How to prevent (and fix) split nails

How To Fix Split Nails - Sara Sampaio

Keep washing those hands, just dial up your nail care routine

Beauty Crew Contributing Editor / July 16 2021

So you've decided to (okay, isolation has forced you to) take a break from your gel nails. You're trying your best to embrace your natural nails but it's not going super well. Your nails are a fragile mess and now you have a split down the middle. What gives? Well, the reason for your sudden split nails is very likely related to the pandemic as well... yet another rude disruption to our lives. 

What are split nails?

A split nail is when your nail breaks vertically, as opposed to a horizontal broken nail. It can happen to a fingernail or a toenail; no nail is safe. “A split nail is a weak nail, however, it could be due to a genetic disposition; some of us are born with naturally weak nails thanks to heredity traits,” explains Sally Hansen Nail Expert, Alison Bowhill-Hayes. 

Why do I get split nails?

According to Bowhill-Hayes, the most common cause of split nails is overexposure to water. Professions like hairdressers, healthcare workers and cleaners whose hands are constantly exposed to water are most likely to suffer from split nails. However, during this COVID-19 pandemic where we’re washing our hands a lot more than we used to, we’re all now at risk of getting split nails.

Other health conditions like psoriasis, thyroid disorders, autoimmune problems, and a vitamin deficiency could also be to blame for your weak nails. If your nails don’t grow very fast, you could be deficient in biotin, vitamin C, or zinc. Flaky or weak nails could be the result of not eating enough high-protein foods. Vertical ridges often signal that you need more magnesium or iron in your diet. Have a chat with your doctor if you think the reason for your split nails is more severe than simply exposing them to too much water.

Is a split nail the same as a broken nail? 

A split nail is different from a broken nail and peeling nails. Broken nails tend to be caused by general wear and tear and are not necessarily the result of your nails being in poor condition - although brittle nails are more prone to breaking

Peeling nails are a type of split that occurs horizontally most of the time,” says Bowhill-Hayes. “It actually looks like lots of layers, just the same as pastry in a croissant. This is a classic case of severe dehydration and dryness in the nail plate. Just as the skin shows patches and roughness when it is dehydrated, so does the nail plate by way of flaking or peeling off.” 

How to prevent split nails

So we know what they are; how do we deal with them? The best treatment for split nails really is prevention. While there are some things we can’t (and shouldn’t) avoid, like washing our hands, there are some easy steps you can take to reduce your risk of split nails.

#1 / Keep your nails short.

#2/ “Do a DIY manicure every week to maintain good nail health,” recommends Bowhill-Hayes. 

#3 / Use an acetone-free nail polish remover (as acetone weakens the nail). Try Sienna Byron Bay Nail Polish Remover ($32 at Sienna Byron Bay).

#4 / “Apply a nail treatment as opposed to colour to rejuvenate,” says Bowhill-Hayes, who recommends Sally Hansen Miracle Cure ($10 at Chemist Warehouse). For more great nail treatments, these are our favourite nail strengtheners.

#5 / When washing the dishes, cleaning the house, or doing activities that use your hands, try to wear gloves to protect the nails from chemicals, excessive water, and trauma.

#6 / After washing your hands, replenish moisture with a hydrating hand cream. One of our faves? The Lancôme Confort Creme Mains Hand Cream ($35 at Sephora).

How to fix a split nail

In the case it's too late and you’ve already got a split nail, don't worry; we've got you.

It’s best to trim your nail to avoid the split getting worse. Bowhill-Hayes also advises treating your hands and nails to vitamin E for
healthier nails. “Apply vitamin E oil to the nail plate and cuticles day and night. I love Sally Hansen Vitamin E Nail and Cuticle Oil ($14.99 at Chemist Warehouse) as it absorbs well, gives immediate hydration, and promotes blood flow to improve circulation. It will mean being strict on your regimen with a commitment to treat the problem. The more severe the split, the longer the repair will take.”

If you want to try and salvage the nail without cutting it off, try this genius hack for fixing a broken nail using a tea bag!

Main image credit: @sarasampaio

Chelsea is BEAUTYcrew’s Contributing Editor. She has a sweet spot for anything that claims to make skin glow and won’t leave the house without a slick of mascara. Chelsea has 10 years of experience as a beauty editor and her words can be found on BEAUTYcrew, Women’s Health, Daily Addict, The Joye and Primped.