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

Fingernails can sometimes pose a mystery. They may develop an odd appearance, but in most cases dermatologists will not get particularly excited about it. This reader was flummoxed by fingernails that refused to grow.

What to Do for Fingernails That Don’t Grow?

Q. My fingernails just won’t grow! I tried taking biotin for more than a year, to no avail. The dermatologist had no suggestions.

I am on propranolol, verapamil, sulfasalazine, Mobic, omeprazole, fish oil, Caltrate with D and Ocuvite. I have tried many advertised nail lacquers and base coats. Can you help me at all?

A. We are not sure. It is possible that one or more of your medications is interfering with nail growth, but that reaction has not been noted in the prescribing information for any of them.

It may also be that your fingernails are reflecting a more general health problem, such as a thyroid imbalance or psoriasis. Since the dermatologist did not have any ideas about this, you may wish to ask your primary care practitioner to check on these possibilities.

You may find it helpful to moisturize your nails with almond oil or a cuticle cream. That can sometimes keep them from splitting or tearing.

Try MSM:

You might also want to try taking the supplement MSM, methylsulfonylmethane. This natural product is frequently used to ease joint pain, but some readers have reported that it can be helpful in strengthening nails and preventing splitting.

You’ll learn more about moisturizing and using MSM in the Guide to Hair and Nail Care we are sending you.

MSM is a component of a novel nail lacquer being developed by a Swiss firm, Polichem. Research suggests that this product, which also contains hydroxypropyl-chitosan and the herb Equisetum arvense (horsetail), can prevent splitting and make nails less brittle (Journal of Dermatology and Clinical Research, online Feb. 12, 2014).

Unfortunately, it does not yet appear to be commercially available. If anyone finds it has been brought to market, or has a helpful experience to report with another topical MSM product, please feel free to report it in the comments below.

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  1. nan ka

    My nails never grow, and I even tried acrylics. Then when I needed them changed my nails got too soft. The thumb nails grow very fast–embarrassing for wearing jewelry.
    I have tried everything mentioned. I need them to grow fast, as I need to wear my new wedding ring

  2. Nick

    Nails, hair,skin and excelerated growth/healing is in your future. Through trial and error I’ve found what the body wants and needs. First on the list is protein powder. Your not going to make anything happen without adequate protein. Think building blocks, the more you add the higher you can go. Next is your b-vitamins. I always double up on a complex then add extra b1 for high carb meals. A lot of people take magnesium citrate at night but I do not.

    I take it mid afternoon with vitamin c and iron. Right before bed ensure you eat something with a good amount of fat, I take 2 tbs of quality pb for the natural vitamin e. I then take vitamin d3,vitamin a, zinc,selenium, iodide/iodine,calcium citrate, vitamin k2 and high quality fish oil. (I do not recommend) taking magnesium or a multivitamin with this. Avoid all dairy before bed as well.

    This stack will help you sleep better and jump start growth hormone-thyroid-adrenals and immune system. The reason biotin supplements don’t do much is because they are not absorbed untill converted to their active form. So to get things working properly reduce sugar. Reboot the digestive environment by taking a probiotic with a natural fiber supplement for 3-5 days. The bedtime stack of vitamins will also help with the reboot plus insulin resistance so good for fatigue. Last on my long list is water,potassium and sodium/salt.

    These are crucial, especially in the morning so proper food intake is important. Remember extra sugar and carbs utilize b vitamins extremely fast leading to inadequate amounts thus causing food to ferment And not getting completely digested. Leads to inflammation all over the body. What do you think causes headaches? Get your gut in shape and it’s all down hill from there. I’ve left out a bunch of other things I periodically do but not as important as above suggestions. (Perfection is the act, not the end result.)

  3. Eldon

    Not too well known reason for nails or hair not growing
    fast enough is iodine deficiency. Iodine deficiency
    will also cause you to tire very fast, and be without

    Most people that have iodine deficiency use salt
    that is not iodized or do not eat salt. If your hair
    or nails are not growing you might try something
    with iodine in it, like kelp. Take a kelp tablet daily
    for several days, your energy will return and your
    nails start growing rapidly.

  4. Ellen

    My nails didn’t grow for many, many years. Before my wedding I had my nails done and had the person doing my nails ask if I had an issue with wheat. It’s funny she asked because they thought I had a wheat allergy as a child. I didn’t think much of it. I could eat whatever I wanted and never seemed to have an issue with anything – anything from Chinese to Mexican to fried foods. I’ve always tried to eat healthy, but never had a problem with any foods that I knew of.

    Fast forward ten years, having a stressful job, pregnancy, and several kidney stones at the same time and suddenly I had labor-like cramping that wouldn’t go away. Nothing helped, and doctors could find no solution through bloodwork, scans, tests, etc. I was on antibiotics several times for suspected UTIs, which I think were actually signs of the gluten issue. I finally stumbled upon an online forum about a boy who had left flank pain, and doctors could find no solution. He had Celiac Disease. So I decided to go gluten- free, and the cramping stopped, but have dealt with fatigue, neuropathy, dizziness, heart palpitations, etc.

    I was able to link to my body reacting to MSG. Once I eliminated MSG and gluten, I have felt the symptoms dissipate and my energy come back. Although I test negative for the Celiac gene, I have figured out on my own that I have an intense gluten/MSG issue. You might try an elimination diet and see what happens as far as nail growth goes! My nails are now growing again after all of this, which means my intestines are finally healing.

    My body literally wasn’t getting the nutrition it needs, and this is what led to my lack of nail growth!

  5. Miriam
    Skokie, IL

    Aunt Mimi

    I am a 95 year old woman who has used her hands and fingers constantly since playing the piano since 3 years old, doing art work, typing as a secretary, and still playing the piano and typing on my computer. I have severe neuropathy and osteoarthritis, extreme pain throughout my whole body., cannot tolerate medications stronger than Tylenol.

    Since I have impaired vision, I cannot wear rubber gloves when washing anything by hand, as I have to feel with my fingers that I have left clean surfaces. The water here is hard. and extremely hot. I do not have a dishwasher., and no room for one. Recently my fingers have started to bulge at joints, are extremely painful, and some of my nails won’t grow. Would ingesting gelatin help? Cuticle cream?

    My blood tests are normal, including thyroid tests. My skin is extremely sensitive, and reacts to any chlorine in the water. I have a filter on my kitchen faucet, but can use only cold water when I have it on, according to the filter company.

  6. Ewa
    Toronto, Canada

    The nail of my right ring finger is the only one that won’t grow; since August 2016. I’m 80 now, recalling that when I was being prepared for an emergency appendectomy at age 16, a nurse took a drop of blood from the right ring finger to check if my appendix really was in trouble. Several neighbours now have pancreatic cancer — we live in apt. bldgs. erected 40 years ago on soil known to be contaminated by serious industrial wastes but never remediated. Is the right ring finger “related” to an organ?

  7. Jan

    I have had good luck with sunflower lecithin, 1 tablespoon a day, sprinkled on my food with a little added water to dissolve it.

  8. Susan

    I find any kitchen sink water is harmful to my nails. Someone else has to do dishes and rinse veggies, or I wear gloves. Also, a lifetime of manicures loaded with unidentified chemicals and harsh treatment had turned my nails yellow, frail, ridged and unhealthy. Allowing my nails to breath in plain sight has been a good step. I put the free creams that I get as ‘gift with purchase’ on my nails at night and that helps. It is taking years to finally get healthy nails, the healthy way. No medications and no supplements. Fresh air, sunshine, exercise and whole, healthy plant food is helping to bring my nails back to good health.

  9. JR

    On TV, maybe a decade ago, they also said to add some crushed (fresh) garlic to your basic polish. Let it marinate overnight to a week, then paint nails as normal.

    After doing this, for the first few hours, I craved Italian. But, it did seem to work somewhat, if for no other reason I didn’t want to mess up the polish job, and, I kept my hands where people couldn’t smell them!

  10. Natural

    You might consider whether the acid-suppressing drug you’re taking is resulting in mineral shortages (you need minerals to grow nails, or bones). Also, the Caltrate has calcium but not magnesium, and magnesium is required for calcium to enter the cell. And again, acid is required to absorb magnesium.

  11. Veta

    It is not as simple – take one ingredient and you’ll be happy. For several dozens peoples, whom I observed satisfaction come with prolonged consumption of high quality of bee pollen. We do not recommend any pollen even from most expensive/”reputable” retailer. Best is fresh frozen bee pollen from your local beekeeper – just look from local bee club. Pollen composed by more than 450 known ingredients (just about 90% of known composition) and is very useful for many conditions – your nails just one of many.

  12. sheila
    atlanta, ga

    Keep your hands out of water and away from cleaning solutions as much as possible – get someone else do the dirty work and enjoy your lovely nails.

  13. Virginia
    Lula, GA

    I found that rubbing an OTC anti-fungal cream onto my fingernails & cuticles every night made a big difference. My dermatologist also ordered Fluocinonide Topical 0.55% which has continued the improvement. Neither is a short-term fix but both require use for a long time.

  14. Carol
    North Carolina

    If I’m not mistaken, post-menopausal women should be cautious about taking too much iron as it is no longer eliminated by menstruation and too much iron is not a good thing.

  15. Kat

    When I was younger I had beautiful, long nails at I kept polished and manicured weekly, but as I got into my 40s, that began to change. Then into my 50s my fingernails would not grow—they were soft and would split if I was able to get them to grow at all. I resorted to acrylic nails for a number of years, but eventually stopped that. During regular blood work, my endocrinologist tested my thyroid hormone level, and mine was high, but it didn’t seem to be that high to me, so I declined medication. For a number of reasons I later changed my mind and was put on a daily regimen of levothyroxine, 25mcg. Within a few months my nails began to grow much stronger and I now have to cut them back to keep them at the right length for me. Other little things changed with my health as well, so my “not very high” thyroid levels were affecting me much more than I realized. My meds have been increased to 37mcg daily, and I continue to feel well. If your thyroid is not working correctly supplements will not make a difference.

  16. Darice
    Victorville, CA

    I have been rubbing coconut oil onto my hands on my nails for over a year now and my nails are in the best shape they have been in. While not long, my nails do extend over my fingertips and never chip or crack any more. I do pay particular attention to really massaging the coconut oil into each nail bed. I no longer use any polish/strengther/lacquer on my finger nails. I believe the coconut oil hydrates my nails and makes them stronger. This coconut oil treatment has helped several friends of mine. This treatment does take some time though, it is not an overnight cure.

  17. Janet
    North Carolina

    The fingernails on both hands have vertical ridges. Little fingernails more so but most fingers have the ridges to some extent. Any idea why these ridges appeared @ 10 years ago? I only take meds for hypothyroidism. I read in natural medicine book that this could be attributed to vascular, circulation problems. My Mom had severe hypertension (I don’t) and had blocked arteries.

  18. ariel

    oddly enough i have found when i am taking antibiotics they make my fingernails grow. I have often thought that there must be something in them that might be used for osteoporosis as i have that also.

  19. Beth

    I would like to follow this commentary to see if folks have used this remedy or know where to purchase it.

  20. Donna

    I’m allergic to sulfa, so is MSM something I should avoid?

  21. Jo Ann
    Sun City Center, FL

    I have had problems with the ring and little finger of my left hand for years. I have vertical ridges that break the white part of the nail and won’t let any white grow. I suspect it may be from fake nails I had years ago. I have been taking biotin for 4 to 5 years, and my little finger recently has grown some white. My ring finger also has some white, but it is “choppy” and I don’t know if the problem is solved. Both have ridges. I do not take any meds except Sertraline. I also make many “smoothies” with greens, etc. I suspect the improvement may be to Almased, which contains soy, which I have been taking. OR, the Carmex I have been rubbing into the nails at night about once a week. I believe this greatly helps.

  22. Mel
    Forsyth, Mo

    Simply take iron for awhile. Finger nails will grow. It happened to my wife. She is 78 and had never had long nails until she started taking iron after an operation.

  23. ROY
    West Monroe, La.

    My eyedrops (for high pressure), bimatoprost, make my nails grow.

    • Bern

      Are you using the drops on your fingers? What about your hair?

    • ariel

      I wanted to caution: perhaps take blood test to check for iron levels. There are side effects from getting too much iron. In Vitamins for people over 50, as far I have noticed, they do not contain iron. Women after menopause do not need much iron.

    • J

      Roy, I’ve been on Lumigan (bimatoprost) for a couple years now. It has made my eyelashes extremely long, and I’ve wondered if it wasn’t also making my fingernails grow faster. I don’t remember my nails ever growing this fast before. When I read your post, I tend to think you may be right.

      • Sharon

        My mum was using an eye drop in one eye only, and the lashes on that eye were long and thick. Can’t remember the name of the eye drops though.

  24. BJ

    I too had nails that wouldn’t grow, split, etc. I attributed it to taking thyroid medication for many years. I have been taking a tablespoon of Knox gelatin (I add to yogurt but you could add it to juice, water, etc) every day for six months, and my nails are finally beginning to get longer. It takes that long for the nail to grow out so don’t give up.

  25. Susan

    I was put on a blood pressure medication (losartan) that caused extreme sensitivity to light and extreme fatigue. One other side effect was that my fingernails became paper thin. After stopping the drug I then began taking biotin. It took 6 months but my nails are now strong and healthy. It could very well be the drugs you take that cause the problem.

    • Bern

      I have heard many people say that they take Biotin, but what strength do you use?

  26. Howard

    I’ve found that the horsetail herb, which is rich in silica, helps the growth of both nails AND hair.

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