Keratin is an extremely strong protein which is a major component in skin, hair, nails, hooves, horns, and teeth. The amino acids which combine to form keratin have several unique properties, and depending on the levels of the various amino acids, keratin can be inflexible and hard, like hooves, or soft, as is the case with skin. Most of the keratin that people interact with is actually dead; hair, skin, and nails are all formed from dead cells which the body sheds as new cells push up from underneath. If the dead cells are kept in good condition, they will serve as an insulating layer to protect the delicate new keratin below them.
Keratin is formed by keratinocytes, living cells which make up a large part of skin, hair, nails, and other keratin containing parts of the body. The cells slowly push their way upwards, eventually dying and forming a protective layer of cells. Thousands of these cells are shed every day, and the process can be accelerated by various medical conditions, such aspsoriasis. Damage to the external layer of keratin can cause skin, hair, and nails to look unhealthy or flaky.
Hair and nails on humans especially tend to become dry and brittle, because the dead keratinis being pushed to great lengths. By eating foods like gelatin and keeping hair and nails moist, they can be grown out while still remaining healthy. In general, the thicker the layer of keratin, the healthier the hair or nail is, because the dead cells outside protect the living cells at the core. Keeping the external layer of keratin moisturized will also keep it healthy and prevent cracking and splitting, whether the keratin is forming the hooves of a horse of the skin of a human.