What Causes Soft + Bendy Nails? Plus, How To Strengthen Them
If you struggle with soft, bendy, and breakable tips, we hear you. It can be frustrating to work on growing out your nails when they just won’t make it past your skin, and even more annoying having to keep them at a short length when that’s the opposite of your desire.
Some people naturally have thinner nails. However, there’s a plethora of reasons your nails might be on the softer side and plenty of ways to strengthen them as well. To come, everything you need to know about soft and bendy nails.
What are soft and bendy nails?
Not sure if you actually have bendy nails? Here’s a list of possible signs you may run into:
- Your nails get stuck on threads and tear off.
- When you trim your nails there’s hardly a sound.
- You can physically bend your nail with ease.
- After getting a gel manicure, your nails feel paper-thin or nonexistent.
If any of the above apply to you, then the following causes may be at play. Do your best to think about each of these triggers in depth and take note of what changes you may be able to make—more on prevention next.
Causes of soft and bendy nails:
Exposure to cleaning ingredients.
“Overexposure to other harsh chemicals in cleaning products can also cause bendy nails,” professional manicurist and founder of clean polish brand sundays Amy Lin tells mbg. You could be exposed to these chemicals through work, cleaning your home, etc.
Acrylic nails or gel manicures.
As demonstrated in this study1, acrylic nails can have a plethora of damaging effects on your nails including increased brittleness. This one is a bit easier to spot, given that you either have acrylic tips or you don’t.
However, it’s important to note that these effects can be lasting. Even if you stop getting acrylic and gel manicures, your nails may still be brittle for months to come until they can fully grow out untouched.
If your brittle nails aren’t something new, it may be genetic. “ Family history was significantly associated with the likelihood of having brittle nails,” researchers note2. Don’t fret if that’s the case—there’s nothing wrong with keeping your nails short.
“Look at the nail matrix,” Stern says. “You can usually see this as the half-moon on the thumbnail. You are born with your nail matrix (like thin or thick hair), and your matrix determines the size, thickness, and–to a large degree–the quality and appearance of the nail,” she adds.
If you have a small nail matrix, you’re more likely to have thin nails. A larger matrix symbolizes the potential for thicker, stronger nails.
However, there may be some steps you can take to strengthen your nails even if you are predisposed to thinner, more bendy tips already. Keep reading to learn more.
Working with your hands.
“Decreased vascularization and oxygenation of the nail matrix is associated with brittle nails,” she adds. This can occur in diseases such as peripheral artery disease, and Raynaud’s disease.
“Aging leads to a decrease in cholesterol content in the nail which results in increased brittleness,” Stern says. This is inevitable but may help explain why your nails have become increasingly thinner over time.
When you’re not getting enough of certain nutrients, your nails will likely reflect the lack. “If your nails become suddenly bendy it might be a sign of an iron imbalance5—either too much or not enough,” Lin says.
Rather than overanalyze your own diet, visit a professional to determine if your iron levels are imbalance (more on that in a bit).
How to strengthen bendy and soft nails.
You may now have a hint as to why your nails are chronically bendy. Next, let’s dive into the actionable tips. Altogether you should focus on consistency with whatever steps you feel inclined to add to your routine, so here are a few to consider.
Wear protective gloves while cleaning
As mentioned above, protecting your nails from harsh chemicals is a must. Even if you don’t come in direct contact with things like bleach or window cleaner, spraying them in your environment will put your nails at risk of absorbing excess droplets.
Look for some elbow-high rubber gloves next time you visit the drugstore and keep them in your cleaning materials box, cabinet, etc.
Take a break from nail styling.
Acrylic tips and gel manicures can be extremely damaging to your nails, especially if they’re already on the thin side, to begin with. If you can, take a break from those invasive nail styles. In the meantime, work on tending to your nail health and use natural polish.
Take nail supplements.
Nail growth is highly dependent on topical care of the nail. However, you may consider adding a biotin supplement to your routine. While more research is needed to confirm biotin's efficacy on nail growth specifically, there has been some evidence to show that biotin supplementation can support healthy nails overall. And if you want to grow long nails that don't chip, you'll have to make sure they're as strong as can be.
Specifically, biotin has been shown to support thickness and firmness of nails6 in several human studies. One moderately sized human study found that those who took biotin supplements had 25% thicker nail beds7 than the placebo group.
Not sure where to look? We’ve compiled a list of the 8 best hair, skin, and nail supplements here to ease your search.
Address nutritional deficiencies.
You can’t know what nutrients you’re deficient in without getting tested. Of course, you can keep track of what iron-rich foods you’re eating and how balanced your meals are, but it will be immensely difficult to determine a deficiency on your own. Instead, visit a medical professional.
Try natural strengthening treatments.
You’ll want to invest in a strengthening treatment if you really want to see a difference in nail thickness. Stay away from ingredients like formaldehyde, acetone, ethyl acetate, or butyl acetate if possible, Stern says.
Stern developed her own kit, called the Nail Renewal System which includes a gentle exfoliant, a buffing bar, and a leave-on hydrating formula.
“This 3-step system is a revolutionary, once-weekly, nail treatment that immediately reveals a healthy, hydrated, youthful shine. This polish-free system is clinically proven to improve the appearance of nails, leaving them with a healthy, strong, smooth, shiny, glossy, and less brittle look and feel,” Stern says.
Hydrate your hands, cuticles, and nails.
Cuticle care isn't just about looks (although, frayed, rough skin does take away from an elevated mani). Your cuticle has an essential function, too: This means when your cuticles are in less than ideal condition (dry, peeling, etc.), that function will be affected as well.
"If the cuticle compromise persists, the nail will eventually grow in irregularly," board-certified dermatologist and nail expert Dana Stern, M.D., once told mbg. "This is because the cuticle overlies the nail matrix, which is the nail-producing center of the nail." To sum it up: Cuticle care is essential for thriving, long nails.
So, while cuticle oil might seem like a frivolous addition to your routine, let us be very clear—it's not. In fact, you should be using it daily. If you don't have one on hand already, here are 10 A+ oils to choose from.
Use a base coat.
Before you apply polish, be sure to slather on a nutrient-rich base coat. “Our nail-strengthening base coat B03 can also be used as a base or just as a nail strengthener, it is enriched with Vitamin E, argon oil and Amino acid, and it is designed to help soft nails grow stronger and healthier,” Lin says. You can shop the sundays B03 here if you want to stock up.
Are healthy nails bendy?
Because bendy nails can be caused by genetics, they’re not always a sign of unhealthy nails in general. However, exposure to chemicals, working in a wet environment, getting acrylic tips or gel manicures, and potentially a lack of iron can cause brittle nails.
What does having bendy nails mean?
Bendy nails can be caused by genetics, exposure to chemicals, working in a wet environment, getting acrylic tips or gel manicures, and potentially a lack of iron.
Are bendy nails caused by vitamin deficiencies?
Although it’s not well documented, some studies have shown that iron deficiency may cause brittle nails. To be sure, visit a medical professional to test your nutrient levels.
If you struggle with nails that tear like a piece of paper, you’re not alone. There are plenty of different causes that may be contributing to the fragility of your nails including exposure to chemicals, a wet work environment, gel manicures, etc. To remedy soft and bendy nails, try to keep up with a regular nail care routine and mind the possible triggers listed above. Remember that some people naturally have thin nails, and that's okay too. Ready to ditch your gel for a healthier manicure? If so, this guide is for you.
Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more. She previously interned for Almost 30, a top-rated health and wellness podcast. In her current role, Hannah reports on the latest beauty trends, holistic skincare approaches, must-have makeup products, and inclusivity in the beauty industry. She currently lives in New York City.