What Causes a Dehydrated Toenail?

A sad face drawn on a dry toenail

Toenails can be put through many trials and tribulations throughout the years. They are confined in socks and shoes, painted and stripped, dunked in chlorinated water, and much more. If you have a dehydrated toenail, there can be many possible causes and several possible solutions.

Every part of your body needs moisture, including your toenails. While they may look hard and brittle, to stay flexible and strong, they need moisture. If you have dehydrated toenails, it could be an internal or external problem that is causing brittle, dry toenails.

White Dry Skin Around Toenails – Why?

If you have white dry skin around your toenails, your nails may be dehydrated. This condition is often mistaken for nail fungus, which can also cause white dry skin around toenails. Why this often occurs is due to moisture loss in the nail and skin. Other symptoms of dehydrated toenails include:

  • Thick toenails
  • Cracked nails
  • Dry cuticles
  • Peeling toenails

When the toenails are dehydrated, they look unhealthy and may be prone to splitting. This can increase the risks of infection and loss of the toenail. It is important to find out what is causing your dry toenails and restore hydration and moisture to the nails and skin on your toes.

External Causes of Dry Toenails

Toenails are exposed to many substances and often not given much love. While your fingernails receive lotion and pampering, your toenails may be soaked and suffocated. There are many external factors that can contribute to dehydrated toenails that are dry and brittle. These include:

  • Dry air. During hot dry summers or cold dry winters, the air can dry your skin and nails. The toenails are less likely to get the moisture they need to replace the water lost due to weather changes.
  • Too much moisture. Believe it or not, toenails emersed in water too often can become dehydrated. Nail moisture comes from the inside, not the outside. Water from pools, soggy boots, or sweaty feet can wash away oils needed to protect toenails and skin from dehydration.
  • Nail polish remover. Acetone nail polish removers can strip the toenails of oils and leave them prone to drying.
  • Overuse of nail polish. If your toenails are constantly painted, they can be suffocating underneath that polish. Constant use of nail polish on toenails is a common cause of dehydration.

If your toenails are dry due to external conditions, it is easy to fix. You can change nail polish removers or give your nails a break from polish. Changing footwear or avoiding damp feet can help keep toenails healthy. Using moisturizing lotions can keep your nails and skin protected and replenish lost oils.

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Internal Causes of Dehydrated Toenails

If external reasons are not causing your dry toenails, it may be due to an internal issue. The toenails are low on the food chain when it comes to receiving moisture and nutrients – your other organs will always receive nutrients first over nails and hair. Some of the internal causes of dry toenails include:

  • Dehydration. The simplest reason for lost moisture in the toenails is not getting enough daily fluids. Since your nails get water last, it is the first place you may notice changes if you are not getting enough water.
  • Nutritional deficiencies. Like water, nutrients go to the nails last. In fact, if you are nutritionally deficient, your body may pull nutrients from your nails. Low levels of zinc, biotin, calcium, and other nutrients can result in dry, unhealthy toenails.
  • Aging. As you get older, your skin and nails may lose moisture. There are less oils produced, and the skin loses hyaluronic acid and other factors that retain moisture, which can result in dry or cracked skin and nails.
  • Medications. Some drugs can result in dry or brittle nails, including the nails on your toes. There are many cancer treatments that can dehydrate and strip the finger and toenails.
  • Medical conditions. Thyroid diseases, hormonal fluctuations, and other medical conditions like Raynaud’s syndrome may result in dehydrated toenails.

To determine what is causing your dry or dehydrated toenails, you may need medical testing. Your doctor or dermatologist can perform an exam and order lab testing. A blood sample can reveal if you have a nutrient deficiency, hormone imbalance, or other health condition.

If the cause of your dehydrated toenail is internal, your doctor can recommend treatment. You may need to drink more fluids or take nutritional supplements to improve your toenail hydration and health. Treatment for underlying health conditions may also improve your dry toenails.
Woman's feet next to a heart made of a seashells on the beach.
White dry skin on your toes or thick, brittle toenails can be signs of dehydration of the nail bed. Once you identify the cause, you can restore moisture to your toenails. To learn more about treatment for dry toenails, make an appointment with your doctor or a dermatologist.

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