Cracked toenails are unattractive and can make it uncomfortable for you to wear open-toes shoes or flip flops. The condition may be caused by toenails neglect e.g. not trimming them as frequent as necessary, but it may also be an indication of underlying medical conditions.
In most cases, you will be able to fix a cracked toenail easily at home but where an underlying cause is involved, you may require medical treatment.
Why do my toenails crack? Here are some of the possible causes of cracked toenails:
- Trauma: Trauma (e.g. when a heavy object lands on your toenail; with repeated rubbing on the shoes when playing a game like tennis or basketball, dancing, etc.) is the most obvious external cause of cracked toenail be it horizontally, or vertically, or all the way down the middle. The big toe nail tends to be the most susceptible.
- Too much moisture: Exposing your feet to too much moisture can also make your toenails susceptible to cracking or splitting. Lifeguards, swimming coaches, fishermen and other individuals whose occupations involve lots of exposure to water are especially prone to this problem.
- Too little moisture: It is not just too much moisture. Too little moisture (if you live in a very dry area) can still have the same effect on the toenails. This is especially true if your toenails alternate between too wet and too dry .e.g. for people who work with water and nail drying chemicals e.g. salon workers.
- Overuse of harsh chemical products: Harsh chemicals ranging from nail polishes to nail polish removers, detergents and paints among others may also be to blame for dry nails that are breaking down the middle (in half) or horizontally.
- Thyroid problem: Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) is another common underlying cause for brittle, cracking toenails. Hypothyroidism is usually accompanied by other symptoms such as rapid weight gain, fatigue, and brittle hairs. Although rarely, overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) may also cause nail problems.
- Aging: Dry cracked toenails may simply be a sign of aging. As we age, our bodies lose their ability to hold in moisture and nails and hair often show this by becoming brittle and easily broken.
- Nutritional deficiency: Nutritional deficiency, particularly iron or biotin (a B-complex vitamin) deficiency, may also cause cracking. Iron deficiency anemia (due to inadequate dietary iron intake) is the major contributing factor but other nutrition-related health condition such as anorexia and bulimia may also be involved.
- Raynaud’s phenomenon: This is a poorly understood that causes poor blood circulation to the toenails and fingertips, usually as a result of the patient’s extreme sensitivity to cold.
- Skin conditions: Some skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema can as well attack the toenails and make them brittle and susceptible to cracking.
Yellow cracked toenails
According to the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons (ACFAS), nail fungus is the most common cause of yellow, and often cracked or brittle toenails.
The fungal infection typically occur beneath the toenail and often makes the toenail thickened and raised in addition to the yellow discoloration.
Among the most common causes of toenail fungal infection are walking barefoot in public showers and gym locker rooms etc., and poor foot care e.g. not drying your feet properly, wearing moist socks, or wearing the same socks or shoes every day.
Use of certain colored nail polishes and conditions such as diabetes mellitus and lymphedema (chronic swelling of the legs due to buildup of fluids) may also cause yellow cracked toenails.
As the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons says, the problem will go away as the nails continue growing.
Repair and Prevention
Below is a guideline on how to fix cracked toenails at home:
Apply a moisturizer frequently
If you are constantly exposed to environmental and occupational factors such as water, chemicals etc. frequently applying a moisturizer can help to not only fix a broken toenail but also prevent future incidents of the problem. Moisturizing should thus be an essential component of your nail care.
Soak with Vinegar
Yellow, brittle toenails can be treated effectively with a vinegar soak but as with most home remedies, the results are not guaranteed. Below is how to fix a yellow cracked toenail with vinegar:
- Mix 1 cup each of vinegar and water.
- Soak your feet in the solution for 20-25 minutes.
- Pat the feet dry with a clean towel.
- Repeat this remedy once daily until the fungus (yellow discoloration) gets cleared.
Use Vicks Vapor Rub
Vicks vapor rub is one of the unlikely home remedies but according to the Mayo Clinic, it may help fix the yellowness and cracking due to nail fungus. One study found Vicks Vapor Rub to be effective for 56 percent of the 18 participants, with 17 percent of the participants showing no improvement in signs and symptoms.
How to fix yellow broken toenails with Vicks
- Wash your feet with warm water and soap
- Dry the feet completely
- Dab a small amount of the vapor rub with the help of a cotton ball
- Repeat the treatment once daily for the best results.
Watch Your Diet
As already explained, toenail cracks can have a nutritional origin. It may thus be possible to treat and prevent toenail cracking by eating a balanced diet that is enriched with nutrients and minerals especially iron. This is especially important for breaking toenails during pregnancy.
Take Biotin supplements
According to the Medicinenet, taking biotin (a B-complex vitamin) supplements such as
Appearex may be effective in treating the damaged toenails. Biotin helps to prevent new and further cracking by strengthening the nails.
Take 2.5 mg of biotin daily or as directed by your pharmacist to strengthen your toenails but don’t expect overnight results; it may take as long as six months for the problem to go away completely.
Repair with superglue
Although broken toenails get fixed with time as the nail grows out, you can repair it instantly using a superglue. Yes, you heard right. Gluing the nail together helps but you should avoid using this tactic if you have any open wounds.
- Wash your feet and toenails and dry them completely.
- Apply a thin layer of superglue and allow it time to dry.
- Buff lightly with a nail file.
Fix with a nail repair kit
These days, nail repair kits are widely available in drugstores and beauty shops. Most feature an acrylic solution that can be applied on the problematic nails and nail polishes that you can use thereafter if you so desire.
Over the Counter and Prescription Treatments
If your toenail doesn’t respond to the above listed home remedies, you may want to talk to a pharmacist or a podiatrist (feet and legs doctor) about over the counter or prescription treatments.
Over the counter treatments are usually sold in the form of creams such as antifungal lacquer. Prescription treatment on the other hand may involve oral antibiotics e.g. itraconazole and/or antifungal lacquer e.g. ciclopirox as your doctor deems appropriate. It is also possible to have the whole nails removed as part of the treatment.
Tea Tree Oil
According to the WebMD, tea tree oil may be “effective with toenail fungus and possibly athlete’s foot”.
Here’s how to use tea tree oil to fix cracking nails:
- Pour a few drops of tea tree oil onto a cotton ball.
- Optionally, add a few drops of lavender oil.
- Dab the oil on the cracked nails.
- Put on a clean pair of socks to protect your beddings and then sleep with the oil on overnight.
- Repeat this home treatment once every day until you get the desired results.
You probably have a bottle of Jik – or any other bleach brand – in your house and that too is an easy home remedy for cracked toenail. If itching occurs stop using this home treatment. You should also not use it if you are allergic to household bleach.
- Pour ½ cup of bleach in 5 liters of water.
- Soak your feet in the solution for 5 minutes.
- Repeat the treatment 2 times each day until the symptoms go away.
Keep the nails Trimmed
Toenail cracks resulting from sports injury e.g. while running or playing tennis and activities such as dancing can be prevented by keeping the nails properly trimmed at all times.
Other tips to help prevent and repair cracks in toenails:
- Dry feet properly after showers.
- Wear flip-flops when using public showers.
- Spray your feet and shoes with an anti-fungal spray to prevent fungi growth.