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Why are my nails splitting?


What is onycholysis?
Onycholysis simply means separation of the nail plate from the underlying nail bed. It is much more common in fingernails than toenails.

What causes onycholysis?
Several dermatologic diseases (such as psoriasis and lichen planus) can cause onycholysis. Fungal nail infections or trauma to the nail may also do this. When limited to one nail, your doctor may be suspicious that a lesion under the nail is causing the separation.

In most cases, it is the result of a chronic irritant contact dermatitis, such as persistent exposure to soap and water or nail polish.

Who gets onycholysis?
Anyone can get onycholysis, although women get it more often than men. It is particularly common in those who have their hands constantly in water and detergents (for example housecleaners, bar staff, and kitchen workers) and in contact with solvents and other chemicals.

What does onycholysis look like and feel like?
The nail plate is separated from the underlying nail bed. The air underneath the plate makes the nail look white. The separated nail plate can be pushed back causing pain. Otherwise, it rarely causes symptoms. Because of this separation, the nail is at risk for secondary problems such as fungal infections.

How can onycholysis be treated?
To work well, treatment has to alter the things that let it start in the first place – and this is not always easy. It may take as long as 6 months for the nail to regrow, and until it does, the problem may recur.

- Be careful to practice strict avoidance of behaviors and activities that are potential causes.
- Keep the nail trimmed short.
- Apply an anti-yeast solution or lotion to separated portion several times a day.
- Wear light cotton gloves under heavy-duty vinyl gloves for all wet work. Heavy-duty vinyl gloves are available at paint stores and pharmacies.
- Wear the gloves when peeling or squeezing citrus fruits, handling tomatoes, and peeling potatoes or other raw food.
- Avoid direct contact with paints, metal polish, paint thinner, turpentine, other solvents and polish, and wear the gloves when using them.
- Use lukewarm water and very little (or no) mild soap when washing hands. Be sure to rinse the soap off completely and dry gently.
- Protect hands from chapping and drying in windy or cold weather by wearing unlined leather gloves.
- Do not push you cuticles back with any instrument. If absolutely necessary, gently push them back at the end of a shower or bath by using a wet washcloth or the end of a fingernail.
- Avoid nail cosmetics of all kinds while the disorder is healing. Frequently application and removal of nail cosmetics is harmful. Commercial cuticle treatments are often harmful.
- Avoid biting and picking at your nails.
- Avoid the nail salon.