The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Toenails in Winter: Why They Become Jagged, Brittle, and Cracked, and How To Heal Them

Posted by on Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013


Riiiiip! Don’t you hate it when a jagged toenail slices your new satin sheets? Or how about when your toenail pokes through your favorite $10 pair of socks? If left untreated, these small trifles can turn into much bigger problems over time — like toenail fungus infections or ingrown toenails. This winter, our NYC podiatrist office has five helpful tips to strengthen your toenails and avoid these unpleasant moments.

winter toenails
Give your toes a little extra TLC this season with a winter pedicure and treatments that strengthen the nail. Image Source:

Why Do Nails Break?

Nails are made of keratin, a protein produced by the nail root. Several factors can cause the destruction of keratin or lead to slower production:

– Aging: As we get older, the body naturally produces less keratin and the nails become dry.

– Nail Polish: Too much polish cuts the nail off from oxygen and dries out the nail.

– Systemic Conditions: Eczema, psoriasis, hypothyroidism, and circulations problems cause dryness.

– Infection: Toenail fungus causes the nails to become dry, brittle, yellow, and crumbly.

– Diet: Are you getting enough biotin, iron, zinc, and protein? These nutrients all impact nail health.

5 Tips For Fixing Dry, Brittle Toenails

1. Supplement your nails with vitamins. A Biotin-containing oral supplement called Theranail is recommended by many podiatrists to improve nail appearance and strength. You should see improvements with daily use in a few months. The product is also said to encourage faster regrowth, which is great for patients who are treating toenail fungus.

2. Get your nails professionally restored. KeryFlex is a nail restoration system offered by some clinics that recreates nails injured by fungus or trauma with a flexible, non-porous nail that is placed over your nail to restore a natural appearance while you wait for a treatment to take effect.

3. Allow your nails to recover. When shopping for nail polish and remover, avoid any products containing formaldehyde, acetone, or toulene, which dry out the nails considerably. Consider using a natural nail polish product like Dr. Remedy’s that is recommended by the American Podiatric Medical Association. Experts recommend waiting at least 24 hours before repainting your nails to give oxygen time to reach the nail.

4. Take care with how you cut. Sometimes people sabotage themselves with improper nail-cutting techniques. For instance, you want to avoid aggressively cutting off the cuticle, as this little layer of skin protects the nail from infection. It also creates a waterproof barrier between skin and nail so you don’t lose valuable moisture. When trimming the rest of your nails, give them a chance to grow out past the skin and cut the nail straight across. WebMD recommends gently pushing back the cuticles with an orange stick and moisturizing them instead.

5. Talk to a podiatrist about nail fungus.

toenail fungus statistics
Toenail fungus is more common than you may think. This infographic reveals a few pertinent statistics about this cause of dry, brittle nails. Image Source:

If your nail has a yellowish tinge to it and appears to crumble like chalk in the corners, then you may have contracted toenail fungus. This common condition is said to affect 14% of Americans and up to 40% of Americans over age 60. A podiatrist may recommend oral antifungal pills or laser toenail treatment to help you take care of your dry, brittle nails.


If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.