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Peeling Nails Cause What this means What to do

pexels-towfiqu-barbhuiya-8791795 peeling nails

Last updated 08/04/2022

Your nails can be a clue to what’s going on inside. Just from glancing at their color, shape or texture. Peeling nails cause.

When your nails are peeling this can be a symptom of various things. Usually both internal and external factors are observed.

But you don’t need to freak out. Split nails could also be linked to the aging process. Likewise, due to your genes or products you’re using.

What are Peeling Nails?

Like your skin and hair nails are also made of keratin. This is a fibrous protein. Nails have many layers that can peel. Further, they can become thin or weakened, causing them to split.

Peeling or splitting fingernails as a medical term are called onychoschizia. This can be the result of outside trauma to the area. Furthermore, this could be a sign of a condition occurring inside your body. Your peeling nails can feel sensitive or uncomfortable.

The growing phase for a fingernail to reach full length is about six months. In other words, it’s possible to experience nail abnormalities from something that happened months ago.

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What are the Causes of Nails Peeling?

Internal Causes

Underlying Conditions

Hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism can present with signs of split nails due to hormones not creating enough. This is not known why it happens. However, nail changes are usually seen with hyperthyroidism most often.

Most importantly, to note peeling nails is not the only sign of a thyroid condition. There can also be curving, softening or thickening skin above your nail. Further, other symptoms not involving the nails.


Skin conditions that create inflammation can affect your nails such as psoriasis. And it doesn’t matter where the psoriasis scales or inflammation is located.

According to the National Psoriasis Foundation you could also notice extreme ridges, pitting and color changes. Thus, the peeling will typically develop by your cuticle, near the nail bed.


As a result, oral retinoid including isotretinoin can cause a side effect of peeling nails. This is a common medication for treating acne. But it is not the only medication that could be to blame.

Definitely take note when your nails began to peel. And be sure to discuss side effects of new meds as well as supplements with your doctor.


There are numerous skin changes with pregnancy, and you can add this one to the list. It is partly due to your hormones. Further, your nails can grow quickly but that doesn’t always mean they are stronger.

However, this faster nail growth with pregnancy can bring:

  • Brittleness
  • Breakage
  • Grooves
  • Peeling

Vitamin Deficiencies

Peeling nails and vitamins are commonly linked. That is to say, a lack of B vitamins could be the cause.  To sum up, biotin and B12 which can also result with brown, grey nail discoloration. Anemia or reduced iron levels can cause brittle, split or “spoon shaped nails.”

External Causes

When you have seen your doctor and possible internal causes haven’t been diagnosed you can look at external causes.

Frequent Wet Hands

If you have a career as a hairstylist or cleaner, you may be very familiar with this situation. Constantly having your hands in water can cause brittle, split or peeling nails. Repetitive wetting and drying of hands are the most common reason for peeling nails.

Excess moisture or long periods exposed to moisture can lead to nails swelling with water and turning soft. Water breaks down the bonds with the nail cells. As a result, this soft and brittle nail that is prone to damage from little trauma.

This could also happen when spending time in hot or humid places. Dry skin and dry nails can be due to the weather or dehydration as well.


Bad habits can lead to nails peeling. Likewise, taking nail polish off by peeling and picking at it instead of using your nail polish remover. Wearing gel or acrylic nails and not following the appropriate removal techniques.

Harsh Chemicals

Even the acetone in your nail polish remover can cause issues. It is great at doing what it’s supposed to removing theses layers of polish. But it can dry out your nails to the extent that they begin peeling.

Nails as Tools

For example, don’t use your nails to open soda cans. Use the pads of your fingers to open items.

Habits and Nails

Even if you take a break from your weekly manicure, you still need to prevent more peeling. So, for best practices file them with a good emery board and not metal.

Avoid pushing back your cuticles or picking at the skin there. That little half-moon is known as the lunula and is part of your nail matrix. Picking at the skin can make the area inflamed and then the nail won’t grow right.

Nail Biting

For those who bite their nails it’s probably not a shock to notice peeling. Chewing on your nails can damage the shape and curvature over time. Further, this habit can increase the chance of getting bacteria in and near your nail. After that, a bacterium produces uneven splits in your nail that can cause it to peel back.

Diagnosing the Cause

It’s difficult to self-diagnose an underlying condition (unless you’re a doctor). If this problem hasn’t happened before and suddenly you have more than one nail splitting, you want to rule things out.

Your dermatologist will do a full physical exam, inquiring about your history, lifestyle, what type of work you do. In addition, during a physical exam root causes can be determined.

For instance, if a thyroid disorder or vitamin deficiency is suspected your dermatologist will order blood tests. A clipping of your nail could be taken to send to a dermapathologist. It is then observed under a microscope.

A Little Trick

Still can’t figure out if your peeling nails have an internal or external cause? Take a glance at your toenails and compare.

That is to say, your fingernails are peeling but not your toenails (or vice versa) points to an external reason. Fingernails and toenails both peeling points to an internal reason.

Basic Tips to Keep Nails from Peeling

The treatment for peeling and brittle nails really depends on what is causing this. However, you can improve your overall nail health.

Take a Multivitamin

Earlier we talked about vitamin deficiencies that can result with peeling, splitting nails. A multivitamin or one containing biotin can be taken if there’s a deficiency. But check with your physician first because vitamins and supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA.

Foods Containing Iron

If you are told you have an iron deficiency, you could consider increasing your daily iron intake.

Foods high in iron are:

  • Baked potato including skin
  • Fortified breakfast cereals
  • Spinach
  • Oysters
  • Lentils
  • Dark chocolate

Or take an iron supplement each day. Make sure the label includes iron.

The Office of Dietary Supplements says consuming over 25 milligrams of elemental iron decrease your body’s ability to absorb zinc. So, avoid overusing iron supplements to prevent this adverse effect.

Cuticle Care

If you want your nail health to improve this requires care of the cuticle. Your cuticles demand TLC they are the prime protectors that encourage nails to grow strong and healthy. To sum up, applying Vaseline or cuticle oil a few times daily to the cuticle will assist. Plus, a cuticle serum every day so nails grow out strong.


Form a habit of moisturizing your hands and nails after washing to avoid excess drying and of course peeling nails. Furthermore, apply a nail specific moisturizer containing sunflower oil which is rich with phospholipids. These are known to prevent peeling or splitting nails.

For extra protection a nail strengthener can also be used. This gives an added coat to your nail protecting it from trauma. That is to say, ramming your nail into a countertop or doing dishes without gloves.

Enemy Excess Water

Put on those gloves when doing any ‘wet work’. Certainly, washing a sink load of dishes or cleaning with a wet cloth. In addition, minimize frequent hand washing instead use alcohol-based hand sanitizer which is drying. To replenish apply a hand cream that includes vitamin E.

pexels-kindel-media-8172578 peeling nails


Especially for swimmers, don’t forget to use lotion or cream on your hands and nails after this activity.

Wear Nails Short

Having your nails cut as short as possible will assist to resolve the nail peeling quicker. For instance, there won’t be as much trauma to the nail.

Artificial Nails

When using artificial nails, you should gently take off all nail coatings while not scraping or pulling. By forcing the nail coating away, it will produce nail damage and peeling that will eventually scar your nail beds. As a result, thin, fragile nails.


Take care of your nails by using a nail file around the tips of your nails. File nails into a curve instead of sharp points on the sides or ends. In short, this aids to avoid snagging, breaking and splitting.


Buffing your nails can provide a healthy surface. However, this should be done as a one direction buffing motion. Doing this motion back and forth can thin your nail plate creating nails that are more susceptible to peeling.

Avoid over buffing. This can dry the nail out. Excessive dryness can create a brittle nail easily damaged by minor trauma. Further, when dry the nail can take a small nick that turns into a big split.

Treat nails with a rich moisturizer or nail oil after buffing. So, prevent drying out.

Wrapping it up

There could be internal causes or external causes for your nails peeling. The most common is extended time in water. Most importantly, to treat wear gloves while doing dishes or wet work.


Mary is the founder of All About Our Skin. Former esthetician and CPC. Enjoys researching skincare and has been studying our skin for the past fifteen years.

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