Your fingernails are affected by your health and aging, just like the rest of your body. While brittle nails with ridges may be unsightly, in most cases, those conditions usually do not indicate serious health problems. Spending more time caring for your nails can help improve the appearance of your fingernails and reduce brittleness, chipping and breaking.
Fingernails form from keratin, a structural protein that is also found in your hair and the skin's outer layers. Nail cells emerge from the nail root located under your cuticle, the semi-circular layer of soft skin at the base of the nail. When new cells force old cells out of the root, the old cells harden and form flat plates commonly called fingernails.
Horizontal nail ridges cross your nail from side to side, while vertical ridges extend from the base of the nail to the tip. Vertical ridges become more noticeable and increase in number as you age. MayoClinic.com reports that although the exact cause of nail ridges isn't know, heredity likely plays a role. While vertical ridges are usually harmless, the presence of horizontal ridges can be a sign of several health problems, including malnutrition, heart attack or a respiratory disease.
Brittle nails peel, chip, split and break easily. Brittle nails are more likely to occur if your hands are often wet or if you must wash your hands frequently. Exposing your hands to harsh chemicals and cleaners can also cause brittle nails. If family members have brittle nails, you may be more likely to also develop the problem. Other possible causes of brittle nails include vitamin deficiencies, thyroid disease, psoriasis, nail fungus or anemia. The American Osteopathic College of Dermatology advises that when the fingernails split, but the toenails are strong, an external factor, rather than a disease or deficiency, is the cause.
Moisturizing your nails can help reduce brittleness. Petroleum Jelly or moisturizing creams with a low water content are more effective in protecting nails than lotions with a high water content. You may find that your ridges are less noticeable when your nails are healthy and less brittle. Wearing gloves will help protect your nails when you must use products containing chemicals or solvents. Avoiding harsh soaps to clean your hands and thoroughly drying your hands after washing will also help reduce brittle nails.
The American Academy of Dermatology warns against using waterless hand sanitizers with a high alcohol content to clean your hands. The alcohol in the sanitizer can dry your nails and make them more likely to chip or split.