polish that is manufactured with minerals and vitamins.


You can use the following natural remedies while at home to prevent your nails from becoming brittle:

Cider vinegar and olive oil

You can prepare cider vinegar and olive oil mixture by following simple steps below: Take a certain quantity of olive oil and heat it, take an equal quantity of cider vinegar and mix. Then blend the mixture and allow the mixture to cool and put your hands in. Leave it there for about 15 minutes; remove your hands and wash them.

Vitamin E and Melaleuca oil:

Take several drops of vitamin E and mix it with one teaspoon of Melaleuca oil. Take the mixture and apply it on your nails and wait for some time. Then wash with warm water.

Vegetable oil

Put vegetable oil in a basin and immerse your fingers into it. Leave your fingers in the oil for about 15 minutes and remove them. Then wash your fingers with water that is not hot or cold.


Onychorrhexis 5

 Onychorrhexis 3

Onychorrhexis 2


Reference List

  1. Onychorrhexis. http://healthh.com/onychorrhexis/
  2. Brittle Splitting Nails – Causes, Treatment and Prevention. http://www.healthpedian.org/brittle-splitting-nails-causes-treatment-and-prevention/
  3. 15 Brittle Nails Home Remedies and Onychorrhexis Treatments. http://www.remedyland.com/2013/11/brittle-nails-home-remedies-onychorrhexis-treatments.html
  4. Onychorrhexis- causes, symptoms and treatment. http://www.primehealthchannel.com/onychorrhexis-pictures-causes-symptoms-and-treatment.html
  5. Onychorrhexis. Available at http://healthool.com/onychorrhexis/

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