Top Layer of Fingernails Peeling

A coat of polish can protect your nails.

Photo: Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images

People notice your hands. That's why everyone tells you to be well-groomed and not wear crazy garish manicure colors when you go to job interviews. And what better way to show off a big fat rock than on a set of nicely tended hands? Sometimes, though, your fingernails work against you by peeling. This can result in weakened or misshapen nails, and take a chunk out of your manicure.

Biology of the Nail

The fingernails are made of keratin, a hard protein, which grows up out of your nail bed -- that place at the bottom of your visible fingernail, under the skin. They grow in layers, and Dr. Nia Terezakis, a dermatology professor at Tulane University, compares them to fish scales, saying they grow in a slanted direction, from cuticle to tip.

Causes of Peeling

Nails that are too dry are likely to peel, but oddly, the most common cause of dehydrated fingernails is keeping them in water too long, whether you're doing dishes or going swimming. Some products such as certain household detergents and cleaners can exacerbate the problem. Nail polish removers with acetone are very drying as well. Pushing against the growth of the delicate layers of keratin can also cause them to peel. For example, reaching into your bottomless makeup bag, your poor nails scrape against every hard plastic cover in there. Don't use your nails to pick between your teeth, either -- but then your mother should have taught you that.


When you're going to have your hands in water for a while, wear rubber gloves. Obviously this won't work if you're swimming, or if you wash your hands a lot for your job or during flu season. In these cases, each time your fingernails are exposed to water, follow up with a good coating of moisturizer, making sure to rub it well into the nails -- front and back. Keeping a coat of nail polish on will help seal in moisture while keeping the fingernails protected from outside hazards. also says your nails could get thicker if you take 2.5 mg of biotin every day.

Health Considerations

Sometimes, peeling fingernails can be a symptom of more serious health issues. "NAILS Magazine" lists these potential culprits as hypothyroidism, menopause or a deficiency of iron or vitamins A, C or B-6. If you have other symptoms of any of these problems, see a doctor. If your peeling nails are also thickened or discolored, you could have a fungus, according to WebMD. A dermatologist will have to prescribe treatment; these can be tough to get rid of.

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