I have a client with natural nails who I’ve been seeing for 20 years. During the past year she underwent radiation for breast cancer and her nails began splitting and peeling. I have tried different nurturing and hardening products. She also goes to the gym and uses the pool for her exercise routine. Perhaps the chlorine is also harsh on her nails. Do you recommend a certain product or have any other advice?
The excessive splitting and peeling you are describing is indicative of brittle nails. Fingernails take six months to replace themselves on average, so the radiation exposure of the past should not be an issue currently. However, when the nails are exposed to water, the cells within the nails expand and contract excessively resulting in a weakening between the cellular bonds and consequential peeling and splitting. Swimming is great exercise and your client should not compromise this beneficial activity. She can avoid other excessive water exposure by wearing gloves with any wet work (dishes, washing clothes, wet hobbies). Also, sometimes a two- to four-week break from nail polish remover can help. Nails are composed of protein so be sure your client is consuming a healthy protein-rich diet. Also, she can consider a biotin supplement (2.5 mg), sold at health food stores.
— Dana Stern, M.D. is a board-certified dermatologist specializing in nails. She works in private practice in New York City.
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