WARNING: We are getting into some seriously un-sexy territory here. But if you’re dealing with dry toenails we need to get them fixed, and I’ve got some easy tips for getting those toes back in shape! Get ready to get REAL real, because I’m even sharing pics of my own poor dry toenails so that you can see how much better they are after 4 weeks of following the steps below.
One of the many lovely symptoms of perimenopause and menopause is dryness. Dryness, dryness everywhere (and I do mean EVERY. WHERE…but that’s a different post). And one thing that has been hardest hit are my poor toenails.
I completely freaked out a few months ago when I removed my polish to find my toenails looking…white. I immediately thought: fungus, and shook my fist at myself for splurging on the occasional pedicure. But after doing a bit of research, I realized I was wrong (and luckily hadn’t alerted/blamed my nail salon for giving me cooties). My toenails were simply, but dreadfully, dehydrated.
How does menopause cause dry toenails?
During menopause, estrogen levels take a nosedive since we’re no longer ovulating. And unfortunately for us midlifers, estrogen is a superpower hormone that was doing all kinds of good things for us, including stimulating collagen production and regulating our body’s hydration and electrolytes.
Collagen is what has been making our skin (and other tissues) thick, layered and protective. And now that collagen production has slowed we’re losing that protection from everything that causes dryness, so everything is dehydrating much easier than it used to. Think of it as a force field that has been compromised: we now weather the full effects of heat, cold, wind, chemicals, etc.
In addition to less collagen production, we also become more dehydrated thanks to estrogen no longer helping with the hydration of our cells, which weakens the keratin in our nails. Couple all of that with constantly keeping your toenails painted AND using super-drying acetone-based nail polish remover, and boom…you’ve got yourself the perfect storm for dry, dehydrated, brittle nails.
Could dry toenails be a sign of something more serious?
In a nutshell, yes. The health of your nails, toes or otherwise, can be a big indicator of your overall health. So while your dry toenails are most likely a sign of aging and menopause, if you’re experiencing any other symptoms, talk to your doc. Dry nails can also be a symptom of things like anemia, hypothyroidism, poor diet/lack of nutrients or Raynaud’s Syndrome, among other things.
What about fingernails?
All of the above applies to your fingernails too, of course. For me personally, I haven’t experienced a HUGE difference in my nails yet *knocks on wood*. I think the reason is pretty simple: for most of us, our hands receive MUCH more moisture and hydration than our feet on the daily. Even if you’re not a hand cream fanatic, you’re applying creams, oils or lotions to your face and the rest of your body using your hands, plus our hands are in water far more often than our feet. Our toenails aren’t getting nearly the same hydration love as our fingernails.
How to cure dry toenails
Initially I just stopped using an acetone-based polish remover and switched to a cream-based nail polish remover, and I saw immediate improvement. So I started keeping polish on again, thinking I’d solved the issue and things would continue to get better. But when I removed my polish about 6 weeks ago, my poor piggies were back to looking super bad (lots of sand time this summer I’m sure didn’t help), so I knew it was time to get serious. Here’s the strategies that helped cure my dry toenails!
1. No nail polish
So sorry, but the polish has to come off and stay off until your toenails are healthy again. And it’s still flip-flop season in the Fall where I’m at, so believe me I know this is a toughie. But those layers of polish have been blocking moisture from getting to your nails and nail bed, AND contain chemicals that your nails have been absorbing, further drying them out. In order for your nails to heal, they need to be free to breathe and absorb good things. Though don’t worry too much about less-than-cute toes…I’ve got a secret weapon to help camouflage their current state – stay tuned!
When you’re removing the polish, stay away from acetone-based removers, they’re way too drying. This is my favorite, and being cream-based it nourishes the nails while removing the polish. For a more traditional liquid (which my daughter prefers), this is the one we use.
2. Buff them out
So now you’ve got the polish off and your toenails are looking rather ug. They may also feel a bit rough, so let’s fix that. Use a nail buffer to gently buff the surface of your nails. Depending on how dry your nails have gotten, this likely won’t totally rid you of the white areas, but it will help lessen the white and the surface of your nails will be clean and smooth…a definite improvement.
And here’s the secret weapon: Bare Hands, aka The Dry Gloss Manicure can impart a shine to your toenails that alleviates the look of the dry, white patchiness. It’s MAGIC. I had a girls’ weekend coming up, and it was all I could do to stop myself from painting my toes to mask the fug factor. I’d been using Bare Hands on my fingernails for quite a while and I thought, why not try it on the toes? And while they didn’t get as shiny as my healthy fingernails, it provided a smooth sheen that made the white almost unnoticeable unless you really got down and looked at my toes (and ain’t nobody doing that). I was already a huge fan of this magical glass buffer (my nails always look like they’re painted with clear polish…but they’re not!), and now I’m a full blown fanatic.
3. Lube ’em up
Now let’s add some hydration and moisture.
DAILY: For the first few weeks, I actually put a drop of one of my hydrating facial serums on my toenails, then followed with a moisturizing oil (oils do a far better job of sinking into the nail bed and creating a protective moisturizing layer than lotions/creams/gels). As things improved, I would either just rub the oil on right out of the shower to lock in hydration, or I would spray my piggies with my favorite hydrating mist prior to applying the oil.
WEEKLY: Soak your feet in water for 5-10 minutes (feel free to add Epsom salts and/or essential oils here). Dry them off, then soak them in olive oil for 5-10 minutes. Yep, olive oil. And no you don’t need a vat of olive oil to do this! I would either put a bit into a casserole dish and curl my toes into it, or just drizzle the oil over my toes and occasionally reach down and brush/rub the oil in. Afterwards just wipe the excess oil off and wait a few minutes to let the oil soak in before wearing shoes, etc. This olive oil is one of my favorites, and you can’t beat 2 liters for less than $20!
4. Keep on top of your protein intake
We’ve all heard it: as we age we need to up our protein intake to help balance our loss of muscle, and to aid in the health of our bones so as to reduce our risk of osteoporosis. The current recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein in grams can be found by multiplying your weight in pounds by 0.36, but us midlifers needs to double that to hit “optimal protein”.
You can get high quality protein through eggs, lean meats and chicken, fish (wild salmon!), nuts, legumes, greek yogurt, super seeds like quinoa and chia, and of course protein powders (I love this organic protein powder for my smoothies and oatmeal, and this collagen-based powder for my coffee and smoothies).
5. Drink water like it’s your JOB
This is a biggie, and is so important for your overall health. Hydrated = healthy. Drinking water hydrates your nails just like it does your skin (and all of your other parts). And you need more than you think…the old 8 glasses of water rule is just that, old. Get out your calculator again, because current guidelines for water intake are recommended to be between half an ounce to one ounce of water per each pound that you weigh. Minimum of the range would be for a casual day, higher range when you’re exercising or it’s hot (or you’re otherwise dehydrating yourself …*coughs* cocktails).
Now I know it’s hard to drink down all that water. I’ve found that having a nice big cup like this makes it easy to suck down and easy to keep track of how much I’ve had. It holds 40 ounces, so I know if I fill that up a few times, I’m good! Just make sure to start early and end well before bedtime so you’re not up peeing all night, ya know?
As promised, before and after pics (drag the slider)…
Yep, those are really a pic of my stubby little toes. But you can really see the difference, right (the dryness, not the stubbiness)? And they’re getting better every day.
So can I still wear polish?
Of course! Once your nails are back to their beautiful, healthy selves, it’s recommended to follow the basic rule of time polished = time unpolished. In other words, leave your polish on for 2 weeks, then remove and leave natural for 2 weeks before painting again.
Make sure to use a nontoxic nail polish that is at least 8 to 10-free (doesn’t contain dibutyl phthalate (dbp), toluene, formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, camphor, ethyl tosylamide, triphenyl phosphate (tphp), xylene, parabens or tert-butyl hydroperoxide). I’m partial to Zoya, but there are plenty of clean nail polish brands out there now!
Hope these tips help! Please comment below with any questions or share things that have worked for you!
Tracey is the founder and writer of Life in the Happy Medium. She’s also a freelance graphic designer, Mom to 2 teens, Wife, and Friend to a tribe she holds dear, who’s prone to some fairly serious car singing and dancing much to her family’s chagrin (old school R&B is where it’s at!).
From cleaner beauty to healthy-ish eating, she’s blogging here to share favorite finds that keep her happy in the middle.
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