Brittle Nail Syndrome Causes

Brittle nail syndrome is not uncommon and can be caused by a variety of factors, but in the case of nail dystrophy, a disease or trauma are the usual culprits.  However, brittle nails can present a problem when it comes to how they look and the fact that they are often breaking and flaking off.  Understanding the cause of your brittle nails will help when it comes to preventing the condition from worsening.


When you think about trauma to a nail, you probably imagine a finger being smashed or stubbing your toe on a table leg.  These are sources of nail trauma, but they are not the only way a nail can be traumatized.  Things like chemical exposure and frequently washing your hands can also impair the integrity of a nail.

Medical Conditions

There are many different medical conditions that can compromise your nails and lead to brittleness.  Some examples include Sjogren’s syndrome, psoriasis, selenium poisoning, alopecia areata, underactive thyroid, malnutrition, and lichen planus.

Sjogren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease characterized by dryness, especially in the mouth and eyes.  This dryness can extend to the nails, resulting in brittleness.

Psoriasis is a skin condition in which cells rapidly accumulate and form patches that are itchy, and sometimes, painful.  One of the major symptoms is nail dystrophy and there is the risk of the nail plate crumbling.  It is estimated that approximately five percent of people with psoriasis also have nail symptoms.

Selenium poisoning occurs when you consume too much of this mineral or are heavily exposed to it.  It can cause a variety of symptoms including brittle nails, deformed nails, and nails sloughing off.

Alopecia areata is a condition characterized by hair loss.  However, some people also experience nail symptoms, such as the nails looking like sandpaper, nail pitting, and brittle nails.

Underactive thyroid is a condition in which the production of thyroid hormone is reduced.  This condition can affect the skin and nails causing issues like scaly skin, dry skin, and brittle nails and hair.

Malnutrition plays a role in the health of your nails.  When you are not getting enough of the B-vitamin biotin or protein, the health of your nails can suffer.  This can lead to issues like nail dystrophy and brittle nails.

Lichen planus is a skin condition that can also affect the nails.  In about 10 percent of cases, the nails are affected.  Nail dystrophy can affect a single nail or all 10 fingernails and all 10 toenails.  The nail plate thins out and it can also darken and lift from the nail bed.