Zinc is an essential nutrient that can contribute to hair, skin, and nail health. Zinc deficiency, which may be due to a lack of zinc in the diet or an underlying medical condition, can cause nail dystrophy.

Nail dystrophy is the discoloration and distortion of a person’s nails. This can include brittle nails and lines appearing on the nail.

In this article, we look at the relationship between zinc and the nails, how zinc deficiency can affect a person’s nails, and treatment options.

Zinc is a micronutrient that plays an important role in human metabolism. Within the body, it catalyzes enzymes, enables protein folding, and regulates gene expression. Without each of these processes, a person’s body would not function properly.

Zinc enables proteins in the body to grow and remain strong. This includes proteins in the nails.

A 2013 article suggests that without enough zinc, the rate of nail growth decreases, and the nails themselves become fragile and brittle, causing them to crack.

If zinc quantities in the body are particularly low, a person may lose their nails completely.

Zinc deficiency may manifest in the body in a number of ways.

An external sign that a person is deficient in zinc is the condition of their nails.

Zinc deficiency can affect the nails in the following ways:

Brittle nails

Brittle nails are thin and break very easily. They may split horizontally, forming layers.

Cuticle inflammation and paronychia

The cuticle is dead skin that a person can see at the base of the nail. Zinc deficiency can cause the cuticle to become inflamed.

Paronychia occurs when there is an infection around the nail.

Beau’s lines

Beau’s lines are grooves that run horizontally across the fingernails. They develop when there is a disruption to the area where nail growth starts.

Zinc deficiency is not the only cause of Beau’s lines, but it is a common one.

Other causes of Beau’s nails include:

Beau’s lines are the most common nail change to appear as a sign of a health issue that occurs elsewhere in the body.

Muehrcke’s lines

Muehrcke’s lines appear similarly to Beau’s lines. Instead of grooves, however, there are double white lines that go horizontally across the nails.


Onychorrhexis, or longitudinal ridging, causes ridges that run vertically along the nails.

The condition increases the brittleness of the nails, which in turn increases the likelihood of the nails splitting.


Leukonychia appears as white coloration of the nails.

Overall leukonychia is when the entire nail appears white, but there are also categories of partial leukonychia.

Transverse leukonychia, or Mees’ lines, is when the coloration occurs in lines that extend across the width of the nail.

If a person has nail dystrophy as a result of insufficient amounts of zinc in their diet, they can increase their intake of zinc-rich foods. These include:

A person can also take zinc supplements. However, it is important not to exceed the recommended dosage unless instructed to do so by a doctor.

If a person consumes too much zinc, they may experience symptoms such as:

Nail health tips

A person can also try the following to help maintain the health of their nails:

  • staying hydrated
  • avoiding biting or picking at the nails
  • keeping the nails trimmed
  • wearing rubber gloves when cleaning or washing the dishes
  • avoiding using nail polish and nail polish remover
  • regularly moisturizing the hands and feet
  • avoiding wearing artificial nails

Although nail dystrophy can be an indication of zinc deficiency, the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) note that other symptoms may also occur, including:

The ODS recommend the following daily amounts of zinc:

Age Dose in milligrams (mg)
0–6 months2
7–12 months3
1–3 years3
4–8 years5
9–13 years8
14–18 years, males11
14–18 years, females9
18+ males11
18+ females8
pregnant teenagers12
pregnant adults11
breastfeeding teenagers13
breastfeeding adults12

A person should not exceed the following amounts of zinc per day:

AgeDose (mg)
0–6 months4
7–12 months5
1–3 years7
4–8 years12
9–13 years23
14–18 years34

A person should contact a doctor if they are concerned that they are experiencing symptoms of zinc deficiency.

Zinc deficiencies can have associations with other conditions, including:

Zinc is an important micronutrient that can affect the health of a person’s hair, skin, and nails. It enables growth by catalyzing enzymes, enabling gene expression, and the folding of proteins.

However, according to research, zinc deficiency that results from a diet low in zinc is very common, affecting approximately 15–20% of people worldwide.

Without zinc, the body is not able to develop as effectively. This can slow down the growth of a person’s nails and increase their fragility. This can take the form of various nail conditions, including Beau’s nails and onychorrhexis.

A person can include in their diet foods rich in zinc, such as whole grains, poultry, beans, and beef, to increase their zinc intake.