Nail problems

Nail problems aren't usually caused by anything serious. Common nail problems include brittle, loose nails that may change colour or shape.

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

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


  • cut your nails down the edges – trim straight across the top to help avoid an ingrown toenail
  • clean under your nails with sharp objects
  • wear shoes that pinch your toes, especially when exercising
  • bite or pick your nails or the skin around them
  • ignore fungal infections on your skin – such as athlete's foot

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.

Find a podiatrist

Other causes of nail problems

Nail problems can sometimes be a symptom of a more serious or long-term condition, such as:

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.

See pictures of nails that have changed shape

Page last reviewed: 01/02/2018
Next review due: 01/02/2021

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