As we wrap up the cold-weather months, you may notice that your clients’ skin and nails are drier than usual, thanks to the lack of humidity in the air combined with moisture-sapping hot showers. Of course, splitting nails aren’t only seen in winter—they occur year-round. As people age and lose moisture in their skin and nails, splitting becomes a relatively common problem. You have probably noticed that this condition, with the ensuing chips and breakage, puts a real damper on your client’s beautiful manicure. However, you can take steps to help your client with her nail issues and restore moisture to her nails so that splitting becomes less frequent or severe, thereby ensuring that your client’s weekly appointments aren’t in vain.
What the Split?
The medical term for splitting nails is onychoschizia (pronounced ON-i-ko-SKIZ-ee-ah) and may also be called onychoschisis or lamellar dystrophy. “The phenomenon is more common in women,” says Robert Brodell, MD, professor of internal medicine, dermatology, at Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine in Rootstown, Ohio. “This is because women are more likely to have their hands in chemicals and/or water for longer periods [of time], which is a major cause of splitting nails.” Indeed, those with occupations that require contact with water or chemicals—such as doctors or nurses, housewives and hairstylists—tend to have splitting nails with greater frequency. This factor also explains why fingernails are more commonly affected than toenails, as toenails are not exposed to liquids as often.
Aging is also a major cause of splitting. Doug Schoon, chief scientific advisor for CND, explains how the nail begins to split on a cellular level: “Think of your nail matrix as a cornfield, with rows and rows of nail cells. If half of one of those rows gets wiped out, then the area that produces the nail is going to be much thinner. You end up getting a little divot or groove in your nail plate because that whole strip is growing out thinner."
Ridges in the nails are often a precursor to splitting, explains Schoon, and the length of the nail matrix determines the thickness of the nail (the longer the matrix, the thicker the nail plate). When the client experiences enough of this, cell production shutting down, splitting can occur. Meanwhile, nails that split suddenly are often influenced by trauma, such as hitting or bumping nails against a surface. In rare cases, splitting results from more serious health conditions, such as malnutrition, or doses of vitamin A, such as that found in the acne medication Accutane.
How to Help
The good news is that your clients can take steps to avoid worsening the splitting, and you can help during their regular appointments. “The client should avoid trauma and regularly apply moisturizers; and the nail tech should file the nails’ edges smooth, which prevents nails from getting caught or snagged,” recommends Jeffrey S. Dover MD, FRCPC, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale University School of Medicine and director of SkinCare Physicians in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. Dover adds that a client can consult with a dermatologist about the problem. “Prescription retinoids, such as Retin-A and Renova, applied to the paronychial skin nightly, help most of all,” he says.
However, some experts maintain that you can’t fully fix splitting nails. “You can try to minimize the problem or make it less apparent,” says Schoon. “But nothing you eat or put on your nails is going to make the nail matrix grow the correctly formed nail plate. The best thing you can do is simply keep the nails from becoming more brittle, because it will aggravate this condition.” He suggests not using nail hardeners, since they tend to make nails more rigid, and that can lead to further splits and breaks.
In addition, Schoon recommends that anyone with this condition not change her nail polish too frequently—no more than once per week—as this removes oils from the nail plate. This means that you must make sure your manicures last for the long haul by applying base coat, polish and top coat every time. You may also want to recommend that clients apply top coat to their nails every day or every other day to lengthen the life of the manicure and fortify the nails. Further, a ridge-filling base coat can help to mask the problem by filling in splits and other dips in the nail.
You don’t have to stop there with the recommendations—educating clients about the importance of good habits can also prevent them from exacerbating the problem. "Treatments include wearing gloves when exposed to solvents; frequent daily application of ointments on the nail plates and cuticles; using nondetergent or nonalcohol-containing hand cleansers; and taking daily biotin," recommends Ella L. Toombs, MD, board-certified dermatologist at Aesthetic Dermatology of Dupont Circle in Washington.
"I try to get these clients in for a weekly manicure and tell them to use gloves for any cleaning or long times in water or chemicals," says MJ Sherer from Nails by MJ in Hot Springs, Arkansas. "I also tell them to watch what they’re doing with their nails, such as hooking jewelry, shampooing hair, etc." Your client may even want to skip the polish once in a while in favor of a high-shine buffing service. During services, also be sure to file the nail in one direction (lateral to medial) with a fine-grit file to avoid further damage to the nails, says Toombs. "A nail professional should suggest that the client undergo frequent paraffin wax treatments in the salon and consider wearing vinyl gloves after the application of oil or moisturizers at bedtime," she says. Experts also widely recommend wearing cotton liners (to prevent sweat from sapping moisture) and rubber gloves to ensure that nails and skin retain moisture. Several experts also advocate using Elon nail conditioner. "I keep a tube in my purse and my car," says Toombs.
For clients with nail splitting, you should also take precautions when it’s time to remove your work. Applying polish or enhancements over your client’s brittle nails may be protective, but the removal of them can weaken nails. Schoon recommends diluting nail polish remover with a little bit of water for your clients with brittle and splitting nails. "Nail polish removers work very quickly and efficiently, but someone with this condition doesn’t need that kind of speed," he says. "Be a little more patient and use 10% dilution; it’ll be gentler on the nails." It’s also a good idea to retail some fast-penetrating nail oil for your client to use every day. In the salon, you can also recommend hot oil manicures, Schoon adds. If you’re using soaks in your regular manicures, apply a cream directly afterward to lock in the moisture. Or for clients with splitting nails, you may choose to skip the soak altogether.
By accommodating your clients and making them aware of how they use their hands and nails, you can prevent further damage to already injured nails, and save yourself additional work at your client’s next appointment.
Tracy Morin is a freelance writer and editor based in Oxford, MS.
Biotin supplements are revered by some clients for the improvements they make on nails and hair, even though some medical professionals remain skeptical. "As long as people get enough biotin in their diets, it has never really been proven that additional biotin has any effect at all on nail health," says Robert Brodell, MD, professor of internal medicine, dermatology, at Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine in Rootstown, Ohio. "But I have had patients tell me that biotin has worked for them, and one milligram of biotin taken daily is certainly safe. Some people have even told me that calcium supplements work for them. I encourage people to conduct their own trials."