I love everything about winter, except what it does to my nails.
Every year when the cold weather sets in, I notice that my fingernails get very dry and brittle and sometimes even split.
And the older I get, the worse the problem becomes.
Does this happen to you, too?
I was curious about what I could do to treat (and/or prevent) brittle nails, so I called Cybele Fishman, MD, an integrative dermatologist based in New York City.
“Brittle nails are a normal part of aging for both men and women, and the lack of moisture in the air during the winter tends to exacerbate the condition, because it dries out your nails, just like it dries out your skin,” Dr. Fishman told me. “But there are easy ways to keep your nails from drying out.”
So you don’t have to suffer, Dr. Fishman shared her top tips with Daily Health News, below…
BEAT BRITTLE NAILS
Below is Dr. Fishman’s advice on how to treat dry nails and/or prevent nails from drying out in the first place:
- Use lined waterproof gloves. “I’m shocked at how many of my patients don’t routinely wear gloves when they’re washing dishes or doing household chores,” Dr. Fishman said. “The solvents in many cleaning products are so bad for your skin and nails.” So always cover your hands with latex or vinyl gloves—any type will benefit your nails, but, ideally, use ones that are lined with cotton, because they tend to be more comfortable plus they’re less likely to cause friction and irritate the skin…and they’re less likely to make your hands sweat, which can exacerbate certain skin conditions, such as eczema. One good choice is True Blues, vinyl cleaning gloves with cotton lining, available for $11 at TrueBlueGloves.com.
- Moisturize your nails. Moisturizing body lotion or hand cream is great for keeping the skin on your hands soft and supple, and it’s somewhat beneficial for your nails, too. But for nails you’re better off using a product that is formulated for nails. One of Dr. Fishman’s favorites is TheraNeem Nail and Cuticle Pen. You can buy it for $15 at OrganixSouth.com. Another is Neal’s Yard Nourishing Melissa Nail Balm. You can buy that for $15 at NYR Organic. Both contain essential oils that penetrate nails better than the ingredients in most hand creams and body lotions. Use either of the products on your nails and cuticles several times a day (as many times as needed)—including after you shower and after you wash your hands to lock in the most moisture.
- Wear polish…but use remover wisely. This tip isn’t just for women—men can also benefit from wearing nail polish (though men may prefer to stick with a clear, matte type for aesthetic reasons!). Any type of nail polish will protect your nails from water loss, but keep in mind that nail polish remover often contains acetone, which is drying. So Dr. Fishman recommends wearing polish and not removing it very frequently. (If you stick with clear polish, chips won’t be as noticeable in between applications.) And look for nail polish removers that are labeled “non-acetone” or “acetone-free.” “It’ll take more time and effort with this type to remove polish,” she said, “but it’s less drying.” You could try, for example, Cutex Nail Polish Remover Pads, Non-Acetone at Drugstore.com, 10 pads for $4.
- Take nail-loving supplements. “There’s a lot of good data that certain nutrients can help strengthen your nails,” said Dr. Fishman. One is biotin, a vitamin that’s found in small amounts in certain foods such as eggs, liver and milk. Biotin may help because it tends to thicken nails, making them less likely to dry out and crack. It’s hard to get enough from foods, so Dr. Fishman advises many of her patients to take a daily supplement containing 2.5 milligrams of biotin. She also recommends taking omega-3 fatty acids as well as a certain omega-6 fatty acid (gamma linolenic acid, or GLA), because they add moisture to nail beds. Now, you may be thinking, aren’t omega-6 fats unhealthy? “Most omega-6 fatty acids are bad for you, but GLA is not,” she said. While most omega-6s promote inflammation, research shows that GLA doesn’t—and, in fact, may reduce it.You can get both kinds of omegas in one supplement. For example, Dr. Fishman takes Nordic Naturals Complete Omega-3 6 9, which also contains an omega-9 fatty acid (you can buy a bottle of 120 capsules for $29 at Drugstore.com). GLA is the only omega-6 that it contains.Always check with your doctor before taking any supplement to make sure that it’s safe for you—people taking certain blood thinners, such as warfarin (Coumadin), for example, may want to avoid taking omega-3s, because omega-3s can also thin the blood.
KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR NAILS
In rare cases, brittle nails can be a symptom of an underlying health problem. The most common culprits, Dr. Fishman said, are an underactive thyroid or a deficiency of iron or zinc.
“If you take the steps I recommend and don’t see a change in your nails after a couple of months, then it’s a good idea to see your primary care doctor to have your thyroid checked, as well as your iron and zinc levels,” she told me.