Your nails may change over time
It's normal for nails to:
- become thicker or break more easily (brittle) 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.
- 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
- do not cut your nails down the edges – trim straight across the top to help avoid an ingrown toenail
- do not clean under your nails with sharp objects
- do not wear shoes that pinch your toes, especially when exercising
- do not bite or pick your nails or the skin around them
- do not ignore fungal infections on your skin – such as athlete's foot
When to get medical help
See a GP if:
- you don't know why a nail has changed shape, changed colour or fallen off
- the skin around your nails has become sore, red, swollen and warm (paronychia) - this can be a sign of an infection or ingrown toenail
See a podiatrist if:
- your nails are too tough to cut or you can't reach them
Some GPs may be able to refer you for podiatry. You can also pay to see a podiatrist privately.
Causes of nail problems
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
Nail problems can sometimes be a symptom of a more serious or long-term condition, such as:
- nail psoriasis
- iron deficiency anaemia
- an underactive thyroid or overactive thyroid
- heart, lung or liver disease
But 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.