Fingernails misshapen

Originally Published: May 18, 1995 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: January 16, 2013
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Dear Alice,

I'm a forty-five-plus-year-old woman and have noticed that my fingernails have become quite misshapen over the past few years. Some are quite flat, while others curl down at the sides. They are also very easily damaged — they thin and flake easily at the ends. What can I do diet-wise to strengthen them?

— Nailpolish

Dear Nailpolish,

Changes in your diet can improve the health of your nails. Fingernails require:

  • Complete protein
  • Vitamins A, C, and B Complex — vitamin C serves to prevent peeling and hangnails, and B Complex prevents fragile nails
  • Calcium and other minerals, such as sulfur, iodine, and iron, which is necessary to prevent weak, dry, and thin nails

Environmental factors can also affect the health of nails. Excessive immersion of hands in water with detergents, disinfectants, and soap can harm nails. Cold weather and wind can be hard on nails as well. Protective measures include wearing plastic gloves while doing dishes, and wearing gloves when outside in winter weather. Certain nail products, such as nail polish remover and enamels, are drying to nails. Even nail hardeners (those that contain formaldehyde) can make brittle nails more brittle. Artificial nails and nail wraps can also be damaging as they may contain acrylics and peroxide, which can harm your natural nails.

So, work on improving what you eat and protecting your hands. Sometimes, changes in the nail can also be the result of a nail infection, such as a fungal infection. If none of the above suggestions seems to work, see a health care provider or dermatologist for diagnosis and treatment. Columbia students can contact Medical Services (Morningside) or the Student Health Service (Medical Center campus) to make an appointment.

Alice