Brittle nails are characterized by fragility, splits, ridges, and abnormal thickening with peeling layers. It is a fairly common condition - occurring in about 20% of the population with about twice the number of women affected as men.29
Nail strength or hardness is primarily attributable to the high percentage of sulfur, which serves to stabilize the fibrous keratin proteins in the nail plate. Over 75% of patients with brittle nails have decreased sulfur content compared to those with healthy nails, whereas there is no significant difference in concentration of other trace minerals commonly thought to be associated with nail strength (e.g., calcium). Lower levels of sulfur-based molecules have been reported as an age-related occurrence, which may explain the increased frequency of brittle nails in the elderly.29
Factors That Can Cause Brittle Nails
A number of external and internal factors (chemical, medical, and physical) can impair healthy nail formation and/or cause damage to underlying nail structures that lead to brittle nails:29
Brittle nails are not just a cosmetic concern. In one study, over half of 1738 patients with psoriasis reported pain associated with nail changes, and another study reported almost 75% had pain and discomfort wearing shoes. The condition has a reported negative impact on self-esteem and quality of life as well.29
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