How Do I Treat My Peeling Nails?

Tips for Caring for Your Nails

Nails on hands
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Back in the day, nails were more than just fashion accessories: Early humans used them for digging, defense, and grooming. As the conveniences of modern life precluded those needs, nails became something we take care of, rather than the other way around. One thing hasn't changed, however: Your nails can indicate the general state of your health—so before you treat your peeling nails with the following remedies, check your toenails, too.

If they're also peeling, see a doctor to rule out health-related causes such as iron and other nutritional deficiencies. 

Fixing Peeling Nails From the Inside

First, let's focus on what you can do to improve the overall health of your nails.

  • Drink lots of water. Peeling can be the result of dryness, so try moisturizing from the inside out by drinking water throughout the day. This benefits not just your nails and skin, but your entire body.
  • Eat the good stuff. Boost your intake of iron- and biotin-rich foods such as:
    • Avocado
    • Whole grains
    • Cooked eggs
    • Cauliflower
    • Baked potato with skin
    • Fortified breakfast cereals
    • Lean meats
    • Lentils
    • Spinach
    • White beans
  • Take a multivitamin. Other nutrients found in vitamins can help build your nails' strength, too. They work together with each other and with the foods you eat to keep all your body systems humming.

Attack Peeling Nails From the Outside

Now, let's think about how to moisturize your nails.

Here are a few tried-and-true remedies:

  • Soak your nails in olive or coconut oil. Just pour some oil into two small bowls (melt the coconut oil for just a few seconds in the microwave), moisten your nails a bit, stick them in the bowls, and relax for a while.
  • Use gentle polish remover. Use acetone-free nail polish remover for sensitive skin. It might take a bit longer to get the nail polish off your nails, but it's far kinder to them.
  • Try nail-hardening polish and topical treatments. Here are a few to check out:
    • Nutra Nail 5 to 7 Day Growth Calcium Formula
    • OPI Nail Envy Sensitivity & Peeling 
    • Nailtek Hydration Therapy for Soft Peeling Nails
  • Consider forgoing polish altogether for a while. Going au naturel reduces the drying effects of harsh chemicals. Plus, you'll allow sunlight to reach your nails and cuticles; it's vital to cell repair and regeneration.
  • Buff. Pick up a 4-in-1 nail buffer to smooth rough edges so they don't catch so easily.
  • Wear gloves. How often your hands are in water? How often are you using chemicals and cleaning products? What exactly is getting used on your hands and how often? Sometimes we don't think about how the things we do and the products we use affect our nails. If you're frequently submerging your hands in water for whatever reason (washing dishes, work-related responsibilities, etc.) gloves can go a long way toward nail health. No, they're not pretty and they can be cumbersome, but they're the best way to keep your hands and nails healthy. 

A Few Don'ts

You can take a few preventative steps to improve your nail health, too:

Don't resort to the fakes. Acrylic, press-on, and gel nails can make things worse, turning your already damaged nails into something that only time will help.

Don't expose your hands to water without moisturizing afterward. It sounds counterintuitive, but water—specifically, the evaporation of water—dries skin out. Lotion is your nails' friend.

Don't use your nails as tools. Don't use them to pick apart things, open soda cans, or to do any of the hundred other things that an actual tool or a better method can accomplish without damaging your nails.

Don't bite your nails. When a nail is peeling, it's very tempting to bite it off. That's a bad idea because, first, you'll weaken your nail and second, ew. Think of all the things your fingers touch in a day. Now imagine licking them all. "Unhygienic" is an understatement. If a strip of the nail is beginning to peel, clip it and buff or file the edge.

Speaking of buffing: Do it in one direction. Buffing and filing back and forth can weaken your nail beds and make peeling more likely.

Instead, use gentle, steady movements in one direction only.