Nail problems

Nail problems aren’t usually caused by anything serious. Common nail problems include brittle, loose nails that may change colour or shape.

Most nail problems are caused by:

  • injuries or biting your nails
  • staining your nails - for example, by smoking or applying a lot of nail varnish
  • not regularly trimming your nails or cutting them at an angle
  • your hands often being in water or cleaning products
  • a fungal nail infection

Your nails may change over time

It's normal for nails to:

  • become thicker or more brittle (break more easily) as you get older
  • become harder, softer or more brittle during pregnancy - they should be healthier within 6 months of having a baby
  • change colour, become loose and eventually fall off after an injury

Fingernails that fall off after an injury should grow back within 6 months. Toenails can take up to 18 months.

Things you can do yourself

There are some things you can do to help with common nail problems.

Do

  • wear rubber gloves if your hands are often in water or you regularly use cleaning products
  • clean your nails with a soft nailbrush
  • regularly apply hand cream to your nails and fingertips
  • regularly trim your nails - it may help to cut nails after a shower or bath
  • cut injured, loose nails back to where they are still attached - this helps them to grow back normally

Don't

  • cut your nails down the edges - trim straight across the top to help avoid an ingrown toenail
  • clean under your nails with sharp objects
  • wear shoes that pinch your toes, especially when exercising
  • bite or pick your nails or the skin around them
  • ignore fungal infections on your skin - such as athlete's foot

See a GP if:

  • you don't know why a nail has changed shape, changed colour or fallen off
  • your nails are too tough to cut or you can’t reach them
  • the skin around your nails has become sore, red, swollen and warm (paronychia) - this can be a sign of an infection or ingrown toenail

Your GP might refer you to a foot specialist (podiatrist). You could also pay to see a foot specialist privately.

Find a podiatrist

Other causes of nail problems

Nail problems can sometimes be a symptom of a more serious or long-term condition, such as:

Don't self-diagnose - see a GP if you're worried.

Some medicines can also cause nail problems. Check the side effects of any medicine you're taking.

See pictures of nails that have changed shape

Call 111

If you can’t speak to your GP or don’t know what to do next.

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