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Why are fingernails peeling?

Medical expert of the article

Dermatologist, onkodermatolog
, medical expert
Last reviewed: 04.09.2021

Beautiful and well-groomed nails are a status detail of the appearance of not only a modern woman, but also a man, characterizing their owner, first of all, as a person who watches over his health. Therefore, the situation when fingernails exfoliate cannot but cause grief for most people, and of any age and gender, although there are traditionally more women among them.

Often, when faced with the problem of peeling nails, the fair sex resort to cosmetic tricks that create the illusion of strong and durable nails. Extension of nails with gel or acrylic certainly gives a temporary visual effect, however, as a result, the nail plate will weaken even more, and over time it may become so that there is nothing to build up.

In our article we will try to consider why the nails on the hands are exfoliating, and what is better to do in this case, so as not to be left without them at all.


The exact statistics of nail stratification is unknown, as such a nuisance can occur under various circumstances. One-time injuries, accidental contact without gloves with aggressive substances can happen to anyone. They usually do not involve a visit to a doctor and do not fall into the statistical sample.

Nevertheless, in the field of view of specialists are from 33 to 50% of the world's population, who, for one reason or another, have exfoliated fingernails. And some sources even claim that only 10% of the inhabitants of the Earth have absolutely healthy nails.

The most dangerous professional activity for the health of nails is hairdressing. It is the representatives of this profession that most often exfoliate their fingernails.

Causes of the peeling nails

Horny protective plates with one free edge, located on the dorsum of the fingertips, that is, our nails, should ideally be durable, shiny and pink. They consist of keratinized cells of the nail matrix - onychoblasts. In the growth part of the nail, the matrix, there is a constant process of cell division, which determines the qualitative characteristics of the nail plate - its growth rate and strength. [1]

Risk factors for  deteriorating nail quality  can be divided into two large groups - external and internal. The former are associated with an adverse effect on the nail plate from the outside, the latter with a negative effect on the metabolism in the body, as a result of which the chemical composition of the nail plate changes.

External reasons include mechanical  injury to the nails  (blows, cuts, improperly executed manicure), the effect of chemicals on the nail plate, most often household chemicals. Even ordinary baking soda, which many housewives use to clean dishes and consider to be completely safe, negatively affects the structure of the nails, especially when combined with warm water. 

Inappropriate care products, poor quality nail polish, acetone-based nail polish, inaccuracies in manicure or more complex cosmetic procedures, such as nail extensions, can lead to delamination. Even expensive and high-quality materials for nail extension and the correct execution of the procedure do not guarantee the protection of the nail plate from damage. Periodically, you need to give your nails the opportunity to recover, especially if you notice defects on them after removing the coating.

Professional contact with aggressive substances, water also requires more careful nail care. Moreover, even representatives of such professions as a teacher or a seamstress are at risk due to constant contact with chalk, and a typist or a PC operator injure the tips of their nails on the keyboard.

Nails perfectly absorb water, various fats, and other substances, contact with which is not always good for them. Prolonged exposure to warm water makes nails feel loose and thick. Such nails begin to break off and crumble from the free edge. In addition, filing wet nails with any, and especially with metal files, injures their tips.

Even the wrong filing technique can be the reason for the delamination of nails. Firstly, it is better not to use metal nail files, and secondly, the nails must be completely dry, it is not enough just to wipe them off with a towel or napkin. The nail plate is quickly saturated with water and in this state, the free end of the nail can "tangle" when processed with a nail file, and of any quality. It is necessary to wait until even dry-wiped hands dry well. Thirdly, when filing nails, you need to perform movements in one direction.

Cold and constant exposure to dry air is also not conducive to healthy nails. Nails lose their elasticity, shrink and become brittle.

The habit of biting your nails, using them as a missing tool to unscrew or lift a tight cap, can damage even strong and healthy fingernails.

The most dangerous is damage to the nail matrix. This leads to long-term problems with the quality of the nails, as the process of cell division is disrupted. The matrix can be damaged with a trimmed manicure, during the procedure for cutting the extended part of the nail, due to another injury to the nail hole.

More often, fingernails exfoliate in people with inherited thin and not too strong nails. Many people remember that their mothers and grandmothers suffered from such a problem. Indeed, if nails by nature have a delicate structure, then they will have to pay more attention and take care of them daily, since they are damaged faster. However, with proper care, thin marigolds can be pink and healthy.

The type of nails corresponds to the type of skin. People with dry skin are more prone to brittle nails because they also suffer from dryness.

The basis of the structure of nails is a complex protein component containing sulfur - keratin, which provides nails with hardness. The presence of a sufficient amount of water in the nail plate ensures its elasticity. The fatty component of nails - cholesterol - is also very important for their strength. In addition, the composition of the nail plate contains phosphorus, potassium, calcium, zinc, arsenic. A balance of all elements is essential to maintain healthy nails.

Stratification of nails is a type of onychodystrophy, the pathogenesis of which is associated with impaired trophism and autoregulation of cellular metabolism. External causes or any disease that disrupts the metabolism in the body is reflected in the structure of the nails. The matrix of the nail is surrounded by a large number of arterial vessels that supply it with nutrients and oxygen. It responds quickly to changes in metabolic processes. Lack of nutrients in the growth part of the nail leads to dystrophic changes in onychoblasts and triggers the mechanism of nail exfoliation. This symptom speaks not so much of a lack of calcium, as it is often interpreted, but rather of a deficiency of sulfur, selenium, silicon, zinc, as well as protein, water and even cholesterol. [2]

The quality of nails is reflected by a decrease in the level of hemoglobin, which transports oxygen to the tissues. Anemia can be the result of a variety of reasons, from nutritional deficiencies to serious illness.

Lack of B vitamins negatively affects the absorption of protein, while the growth of nails slows down and their strength decreases. B-deficiency anemia accompanies many diseases - of the gastrointestinal tract, thyroid gland. In this case, the level of serum iron with low hemoglobin may be normal.

Deficiency of ascorbic acid causes a decrease in the body's defenses and often manifests itself as embrittlement of the nails. Also, the strength and strength of the nail plates depends on an adequate intake of foods rich in carotenoids, vitamins A, D and E.


The pathogenesis of many chronic diseases is accompanied by such a symptom as nail stratification. The body of diabetics, cancer patients, people with dermatoses, diseases of the thyroid gland, liver, kidneys or gastrointestinal tract suffers from metabolic disorders. [3], [4]

Stratification of nails occurs with isolated psoriasis of this particular localization, although this form of the disease is quite rare. Much more often, the cause of embrittlement and brittleness of nails is infection with a fungus.

Lack of vitamins and minerals in the body can be formed as a result of unbalanced nutrition, alcohol abuse, during the period of rapid development of the body in adolescents, as a result of stress or moving to another climatic zone. Yellowish and flaky nails are  characteristic of heavy smokers.

The reasons can be very different and most importantly - combined: professional risks can coexist with errors in nutrition, stress, low acidity of the stomach, the  habit of biting nails  and others.

Symptoms of the peeling nails

The first signs of delamination are usually noticed on the nails of the hands - they exfoliate, break, and usually the nails are pulled up from the free end. The appearance of foliation is preceded by leukonychia - white spots and stripes on the nails of a normal color, formed in places of traumatic injuries. In case of serious metabolic disorders or infection, the nail can completely change color.

If peeling nails are the only symptom and nothing else bothers you, then we can assume that the delamination is associated with the impact of an unfavorable external environment. Perhaps you did not always wear protective gloves when doing housework, used aggressive nail polish, or, being the owner of dry skin on your hands, walked in the cold without gloves. [5]

Fingernails peel and break from frequent washing of dishes without protective gloves, especially with the use of soda, from other work associated with prolonged exposure of hands in water. Moreover, this pathology is not always associated with work. For example, frequent swimming pool visits are a negative factor in nail quality.

Naturally, naturally thin nails suffer more from external influences. Their owners, even from a one-time non-observance of protective measures, often exfoliate their nails on their hands.

Stratification of the nail plates often indicates an unprofessional manicure or nail extension, or rather, nail injuries are most likely when the extension layer is removed if it is cleaned off along with the surface layer of the nail. Manicure onychodystrophy is very common, its symptom is transverse, from edge to edge of the nail, white Bo lines, which are a symptom of inhibition of metabolic processes in the growth part of the nail. Along these lines, transverse foliation may begin or, growing to the free edge, it is in these places that the nails will crumble and exfoliate. In this case, the healing process is long. The matrix needs to be restored, and the plate itself is completely renewed in an average of three to four months. The name "manicure" does not mean at all that manicure should be the only reason - intoxication, trauma, stress, systemic pathologies can affect the chemical composition of the nail matrix. [6]

If the nails on the hands and feet are exfoliating, then it is most likely that this condition indicates the presence of a deficiency of elements (vitamins, minerals, protein, fats, water) necessary for the nails for normal growth. Concomitant symptoms of a deficiency state may include chronic fatigue, dizziness, daytime sleepiness, and difficulty falling asleep. Not only nails, but also hair react to the lack of oxygen, water and nutrients - they become dull, split, the skin is usually pale and dry or inflamed.

With prolonged anemia, the nails not only exfoliate, but also change shape - they become concave. With vitamin C deficiency, bleeding is a characteristic symptom. This can be noticed while brushing your teeth - traces of blood remain on the brush, blood can often come from the nose, in addition, cuts and wounds do not heal well, literally bruises appear from touching. Vitamin A deficiency is characterized by deterioration of twilight vision. Lack of vitamin E, like vitamin B12, provokes the development of anemia. Early specific signs of calcium deficiency are muscle pain, zinc deficiency is manifested by inflammation of the skin - acne, a decrease in general immunity - frequent colds. In general, assuming a lack of nutrients in the body, it is necessary to consult a doctor and pass the appropriate tests that will help determine it accurately. One clinical picture is not enough for diagnosis. Moreover, deficiency states are not always caused by an unbalanced diet, they are often the result of diseases of internal organs that need to be treated, and for this they need to be identified. [7]

The connection between nail delamination with a lack of vitamins and / or microelements cannot be ruled out even when nails exfoliate only on the hands. Hands take on a large load from external factors, therefore, such a symptom as splitting of nails on them will manifest itself in the first place.

Sometimes the nail exfoliates only on one finger, but the person cannot remember any circumstances that could contribute to this. For example, a thumbnail peels off for a long time. This reason suggests that, probably, this finger was nevertheless subjected to some undesirable influences. Maybe even regularly. The thumbnail is usually strong and is often used in the absence of a suitable tool, such as a screwdriver, on hand. This is often done involuntarily, and then it is difficult to remember. In this case, the outer free edge of the nail is damaged. It becomes uneven, layered, and often crumbles.

We have the most loaded three first fingers - thumb, forefinger, middle. Most often the nails on the middle and index fingers are damaged during the activity associated with typing on the keyboard.

The nail exfoliates only on the middle finger of the hand, too, quite often. This finger in many people is longer than others and is quite loaded, and it is also often injured. In addition, people who bite their nails often damage them on the first three fingers.

From these fingers on the working hand, as the more loaded ones, the lamination of the nails, associated with internal reasons, can begin, which then spreads to the nails on the remaining fingers. Loads on a certain hand can explain the fact that sometimes nails exfoliate on any one - right, left hand.

Stratification of the nail plate on just one finger can be a symptom of an onychomycosis infection   (later the infection can spread to adjacent fingers). As a rule, the nail of the extreme finger - thumb or little finger - suffers, and the index finger is often affected. In the initial stage, the nail plate becomes thinner and more fragile, the nail changes color, often turns yellow, and begins to exfoliate, mainly from the free edge. With a mild development of the disease, the fungus can be confused with a traumatic injury. The nail does not change much, white spots and stripes appear on its surface, it exfoliates at the free end. [8], [9]

Fungus of the nail is a contagious disease, its spores, getting on the hands, penetrate into microdamages, which are often on the skin of the hands. A humid environment promotes infection.

Depending on the type of fungus and the person's immunity, the disease develops in different ways. With rapid development, in addition to lamination of the nails, there may be itching, pain, rashes around the nail. Often the skin under the fingernails exfoliates, a rash or blisters may appear in this place. The nail plate may thicken, rising above the bed, turn yellow. In this case, the localization of foliation can be different, depending on the place of introduction of fungal spores. Sometimes the nails exfoliate at the base of the hands, sometimes this happens in the very center of the nail, on the side or closer to the edge. Fungus-affected fingernails crumble and exfoliate. A concomitant symptom of onychomycosis is an unpleasant odor emanating from the affected nail. [10], [11]

There is an autosomal dominant genetic predisposition to distal subungual onychomycosis caused by T. Rubrum. [12]

Isolated nail psoriasis is a rather rare but possible disease  . With this disease, the nails usually fade at first, lose their healthy shine and transparency. They thicken and become covered with dents in the form of dots and / or wavy stripes, their color changes to yellowish brown. Nails with psoriasis begin to exfoliate and crumble already in the advanced stage of onycholysis. [13]

The nails on the hands flake and crack after the frequent procedure of nail polishing with special polishing buffs. Immediately after processing, the nails look even and smooth, but during sanding you remove the top layer of the nail. If you do this often, then serious damage is done to the health of the nails. Often, such a procedure is resorted to when longitudinal convex grooves appear on the nails, which in themselves already indicate problems in the growth part of the nail caused by possible problems with blood circulation, absorption of nutrients, hormonal disruptions and other reasons requiring diagnosis, and not grinding, and gel-varnish camouflage. In such a situation, naturally thin and exfoliating fingernails are especially affected. It is better to immediately contact a specialist and identify the cause of the loss of healthy-looking nails.

Complaints about the fact that the skin of the hands is very dry and the nails are exfoliated, may indicate dryness of both the skin and nails. The reason for this condition may be the constant stay in a room with dry air with insufficient water consumption. In this case, drinking plenty of fluids, moisturizing cream and, if possible, humidifying the air can help. However, dry skin on your hands and peeling nails can be a symptom of fungal infections and even psoriasis. If there is no improvement from the measures taken to moisturize the skin and air, it is advisable to see a doctor.

Finally, I would like to comment on the request: "The nails of the hands are exfoliating, I smear it with thermikon". If a doctor prescribed an antifungal ointment Termicon, then you need to smear it, and if it is ineffective or if the condition of the nails worsens, consult the same doctor. Any drug can cause an allergic reaction and not be suitable for the patient. If a friend recommended the thermikon for exfoliating nails, then you should find out if you have a fungal disease, and then smear it. The cause of splitting of nails may not be fungus at all, and thermikon is by no means a harmless remedy.

Many parents ask questions about what it means if a child's fingernails are peeling. Children often bite their nails, dig in the sand, build dams after rain, come into contact with animals, which creates favorable conditions for infection and injury. Alimentary reasons can also occur, it is worth analyzing the child's diet. If you are convinced that everything is in order with nutrition and caring for children's nails is ineffective, then the child should be shown to the doctor. This is the only way to find out the cause of the pathology.

If we exclude gross mechanical or chemical damage to the nail plate, then the severity of symptoms depends on the stage of metabolic disturbances in the nail matrix. In the beginning, “wrong” metabolites from blood and lymph accumulate in cells and intercellular substance (infiltration stage). This can be manifested by deformation of the nail plate, the appearance of transverse or longitudinal irregularities, white stripes. The balance of cellular metabolism in the horny tissue of the nail changes, the process of keratinization is disrupted, the nail becomes fragile and exfoliates. At a far advanced stage of transformation, the connection between the nail and the nail bed is lost and the process of loss of the nail can begin - onycholysis . [14], [15]

Complications and consequences

Of course, the easiest way to deal with the problem is in the initial stage, when a small part of the nail is damaged. If external factors become the cause, then their elimination and active nail care will give a fairly quick effect - the exfoliating tips will be cut off, and the nail will begin to grow back quite healthy.

Ignoring the problem, masking peeling nails with extensions can lead to the development of onychodystrophy and even complete loss of the nail. Untreated fungal diseases, psoriasis, dermatoses end with onycholysis. [16]

In addition, persistent splitting of nails, which continues despite active caring for them and good nutrition, can be a symptom of chronic pathologies of the digestive organs, endocrine and immune systems.

Diagnostics of the peeling nails

The fact of nail stratification is determined visually, however, finding out the causes of such a defect may require a number of diagnostic procedures.

After interviewing the patient, analyzing complaints about the general state of his health, the doctor can prescribe blood tests - determining its composition, the level of glucose, proteins, thyroid hormones, vitamins and mineral components, the activity of transaminases (liver function tests). Other specific tests may be ordered depending on the presumptive diagnosis. In addition, if kidney failure is suspected, the patient undergoes urine tests.

Mandatory for complaints of progressive stratification of nails is a microscopic examination of scrapings from their surface (from under them) for a fungal infection, which will exclude or confirm its presence.

Consultations of specialists of various profiles are often necessary - an endocrinologist, urologist, gastroenterologist, oncologist.

Instrumental diagnostics is carried out to identify systemic pathologies and may include a variety of studies from ultrasound and ECG to fibrogastroscopy.

Differential diagnosis

The examination results are summarized, and differential diagnosis allows in most cases to establish the cause that caused the appearance of dystrophic changes in the structure of the nails. Stratification of nails can be a symptom of the development of a chronic somatic disease, an infectious lesion and an independent dystrophic process caused by violations of the trophism of the matrix. Therefore, a thorough examination and analysis of its results are of great importance to exclude a diagnostic error.

Who to contact?


You can prevent lamination of nails by constantly taking care of this part of your body, which, moreover, is in plain sight. You need to take care of your nails every day, protect them from harmful influences, injuries and unprofessionally performed cosmetic procedures.

In cold weather, hands must be protected by wearing gloves, in warm weather - do not dry out and moisturize in a timely manner. When working with aggressive substances, in humid environments - use protective creams, gloves, and double your efforts for nail care.

Use  high-quality formaldehyde-free nail polish, acetone-free nail polish remover, wooden spatulas and glass files instead of metal ones, use the services of a trusted beautician.

In addition, it is worth protecting the general state of your health - by eating well (the diet should include vegetables and fruits, fish and meat, eggs, dairy products, cereals), having high quality rest and being less nervous.

And if you still did not save your nails, then you should not resort to masking defects. It is better, without delay, to resort to diagnostics and treatment, then you will return the health of your nails faster.


In most cases, fingernails exfoliate due to a careless attitude towards them, excessive enthusiasm for newfangled procedures such as nail extension, inappropriate nutrition and / or low water consumption. It is not difficult to cope with such problems by normalizing your diet and optimizing nail care.

A fairly common cause of nail foliation is mycosis. However, timely treatment usually ends well. In this case, the quality of the nails can be restored completely.

In the case of systemic pathologies, the prognosis depends entirely on the diagnosis and the time of the treatment started. Splitting nails in itself does not pose a threat to life, however, it can be a symptom of a serious illness, fraught with much worse consequences than outwardly unkempt nails.

Why dream of peeling fingernails?

Nails and in a dream are a symbol of the state of affairs, opening up prospects and the state of health of a sleeping person. In order to correctly interpret a dream, you need to have detailed information about its content and the sensations that it left after waking up. Nevertheless, a more favorable development of events predicts a dream about healthy and beautiful nails, exfoliating nails of a sleeping person are an omen of certain difficulties. For women, they predict the appearance of a rival, and for men - the intrigues of competitors and troubles associated with them. However, it is possible that today's women who do business can also be expected to compete on this basis.

If the nails not only exfoliate, but also break - this is also an unfavorable sign, it is interpreted as omens of future problems with family members. In some dream books, short breaking fingernails are a warning that you should not take on a new job - you will not be able to cope with it or it will not be paid for.

If the sick nails were not in the sleeping person, but in his loved one, then he may get sick in the near future. In general, broken off nails symbolize difficulties - with communication, work, health.

Esotericists interpret a dream in which the sleeper sees exfoliating unkempt nails as a warning of impending difficulties that the sleeper will have to overcome in order to maintain his status and self-esteem.

The dream book of Gustav Hinderman Miller interprets the irregularities on the nails seen in a dream (cracks, foliation, and others) to events that will dishonor your family for a long time, or long-term serious illnesses.

Almost all publications say that exfoliating brittle unkempt nails dream of trouble.

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