Weak Nails Could Actually Be "Eggshell Nails"—Here's What You Need to Know

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Think your nails are brittle? Take a closer look, because there's a chance you may be dealing with what is known as "eggshell nails". While the term may connote a cute pastel, Easter-inspired mani, these are anything but. More on the specifics in a moment, but eggshell nails are soft and bend easily, and are also characterized by some unique discoloration. There's also some overlap between eggshell and brittle nails, although the former has a different list of potential causes. At the end of the day, determining the root cause of the issue is key, as it will help you determine the best way to address this problem. Here, board-certified dermatologist Dana Stern, MD and manicurist Tina Wang share everything you need to know about eggshell nails.

What Are Eggshell Nails?

"Eggshell nails"—technically referred to as haplonychia—is a condition characterized by a nail plate that's soft and bends easily. The nail may also be semi-transparent, with a visible bluish-white hue. "The blue hue is due to the fact that the nails are thinner than usual, so the underlying vasculature of the nail bed is showing through the thin nail plate," explains Stern, adding that it's a similar concept to why we see blue circles under the eyes.

Causes of Eggshell Nails

  • Genetics: Much like your eye color or hair type, your nail condition is also predetermined to a certain extent. Everyone is born with a unique nail matrix, the nail-producing area in the center of the nail, which determines size, quality, and thickness, explains Dr. Stern. It's why some people have differently shaped nail beds, why some people can grow their nails super long and others can't, and, on occasion, why someone may have eggshell nails. That being said, it is important to note that there are other external factors that can exacerbate a genetic baseline and make an already bendable nail even weaker and more prone to damage, she notes. To that point...
  • Damage to the Nail Plate: Particularly if your nail is thinner to begin with, overly-intense practices can quickly exacerbate the situation. This includes aggressive removal of soak-off gel polish, acrylics, or dips, as well as excessively abrasive buffers or electric files, notes Dr. Stern. Continual exposure to acetone may also contribute to hapalonychia, adds nail expert Tina Wang.
  • Vitamin Deficiencies: If your tips have always been strong and healthy and suddenly turn extremely thin, soft, and fragile, a possible vitamin deficiency may be to blame, notes Dr. Stern. "Deficiencies in vitamins A, B6, C, D, and calcium have all been associated with eggshell nails," she says.
  • Raynaud's disease: "It's important to note that most people with eggshell nails do not have an associated internal disease or illness," says Dr. Stern. That being said, a circulatory compromise to the extremities, as is the case with Raynaud's, can play a role.
  • Water Exposure: Both of the experts we spoke with point out that too much H2O can cause eggshell nails, albeit temporarily. "Temporary, eggshell-like nails can be seen after a long soak in water. The nail is 1000 times more absorptive of water than the skin, which is why you may see your nails become very soft after a long both," says Dr. Stern. While water itself won't cause chronic eggshell nails, general dehydration can lead to nail thinning and weakening, notes Wang.

Meet the Expert

  • Dana Stern, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City, specializing in nail health and the founder of the Dr. Dana Nail Renewal System.
  • Tina Wang is a nail expert and the owner of Lunula Salon in Brooklyn, New York.

How to Treat Eggshell Nails

First and foremost, it's important to figure out what's causing the problem; more specifically, it's essential to rule out one of the aforementioned internal underlying causes. "Our nails are perhaps one of the most under-appreciated indicators of what is going on in our bodies," says Wang. "If your nail quality changes suddenly, see your primary care physician for a workup that will include blood work," says Dr. Stern. This will help determine if a vitamin deficiency is to blame, in which case, something as simple as taking a daily supplement can help address eggshell nails, says Wang points out.

If that's been ruled out and/or your eggshell nails seem to be a chronic and constant annoyance, there are other things you can do:

  • Avoid gel and acrylic nails: These require either a prolonged acetone soak or mechanical and abrasive removal, says Dr. Stern. The former dehydrates the nail and leads to increased weakening; the latter will thin out your already thin nail plate.
  • Use a glass file: "Traditional emery boards cause microscopic tears at the tip of the nail that leads to splits and peeling, and a nail that is already soft and bendable will be especially prone to these. A glass file creates a clean, smooth edge," Dr. Stern explains.
  • Wear gloves anytime your hands will be in the water for a long time: Water absorption puts stress on the nail cells. "Every time water enters the nail, the bonds between the cells are strained and weakened, which leads to further bending and breakage," says Dr. Stern.
  • Use a nail strengthener: While it's not a Magic Eraser-type fix, particularly if your eggshell nails are due to a more systemic condition, a strengthening treatment is worth using to help fortify the nails, says Wang. She likes the Londontown Nail Probiotic Instant Boost ($22; londontownusa.com), which can be used solo or pre-polish.

The Takeaway

Eggshell nails aren't necessarily something to be super stressed about. If they come on suddenly, it does merit a trip to your doctor or dermatologist. Otherwise, a few simple tips, tricks, and tweaks can go a long way.

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