Brittle nails, hair loss, thinning eyebrows, or dry skin might be indications of undiagnosed thyroid problems.

Q. You recently replied to a person who has weak fingernails. You mentioned some treatments but did not point out that together with other problems this could be a symptom of hypothyroidism.

Often little things like brittle nails and dry skin are overlooked and never mentioned to the doctor because of their seeming insignificance. Some of these apparently unrelated problems could be a hallmark of a more serious health concern, especially when they occur in a constellation of symptoms. With hypothyroidism, brittle nails, dry skin, hair loss, poor memory, trouble with concentration, weight gain and depression are all indicators.

Any condition that does not improve as it should might be signaling an underlying problem. It is better to find and treat the cause, not just the symptom.

A. You have described many symptoms of an underactive thyroid gland. Other signs include constipation, fatigue, cold intolerance, reduced sex drive, high cholesterol and slow pulse. Because such complaints are so common, they are sometimes overlooked or dismissed. Thank you so much for suggesting hypothyroidism as a possible contributor to brittle nails.

What To Do for Brittle Nails

Not everyone with brittle nails suffers from a sluggish thyroid gland. Ask most physicians what causes brittle, dry or weak nails and you could easily get the dear-in-the-headlights look. That’s because there is no clear understanding of an underlying etiology (doctorspeak for cause). Speaking of big words, the medical term for brittle or splitting nails is onychoschizia. Try pronouncing that word three times.

Sometimes you will be told it is just part of the aging process. Other times you will get a shrug. It is always worth checking with a physician to make sure there is no serious underlying health condition such as anemia. Assuming there is nothing obviously wrong, let’s start with the basics.

Your nails are a lot like your skin. When the heat comes on the air dries out. That means both skin and nails are likely to become dry. Avoid detergent at all costs. It will dry out both your skin and your nails. Rubber gloves can be very helpful.

By the way, steer clear of most so-called nail strengtheners, especially if they contain formaldehyde. This chemical may “harden” nails but it does this by drying them, which often makes them even more brittle. You will also want to avoid nail polish remover containing acetone. It is a solvent and will make nails dry and brittle. Some people go so far as to recommend avoiding nail polish completely:

Pat’s experience:

“One thing I’ve noticed is that after I remove nail polish, for a few weeks my nails splinter, form ridges and look nasty. Nail polish does not allow your nails to ‘breathe.’ My trick to healthy nails was to stop using nail polish.”

Ruth discovered vitamin D was helpful:

I am 77 and had soft fingernails, which often broke and split. When the doctor checked my vitamin D level and found it to be 23, he prescribed 50,000 IUs of vitamin D weekly. Soon my nails were much stronger – no more breaking or splitting and I actually have to cut them. After 6 weeks my vitamin D level was 51, so I now take 2,000 IUs daily (in 2 doses), and just hope its helping my bones as much as my fingernails.

Nail Moisturizers:

A moisturizer can be helpful for brittle nails as well as dry skin. Some people soak their nails in almond oil. Others use cuticle crams. Elon Nail Conditioner is a favorite because it contains lanolin and beeswax along with an antifungal ingredient and petrolatum. Another favorite is Mane n Tail Hoofmaker. It was developed as a moisturizer for horses hooves but groomers discovered that it could help their rough dry nails as well. Because it is a veterinary product it is surprisingly affordable. You will find it online or in horse supply stores.

Gin the bank teller:

“Years ago I worked as a bank teller . In each cage was a dish with a sponge and liquid glycerin. We patted our finger tips in it before counting money (bills). I would then massage the remainder into my nails. I had beautiful nails. But to remind everyone it is not a quick fix as the nail bed absorbs the product and it takes a while for the damaged nails to grow off and form new ones.”

Gelatin for Brittle Nails:

A study in the journal Archives of Dermatology (Sept., 1957) found that a packet a day of gelatin seemed to improve weak nails after about three months. Some people put a packet of Knox Gelatine in their yogurt to ease arthritis symptoms.

What about Biotin?

There is a lot of anecdotal support for the use of the nutrient biotin to strengthen soft nails. A report in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology (Aug., 2007) notes:

“The evidence that we adduce in this paper suggests that: 1) proper nail care seems to help maintain nail health; 2) no evidence supports the use of vitamin supplementation with vitamin E, vitamin C (ascorbic acid), vitamin A, retinoids, retinol, retinal, silicon, zinc, iron, copper, selenium, or vitamin B12 (Cyanocobalamin) for improving the nail health of well-nourished patients or improving the appearance of nails affected by pathologic disease; and 3) brittle nail syndrome appears to abate with supplementation with a 2.5-mg dose of biotin daily or a 10-mg dose of silicon daily, a useful form of which is choline-stabilized orthosilicic acid.”

The Bottom Line for Stronger Nails:

Avoid washing dishes with bare hands. Always use rubber gloves. Stay away from solvents. If you avoid nail polish you won’t need a solvent to remove it. Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize.

Our Guide to Hair and Nail Care will provide tips on overcoming nail fungus. And our Guide to Thyroid Hormones provides details on symptoms, lab test interpretation and various treatment options for hypothyroidism. If, as our initial reader suggested, the problem is linked to a sluggish thyroid gland, then the most appropriate solution would be to get the thyroid function back to normal.

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  1. Tanny

    Have hair loss brittle nails that practically break when I look at them very bad sleep tired all the time feel worse when I get up then when I went to bed slight trouble with memory been on thyroid MEDS for years helped substantially with weight loss 70lbs in one year but helped nothing else I am sixty but should not feel ninety

  2. Meredith

    Wish I had found this site many many moons ago. Been taking thyroid meds for some years now. It’s been a roller coaster ride to hell and back. As mention before the thinning hair, brittle nails, low to no libido, low energy just the overall bad feeling all the while taking meds and test results normal.

    I developed a new issue a swelling right ankle. Had no idea why my ankle was swelling and neither did may doctor. I decided to do some reading because the ankle issue was becoming an embarrassment…have you ever heard of canankles…sigh.

    Well I read that the generic leveothyroxrin I had been taking for several years was most likely the cause as well as other feet issues. All my doc would tell me was to exercise. It’s really hard to do that when your feet hurt…well I mention to my doc that I thought the generic meds I was taking may be the cause of my ankle issue, she practically yelled at me that she did not care what brand I took, I just needed to exercise and I would be great.

    I left her office that day feeling even more dejected. Granted I was/am not a big fan of exercising but I tried to get a few walks in when I felt like it, but of late with hurting feet the desire was just not there. Well she drew the blood and called in the script as she had always done and I picked it up as I always did.

    But low and behold, her assistant began calling and leaving message to please call the office…I knew what it was because I had been feeling particularly lousy for a few months. Well I was told to not take the meds and the doc was calling in new script to my local pharmacy. I have been taking the new meds which are not generic and I am beginning to feel better, it’s only been about 3 months, but it also seem that the swelling in my left ankle is no more or at least not as noticeable. I think I will just stick to my local and not do mail order, even though mail order is cheaper. I was only going to ask my doctor to ask that the mail order not be generic, before she so rudely yelled at me. I think on my next visit I will show her my ankle and ask for an apology.

  3. Ruby
    North Carolina

    I take 175mg one day and 150mg the next and so on. I am close to losing all my hair and the fatique, brittle nais, etc are presented in my case. I am currently seeing a new internist and has ordered a battery of tests. Am I wasting my money?

  4. Hugh Hillebrand
    Arlington, Texas

    I have always suffered from brittle nails as I am fanatical about having clean hands which requires washing with soap several times a dy.. During the summer months I usually do not have this problem. As soon as the temps. go up, so does my ice-cream consumption and the nails seem to get stronger. Perhaps the increase intake of calcium?

  5. janet

    I am taking 75mg of nature thyroid and my tests results are this T4-5.3,T3-free-3.9, TSH-1.38. My nails are splitting with ridges and a lot of hair loss and dry skin. Is this a t4 to t3 issue or what?

  6. Ruby

    Five yrs. ago I begin going bald, soon I developed psoriasis and my nails became brittle. Test do not indicate I have a thyroid problem or anything. My psoriasis will improve along with my nails & then get worse all over again?? I’ve lost just about all the hair all over my body?? Please, please somebody help me for all the doctors I have seen have not helped or offered any suggestions as to why I have lost my hair or developed psoriasis which keeps spreading & spreading.

    • Anurag

      Use etavone for your body parts that suffer psoriasis. Use coconut oil and have sunlight on body parts that have psoriasis.
      For scalp, use any lotion that has salysilic acid. Even a lime is a good option. Other than that, use mobile CT shampoo.

  7. Judith H
    Washington State

    Brittle nails are most often a sign of psoriasis.

  8. John
    Blacksburg, VA

    Mustard works for my leg cramps!

  9. MV

    I agree with CB. In the past 2 years, 5 separate doctors have ordered thyroid panels because they noticed things about me that didn’t add up. An allergist, dermatologist, cardiologist, rheumatologist and ophthalmologist all questioned signs I was presenting. When an endocrinologist told me my thyroid was enlarged, and I have 1/2 dozen nodules on it, she too ordered blood work.

    But then the lab work came back “within normal limits,” and I was basically dismissed and told to eat less and run 10 miles a day to alleviate my problems. So my question is: why is lab work the definitive answer and the only thing considered when deciding whether or not to either treat the thyroid or investigate for other causes??

    I put up with high cholesterol, unexplained weight gain and inability to lose it, loss of appetite, exhaustion, puffy, dry, swollen eyes that are sensitive to light, muscle pain, stiff and sore hands and feet, dry eyes and mouth (also negative for Sjogrens), dry hair that is falling out, pits and ridges in my nails, snoring, ear ringing, shortness of breath, occasional swallowing issues, constant need to yawn.
    Each doctor just wants to treat symptoms.

    This all started about 6 years ago. I used to walk marathons – now it’s a struggle to get to the end of the street. I eat fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meat, low fat dairy. It’s a struggle, but I do walk, 3-5 miles a day. Over the summer it was difficult to get more than 700 calories a day, and I still can’t lose weight – hence the advice to run 10 miles a day. I am getting desperate for an answer because I feel as if asking questions makes me sound like a hypochondriac. Any suggestions would certainly be appreciated.

  10. anjana
    punjab kapurthala

    Hypothyroid brittle nails dry eyes no sleep

    • Tre

      @anjana did you ever figure out your ailments?

  11. MJ

    What would be wrong with finding another doctor?
    I have done just that. I struck it lucky with a young one, who listens.
    The last one just handed out pills.
    Before that, the one who fortunately retired, didn’t “believe” in the situation I had and it required self-diagnosis and getting appointment with a specialist who confirmed what I’d discovered.
    The older the doctor, the less likely to be up on the most recent medical discoveries and practices, IMHO.
    If doc doesn’t listen, replace him/her. That’s my rule from now on.

  12. Reddyretta

    I no longer have access to medical insurance. I am in need of thyroid medication. Are there resources available?

    • Terry

      I too had problems like you for years.I finally found a female endocrinologists who said it was not unusual at all for the testing to come up negative,but when the patient has so many symptoms they start on small doses of thyroid medicine.She started me on the natural “Armour” and I got alot of relief.It wasn’t a cure all but helped immensely. I still have split nails and my hair is still falling out but feel alot better.Don’t give up !

  13. Sam

    Armour Thyroid is available. Check with your pharmacist again or call the company. I think it’s much more effective for hypothyroidism than Synthroid.

  14. mv

    Nature Throid or Westthroid (same as naturethroid) is made RLC labs, I highly recommend it. May be found at a local pharmacy, usually one that also does compounding.
    I had a doc try and switch me off to Levothyroxine once. It cost me heart pains and a treadmill test.
    Check out the book, Hypthryroidism Type 2 the Epidemic by Dr. Starr.

  15. sbg

    Is Nature Throid easily available? I was started out on Synthroid, but developed an allergy to the tree filler. Since then I have been on Levoxyl with a brief time on Armour. The formula for Armour was changed and I did not feel well on the new Armour. I have not seen a lot of improvement on any of these. My current doctor has reduced my Levoxyl as my TSH indicates I am taking too much. I still feel that I am not on the correct dose as my symptoms are still there. I am losing hair and the fatigue is not being relieved by adding a mega dose of vitamin D2. I feel better for a day after I take the 50,000 I.U.’s of Vitamin D2, but by the next day I feel tired again. I have never been prescribed Nature Throid. Thank you for any information you can provide on Nature Throid.

  16. MJB

    armor goes by a couple different names. a pharmacy here in town that does compound medications has naturethroid right out front. westhroid is another name it goes by. i also have hashimotos. my dr combines levothroid with an adequate dosage of naturethroid to affect my T3 as well.
    People’s Pharmacy response: These are all brands of desiccated thyroid, but not necessarily all from Armour.

  17. ebm

    Deb, I recommended my girlfriend ask her Dr to prescribe Armour for her, the natural
    dessicated thyroid medicine. It works like a charm and she was on Synthroid for many
    years without any results. I read that Synthroid was never officially approved by the FDA.

  18. CB

    My hair is falling out, my nails split lengthwise and break off in chunks, my skin is so dry it’s painful, I have trouble getting a full night’s sleep, I gain weight unreasonably and I’m so tired I can barely hold my head up. My thyroid is barely in the normal range. However, I’m told that it’s “within the normal range” and it’s “normal for me.” I can’t believe that feeling this way is “normal”. I’m 68 and have had most of these symptoms ever since I can remember (except for the hair loss) and received the same comments for years from many doctors, including an endocrinologist. Then I’m told that I need to lose some weight and I’ll be fine. They give me a diet that’s more calories than I eat and tell me to exercise, which I’m too tired to do.
    I’m 68 and I did take thyroid for several years over forty years ago. As that doctor was writing the prescription, he said, “Most doctors wouldn’t do this because you are within the normal range, but your thyroid is so low I don’t see how you even get out of bed in the morning”. I felt much better while I was taking it. Then we moved across the state and my new doctor wouldn’t prescribe it because I was “within the normal range”.
    What would be wrong with trying to kick my thyroid up to the MIDDLE of “normal”?

  19. cpmt

    TO DAN M: please check to see if what you have is really psoriasis and not a fungus infection. My dr. told me I had psoriasis and later I found out it was a fungus infection.

  20. Susan

    My Anti Thyroid Peroxidase Antibody is 250 (normal range is 0-12), while my T4 and Anti Thyroglobulin Antibody are both within normal range, although both on the low end (5.17 and 9.8, respectively). Can you please advise… what does this mean? Thank you.

  21. PB

    I am on Levothyroxine and I have all the symptoms as you I also eat healthy, walk 30 minutes a day and take a multivitamin. and get 7 hrs of sleep. I wish I had an answer.

  22. Grace

    I’ve had the same problem with synthroid; it made me feel like I’d had too much coffee. I’ve tried several natural options, and am currently taking NatureThroid which seems to work the best for me.
    Recently my general practitioner doctor made note that my THS (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) is pretty low, which he warned me has been linked to bone loss, so I tried to reduce my dose. I’ve had this ‘skipped’ heartbeat feeling off and on for years, but my general practitioner has done EKG’s and said they were normal enough (not a very reassuring statement!), so I just tried to ignore the skipped beats and fluttering feeling.
    Then, having tried to cut back on the NatureThroid, I had an average of 15 missed beats per minute, which ended me up at a cardiologist. Thank God he was the most wonderful doctor who first of all recognized the skipped beats: They were real, and it was such a relief to have a doctor acknowledge them. Then he saw the Thyroid connection right away, and confirmed that NatureThroid is more natural and more likely to make you actually feel well than the ‘flat-line’ dose Synthroid gives you.
    He told me not to worry about the low TSH, but focus more on getting the Free T3 and Free T4 closer to the high end of normal. He did an echo-cardiogram which was all clear. I’ve increased my dose and the skipped beats have come down to a much more comfortable level.
    Now my body temperature is beginning to come up to more normal levels (it had been around 95 degrees for the last 20 years), my hair is less dull and… O miracle! my nails are FINALLY beginning to strengthen. I have more energy and less trouble keeping my weight down. So if I’ve learned anything, it is that everything is interconnected, and blood test levels are only part of the picture, and to not give up to hope to feel better, and to keep looking until you find a doctor who actually listens to you and treats the patient, not just the lab results.

  23. DRA

    I have found the same to be true. On levothroid, annual blood tests indicate that my thyroid levels are all within normal ranges. However, symptoms (fatigue, thinning hair and nails, low libido, weight gain, etc.) never really improve. I exercise, eat a healthy diet, take a multi-vitamin, and get 7 hours of sleep a night, but still never really feel energetic. Any suggestions?

  24. Charlayne

    Synthroid doesn’t do anything for me either, neither does the generic levothyroxin. The only thing that works on my Hashimotos was Armor Thyroid, which has gone into either short supply or totally off market. I really miss it.

  25. Dan M

    Another cause:
    At age 79 I became one of the 5% whose only symptom of psoriasis is brittle nails which split and then begin to distort, also.

  26. cpmty

    Well, thank you for saying it. I been complaining of all these symptoms to my old dr. (nurse) and she totally ignored me because the T4 test was normal. I know that something is wrong but, sometimes doctors don’t listen or hear the patient (probably because I have so many other things wrong with me.) I wish they paid more attention, I guess they, doctors, are too busy. And probably my tinnitus is too related to the same problem.

  27. deb t.

    I have been on 75mg of Synthroid for at least 5 yrs. Blood has been retested frequently. Synthroid has no effect against brittle nails, hair loss, weight gain, weariness, etc. Have mentioned all this to doctor, who has nothing new to offer. I also developed mild anxiety upon taking it.

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