The nail layer, made up of several keratin or protein layers, usually seal together to form a solid, strong nail bed, according to Nemours TeensHealth. But when nails become damaged, the layers come apart and become brittle and flaky. Most people affected by this condition, which is also called onychoschizia, can treat it at home or with a physician's assistance.
Brittle, flaking nails indicate a problem that you should address. Even if it's caused by minor factors, you should address it quickly to eliminate further damage. If you have poor nail health resulting from an underlying health condition, it's even more important to get to the root of what's causing your nail problems.
Medical conditions such as hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, malnutrition, vitamin deficiencies and skin conditions, including psoriasis, may contribute to brittle, flaking nails, according to MedlinePlus. Exposing your nails frequently to water, usually through hand washing, can also cause brittle, flaking nails. Other causes include exposing your nails to chemicals including cleaning chemicals, nail polish and nail polish remover.
Apply a lanolin-enriched lotion or one containing alpha-hydroxy acids to brittle, flaking nails after bathing. Natural treatments for brittle, flaking nails include vitamin supplements of calcium, biotin, iron, silicon, vitamin A and zinc, according to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology.
Wear cotton-lined rubber gloves when washing dishing or performing other household chores which involve water, and keep your hands out of water as often as possible. Dry your hands thoroughly when you must wash them and always apply a lotion to hands and nails after they are exposed to water. Wear gloves in winter and avoid using acrylic, porcelain or glue-on nails. Some nails polishes may protect the nail bed. Use a brand that adds nylon fibers to provide extra strength to nails, according to University of Mississippi's health care site.
Contact a medical professional for treatment or to test for underlying medical conditions if you notice blue nails, white lines, pale nails, clubbed nails, horizontal ridges or clubbed nails. Do not pick or tear at the brittle, flaking nail.