How to prevent (and fix) split nails

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.

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#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).

— Update: 12-03-2023 — found an additional article Horizontal and Vertical Split Nails Causes and Fix from the website for the keyword how to fix a split nail horizontal.

Photo by Andrik Langfield on Unsplash

What causes fingernails to split down the middle? About 20 percent of the population dealt with horizontal or vertical split nails.

Nail splitting is also known as onychoschizia, onychoschisis or lamellar dystrophy, this condition causes horizontal nail splits. There is another form of a nail split, which occur when nails are splitting vertically.

Onychorrhexis is a condition when your nail split down the middle (longitudinal) or Vertical split nails.

When people suffer from both horizontal and vertical nail splits, this is a condition known as “brittle nail syndrome.”

Usually, the symptoms of onychoschizia are having brittle, soft and thin splitting nails. Nail splitting is a typical situation which Mostly occurs among women and elders.

Nail splitting is often caused by repeated trauma or pressure which applied to the nail. Fingernails and toenails are made of a protein called keratin. Weakness and splitting of the nail may also be caused by various nutritional problems and lack of vitamins, minerals, and proteins. There are more reasons for weak, brittle nails such as exposure to chemicals, nail cosmetics, lack of moisture or on the other hand repetitive wetting of hands and nails.

Trauma — Injury or trauma can damage the nail bed and matrix. Both horizontal and vertical nail splits can occur as a result of hits, injuries or severe pressure to the nail. Read Our Tips on How To Repair Damaged Nail Bed After Acrylics, Gels Or Injury.

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Repetitive wetting & drying hands — repetitive washing and drying are a known cause for having dry, soft, splitting nails. Therefore, onychoschizia is a very common situation among those who work with water, such as nurses, cleaners, and hairdressers.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Nail cosmetics — some nail products such as acetone-based nail polish removers can be the reason for dry and split nails, some hardeners and nail polishes can also be the cause.

Exposure to chemicals — exposure to salts, solvents, alkalis and acids which can often be found in our household cleaning products, can damage our nails.

Nutritional problems — Lack of proteins and minerals such as iron can often be the cause of having onychoschizia. Also, insufficiency of valuable vitamins such as vitamin C and folic acid can be the reason for your nail condition.

Health problems — Dry and brittle nails can occasionally occur in those who suffer from Health issues such as fungal infection, hypothyroidism, Psoriasis, diabetes and more.

While horizontal nail splitting mostly describing side cracks and splits,

A Vertical nail split describes a longitudinal split to the nail, which is often indicated on damage to the root of the

nail. These kind of nail splits are usually harder to fix.

Photo by Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash

There are several ways to prevent your nail from splitting. For example, using a moisturizing cream and wearing protective gloves can really help maintain strong nails.

Use Gloves

Use rubber gloves to protect your hands and nails while cleaning, doing laundry, washing dishes and other activities that may expose your nails to water or chemicals (such as cleaning products) for long period of time.

Maintain length

Take good care of your nails. Keep your nails shaped and cut. Maintaining a suitable length for daily use is one of the most important things in preventing nail splitting.

Use moisturizing cream

It is essential to keep your hands and nails in good shape. Appling moisturizing cream daily to your nails and cuticle will help you prevent dryness and nail splitting.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Nail friendly polishes

Some nail polishes and hardeners may contain some harmful ingredients (chemicals) which may damage your nail plate. Those nail polishes can dry out the nail by absorbing moisture. Prefer using polishes containing nylon fibers and try to avoid polishes with strong chemicals. Try to remove your nail polish every 5 days and let your nails rest about 2–3 days before applying nail polish again.

Avoid nail biting

Nail biting can cause damage to your nails, try and get a professional manicure or gel overlay. If you’re a nail biter, you might find this article interesting: How To Stop Biting Nails In 9 Minutes!

Good nutrition for strong nails

Eating foods that are rich in biotin such as bananas, egg yolks, fish, milk products and whole grains can help strengthen your nails.

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Nail extensions

The first step on how to fix splitting nails is knowing the reason your nails split, understanding what is causing the nail to split, can be helpful in determining which treatment will be the best one for you. So how to fix vertical split nail and horizontal split nail?

Step 1: Preparing the nail.

Apply nail polish remover on a cotton ball and remove your nail polish and make sure your nail is clean. The best way to remove nail polish is to put the soaked cotton ball on your nail, let it rest for 10 seconds and then wipe it off (do not rub it back and forth to avoid staining).

Photo by Mike Kenneally on Unsplash

Step 2: Teabag

For this repair, we will use a tea bag as a patch. Cut the top of a tea bag; you can dispose the tea leaves (we won’t be using them). Then, cut the tea bag to fit the shape of your nail (check if fits in both sides of the nail).

Step 3: Basecoat

Apply a thin layer of base coat to your nail, then use the teabag patch you shaped and apply it to your nail (when the base coat is wet), make sure the tea bag covers the nail split. Use your finger to smoothen the tea bag and check there are no air bubbles. Let it dry for 5–7 minutes.

Step 4: Clear polish layer.

Apply one layer of clear nail polish on top of the tea bag. Then wait for it to dry for 10 minutes.

Step 5: File & finish

Use a nail file to remove any excess of the tea bag paper. Then apply another layer of clear nail polish and wait for it to dry. After the nail polish is dry, you can apply your nail polish color regularly.

Photo by Martin Brosy on Unsplash

The answer is simple. Whenever you feel pain or discomfort, visit your doctor.

If you’re experiencing one of these symptoms, you might have a severe nail split case, and you should visit a doctor:

  • Your nail split all the way up to the nail bed
  • Horizontal ridges
  • If you’re noticed nail discoloration or having purple white or blue nails
  • If it’s painful to touch
  • Distorted and deformed nails

This won’t cure your nail splitting problem. This fix is only a temporary cosmetic fix.

Those are the things that can help you cure your nails:

  • Use a moisturizer daily after washing hands
  • Use gloves when working with chemicals
  • Avoid long exposure to water
  • Strengthen your nails by maintaining good nutrition
  • See your doctor


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About the Author: Tung Chi