The Best Product for Splitting, Peeling & Breaking Nails

Regular grooming helps keep nails in tiptop shape.

Photo: Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images

Does the state of your fingernails make you cringe sometimes? Brittle, splitting, peeling and breaking nails may result from environmental conditions, poor diet and nail care, hormones, stress, infection, medication or genetics. But the No. 1 reason for weak nails is dryness, says Catherine Lichtel, "education ambassador" for Creative Nail Design in Burlington, Canada. Enhance the ends of your digits by following her three C's: care, condition and coat.

Form Healthy Habits

Your nails are indicators of your overall health, so sickly nails may be a sign you are not eating a nutritious diet, drinking enough water or taking vitamins and supplements, Lichtel says. Regular exercise and plenty of sleep also help build and maintain strong nails.


Proper care means getting regular manicures and using conditioning creams that contain AHAs -- alpha hydroxy acids -- to exfoliate and soften your cuticles before you gently trim them. Some women, including manicurists, confuse the eponychium — the visible fold at the base of your nail — with the cuticle, and damage it by cutting it with cuticle nippers. Choosing a nail file with the right grit is important, too. A file functions much like sandpaper: the lower the grit, the coarser the texture; the higher the grit, the finer it is. For example, filing back and forth with an 80-grit file shreds your nails, but using a 1200-grit file to buff does the job.


“Conditioning is key,” Lichtel emphasizes. Look for products that are a synergistic blend of conditioning oils, like jojoba, rice bran, sweet almond and vitamin E. This combo penetrates the top layers of the nail plate -- unlike many oils on the market, which simply sit on the surface. This keeps your nails flexible so they don’t chip and split.


Avoid coats, polishes and polish removers that contain harsh chemicals such as toluene, DBP and formaldehyde. Nail hardeners offer protection, but be mindful of how many coats you apply. Nails can over-harden and become inflexible if you are over-zealous in your applications. Similarly, some strengtheners have "extreme cross-linking capabilities that go too deep within the nail surface and are actually counterproductive,” Lichtel says. You need a product that stays in the first few layers, enabling the nail to remain flexible. A protective base coat is a must before you apply polish to prevent yellowing.


“Nails are jewels, not tools” is Lichtel's mantra. Opening a soda can with a nail is a definite no-no; it can split and crack. Use your forefinger or pointer finger instead. And be careful when opening car doors. Don’t assume you can’t do a lot of damage with a little orange stick, either. Poking and jabbing in the name of grooming can break the hyponychium seal -- the tissue underneath the nail plate that sits between your fingertip and the end of your nail -- and separate the nail bed from the plate. Its job is to protect against dirt and infection.

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Catherine Lichtel; Education Ambassador, Creative Nail Design; Director, Baden Salon Spa; Burlington, Canada

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