Did you know your body can speak to you? It's doing it right now. That energy crash at 3 pm, that pimple that 'came out of nowhere', those sugar cravings. Yep, those are all ways your body is trying to tell you what it needs. We just haven't learned to speak the language. I'm here to change that.
If your nails could talk, what would they be dying to tell you?
I spent most of my life with dry, thin, split, peeling nails that I would cover up with nail polish and hope they would grow out and be fine. If you're anything like me, I spent probably 99% of the past 15 years with nail polish on my nails. I never did not have nail polish on. Never. And as a type A perfectionist who could not stand when my nails chipped, I would get no-chips all the time, sacrificing paper thin nails for the relief of un-chipped nails for 2-3 weeks.
When I started on this whole journey of optimizing my health, cutting out alcohol, repleting my body, and balancing my blood sugar I noticed something months later. That when I took my perpetual no chip off, my nails were no longer super split or peeled and seemed stronger.
I took this picture on June 15, 2017 - and am cringing at it as we speak - 25 days after I quit drinking. Yes, part of it is peeling the no chip off, but there's also discolored, split, peeling nails screaming nutritional deficiencies, dehydration, and toxic overload.
Dry, chipped, cracked, thin, rigid nails are not something you are just stuck with. These are all signs your body is asking for something, that something is out of balance or there's something you're not getting.
So, what did I do to heal my nails? (Because seriously this picture is not okay.)
The term onychoschizia refers to nails that are splitting, brittle, soft, or weak.
As many as 60 million people in the United States of America may experience brittle nails, with women predominantly affected.
Nails can be considered brittle and dry (caused by too little moisture) or soft and weak (caused by too much moisture). They can get this way from internal factors or external damage from things like constant wetting and drying of the nails, using chemicals like household cleaning products without gloves, or using nail polish or acetone-based nail polish remover.
Below is a holistic approach to heal your nails.
My nails were literally dying. Here's how I healed them:
vitaminS + MINERALS
Vitamins and minerals are so important because they support all the different reactions that go on in our bodies.
Which ones build and support nail health?
Vitamins: the B vitamins, particularly biotin, B6, and B12, as well as vitamins C and D
Minerals: iron, magnesium, calcium, zinc, sodium, copper
Biotin: biotin may help build up the keratin structure of the nail, which would assist in alleviating nail brittleness. The general daily recommended dose is 2500 mcg.
Iron: if you're iron deficient you're more likely to have brittle nails. Your body needs iron to transport oxygen throughout the body and healthy nails require oxygen.
Magnesium: a study found that those with soft, flaky nails that are inclined to break or split may have significantly reduced plasma and nail plate magnesium levels. It's estimated that approximately 70% of Americans are deficient in magnesium.
And just to note - alcohol depletes all of our vitamins and minerals - but more on that in another post.
What about hair, skin, and nail formulas?
These are a type of multivitamin that contain vitamins + minerals specific to hair, skin, and nail health. They typically include some or all of the ones I mentioned above and will also include other ingredients like silica or special herbs for nail growth.
All multivitamins are different blends or combinations of vitamins and minerals and different forms of these vitamins and minerals. Without getting too scienc-y, vitamins and minerals have different forms - for example, active, inactive, synthetic - and it depends on their chemical structure. Your body needs them in a certain way to use them. I'll go into this more another time, but basically what you need to know is no brands are going to be the same.
Instead of a hair, skin, and nail formula I will often recommend a daily multivitamin like the Megafood Women's One Daily or Men's One Daily and then tailor recommendations for other additional vitamins or herbs based on the person. A good multivitamin will have vitamins + minerals to support nail health + growth. Magnesium isn't found in high amounts in multivitamins, so taking a calcium-magnesium supplement may be beneficial. If you find you are low in iron then you may need to take additional supplemental iron. Talk to your healthcare provider about a recommendation that is best for you.
A majority of the nail is made up of keratins - a type of protein that is built up from amino acids (the building blocks of protein). Sulfur-containing amino acids (methionine and cysteine) play an important role in the structure of keratin.
Depending on your activity level you will need 1.0 to 1.5 g of protein per kg of your body weight. For example, if you weigh 125 pounds you will need 57 g to 85 g of protein per day.
With protein you need to be aware of if you are getting enough protein and if you are getting enough types of protein to get all the amino acids you need. You can read more about that here.
Collagen and bone broth are great additions for extra protein and contain amino acids to help build healthy, strong nails. Basically, they add amino acids to your 'pool' that you use to build up proteins in your body.
You nails can get dehydrated by external factors like dry, winter air, using harsh chemicals, repeated washing and drying of your hands, or using acetone-based nail polish remover. Things like wearing gloves when it's cold, limiting use of acetone, moisturizing your nails before bed, filing your nails in one direction only can all help prevent dryness and splitting. Also, stay hydrated by drinking at least half of your body weight in ounces daily (example: if you weigh 130 pounds, drink at least 65 ounces of filtered water per day).
Natural oils can help seal in the nail's moisture to prevent them from getting dry and brittle. I don't have a special product I put on my nails, but I do use oils in my regular skincare routine so I always make sure to rub in any extra that is still on my hands into my nails.
The products I'm currently using:
Use code KRISTA for 15% off your purchase
I've been using this for years as a makeup remover and moisturizer
Note: coconut oil doesn't work for everyone - if you find you experience breakouts try switching to another oil like avocado or almond oil
Other nourishing oils for your nails include: tea tree, jojoba, vitamin E, olive, avocado, almond
I've recently decided to give my nails a break from nail polish - and funny enough they eventually stopped breaking all the time.
Like I mentioned, I've worn nail polish every day for about 15 years - that's 15 years of build up of all the toxic chemicals found in it. That's not to say I'll never wear it again - we pick our battles, and there are times that I want to wear it.
But it's important to know the top toxic chemicals found in nail polish, why they're bad, + what alternatives we have.
DBP (Dibutyl Phthalate)
Why it's there: to prevent nail polish from chipping
What're the risks: it's an endocrine disruptor, meaning it can mess with your hormones by mimicking estrogen in the body. The State of California has classified it as reproductive and developmental intoxicant, however the federal government has not.
Why it's there: for a smooth finish
What're the risks: it's a neurotoxin that can also cause irritation, nausea, and breathing difficulties. Inhaling the vapors while pregnant can also lead to developmental damage to the fetus.
Why it's there: as a preservative + to harden polish
What're the risks: it has been classified by the US National Toxicology Program as 'reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen'. This has lead to consumer pressure on cosmetic companies to remove it from their products, however there is no current restriction forbidding formaldehyde in these products.
Why it's there: polishes that contain formaldehyde contain this resin byproduct
What're the risks: it can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, and lungs
Why it's there: for a glossy + shiny appearance
What're the risks: it can cause nausea, headaches, and dizziness when inhaled
You can look out for 3-free or 5-free nail polishes for a safer alternative. Note that even though these are free from the top toxins, they still contain chemicals that may be hazardous. Here is a good article for more on this written by Organic Bunny.
Looking at this list, what were the common root causes of my split, peeling nails? For me it can be traced back to an inadequate vegetarian diet over time (vitamin + mineral deficiencies and lack of protein), drinking too much alcohol (depleting vitamins + minerals and dehydration), and covering up the problem with toxic nail polish for years. I finally started listening to what my nails had to say and they're no longer dying trying to tell me something.
It's also important to note that there was not just one thing I did to magically fix my nails. It's the combination of all things - a holistic approach - that really makes all the difference. One of my main goals with sharing information is for your to become your own health advocate. You are the expert of your own body, and it's time to learn how to listen to what it is trying to tell you.
What does it look like your nails trying to tell you? I'd love to know - let me know below!
Krista is a Chicago-based registered dietitian nutritionist, certified health coach, and certified personal trainer offering virtual nutrition coaching using a functional and integrative approach to help you feel vibrant, balanced, and confident. Looking to get your body + brain back?