Brittle Nails Are Characterized By Many Symptoms


One of my clients who gels regular manicures has been getting whitish-yellow vertical lines on her nails for the past eight months.  What is causing this?


Q.        One of my clients who gels regular manicures has been getting whitish-yellow vertical lines on her nails for the past eight months. The whitish-yellow lines often separate as the nail glows out, and the lines always peel at the free edge. What is causing this?

A.        Cells in the nails are bound to one another by a natural “glue.” Damage to the cells or to the “glue” that holds them together can lead to vertical whitish-yellow lines and peeling at the free edge. Once the damage to the nail is eliminated, the lines will disappear as the nail grows out.

What is causing the damage? I speculate that nail polish and nail polish remover are the culprits. I recommend that your client discontinue using nail products for six months. In the meantime, she should apply moisturizers to her hands and nails whenever she wets her hands. The nails should recover following this routine. Once her nails return to normal, she can resume getting manicures. It might be wise to schedule her manicures less frequently, say every 10 days instead of once a week.

How do I know nail polish and polish remover are the cause of her problem? While I’m not 100% sure.

I would guess that the client is over the age of 45 and that her nails have naturally become more brittle with age and grow more slowly.

Q.        The bottom half of my client’s nail has turned brown from an infection. She insisted on having lips put over it, but after a month I talked her into letting me take the tips off. I soaked the nails in alcohol and instructed her to do the same every night to kill the infection. Is this the correct way to treat the infection?

A.        You we’re correct to advise her to uncover the problem. Keeping tips on the nail or otherwise attempting to camouflage the condition will only lead to further difficulties. I believe the brown discoloration originates underneath the nail plate. From your description, I can’t be certain that the discoloration is caused by infection.

Soaking the nails in alcohol is unlikely to resolve the problem because the alcohol won’t gel underneath the nail to the source of the discoloration. If there is an infection underneath the nail, the nail plate must be removed to expose the nail bed to air which will help “dry up” the infection. You should not attempt to remove the nail plate if it is attached to the nail bed.

The discoloration also may be due to a hemorrhage underneath the nail plate caused by an injury. If this is the case, the brown discoloration should grow out with the nail. It is unlikely, hut not impossible, that the brown discoloration is due to a tumor of the nail. I recommend you refer this client to a dermatologist. The worst thing your client could do is ignore this problem.

Q.        One of my clients has developed dry, weak nails that appear to be bubbled or blistered on top. Smoothing the nail surfaces with a fine-grit buffer seems to help, but her nails are weaker after I buff them. The condition started on her left hand and now seems to be spreading to her right hand. She is a diabetic. Ten years ago she had a stroke and she is taking many medications. But this condition just recently appeared. What is causing it?

A.        Dryness and weakness are characteristic of brittle nails. The cause of the blistering and bubbling is uncertain, but may be related to layers of the nail plate separating from each other and lilting away. “Onion peeling,” as I call it, commonly occurs in brittle nails.

Why the nails on her left hand became brittle before the nails on her right hand is not clear. The left hand could have been affected first by chance, or she may be left-handed and subject her left hand and nails more often to trauma that can cause nail brittleness. Eventually, the nails on both hands will be equally brittle.

Brittle nails develop as a result of many types of trauma. Frequent immersion in water or solutions that hydrate and then dehydrate the nails can also make the nails brittle. Some women have weak nails dating from early childhood. Other women gradually develop thinner and weaker nails as they grow older. Some diseases cause nails to become brittle. Poor circulation in the hands, which may occur in diabetics, could be partially responsible for this woman’s brittle nails. The fact that she had a stroke 10 years ago suggests she has some circulation problems. Instead of you trying to determine the cause of her nail brittleness, I would suggest to your client that she see a dermatologist.

To keep her nails looking nice, you can lightly buff the nail surfaces to smooth them. Buffing thins the nails and may make them slightly more brittle, so do it as lightly as possible. If she wears her nails natural, keep them short to minimize peeling and breaking.

Advise your client to wear gloves when she does “wet work” and to apply moisturizer to her hands and nails several times a day. Tell her she can prevent trauma to the nails by using her fingertips, not her nails, to perform tasks such as typing, dialing the phone, or picking up small objects.

Because nail polish remover is drying to the nail plate, she should remove her polish as infrequently as possible. For example, instead of her changing her polish between manicures, advise her to apply a fresh coat of polish or top coat every two or three days. Schedule her manicures every 10 days instead of once a week.

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In nail art, any kind of lines painted on the area; technique of painting detailed lines, usually in black to give definition to an object.
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