Do you have brittle or discolored nails that crack or chip? This can be a common problem with fingernails as well as toenails. Understanding what characterizes a healthy nail, as well as the signs of potential nail ailments, will help you grow – and keep – strong and beautiful nails. Read on to learn how best to use nutrition, cleaning, care, and maintenance to your advantage when trying to achieve the perfect manicure or pedicure.
Healthy and Unhealthy Nails
Several layers of keratin grow from underneath the cuticle to form the fingernail. Some signs of healthy nails include smoothness and uniformity of color. Healthy nails may also display vertical ridges from the base to the tip, but these are typically no cause for concern.
Signs of unhealthy nails can include:
- Discoloration or dark streaks may occur within or underneath the nail.
- Curling or other changes may affect the shape of the nail.
- Increases or decreases in the thickness of nails can occur.
- Detachment of nails from the adjacent skin is a cause for concern.
- Bleeding around or underneath nails is also a cause for concern.
- Pain, redness, or swelling in surrounding areas could indicate an infection.
Dietary Considerations for Healthy Nails
Several nutrients are important to maintaining the strength and beauty of nails, such as:
- Biotin (Vitamin H) can help reduce splitting, thinning, and weakening of nails and can be found in bananas, eggs, peanut butter, and salmon, among other sources.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids help the skin hold on to moisture, which combats dryness and peeling. Find them in fish oil, flaxseed oil, salmon, walnuts, and spinach.
- Protein is an essential component in forming keratin and abounds in poultry, seafood, meat, eggs, whole grains, and nuts.
- Vitamin A contributes to immune system function and overall health. Include mangoes, cheddar cheese, broccoli, apricots, and carrots in your diet for an adequate supply.
- Zinc helps to form connective tissues, including hair and nails. Lobster, beef, cashews, soybeans, and green beans are great sources of zinc.
Fighting Nail Fungus
A black tea foot bath can help prevent athlete’s foot. Over-the-counter treatments such as terbinafine, tolnaftate, miconazole, and clotrimazole come in sprays, liquids, lotions, and creams. These are effective against athlete’s foot, but not against nail fungus.
Fungus thrives in damp, dark environments. Frequent washing, thorough drying, and changing socks or hosiery at least once a day are the best ways to create an unfriendly environment for fungus.
How to Keep Fingernails and Toenails Clean
To prevent fungi and bacteria from getting underneath the nails, keep them clean and dry. Avoid extended exposure to water or chemicals by wearing gloves while cleaning and limiting the lengths of baths or showers.
When washing your hands, use warm – but not hot – water. Always scrape your fingernails across your palms to release any accumulated dirt or bacteria. If dirt is visible underneath your fingernails or toenails, use a pointed nail cleaning stick to scrape it out while washing. Regular trimming and filing of nails helps to minimize the area under which organisms can collect.
When visiting a salon for a manicure or pedicure, do your due diligence first to protect yourself from infection. Verify that the establishment and its technicians all have current state licensure and that tools and hand and foot baths are sterilized in between clients.
Moisturizing Nails & Cuticles
With age come drier, more brittle nails. To counteract this effect, choose products free of harsh chemicals. Toluene, formaldehyde, and dibutyl phthalate are commonly found in nail polishes, but a growing number of companies no longer use these. You can also find nail polish removers that don’t contain alcohol or acetone, both of which are drying agents.
To moisturize toenails, many cuticle creams and oils are available at drug stores and salons. Vitamin E oil and plain old petroleum jelly are also effective. Whatever you decide to use, it should be applied and massaged into the entire nail and cuticle.
If your nails are the focal point, then your hands and feet are the foundation! Set the stage for gorgeous nails by using an exfoliant to remove dead skin before moisturizing, then apply a balm or hand cream to seal in moisture.
Protecting your nails from the elements is also crucial. When going out in cold weather, always wear gloves or mittens. If your hands will be exposed to the sun for long periods of time, apply sunscreen.
When trimming fingernails or toenails, make sure that you are using the right tools. For toenails, choose an instrument with a curved handle and “cutting jaw” that follows the nail’s natural curve. Nails should be kept as short as possible to avoid splitting or breakage.
Rather than cutting the cuticle, it is best to gently push the cuticle back with a wooden stick. This preserves the delicate tissue and helps you avoid infection.
Protecting Your Nails
You’ve worked hard to keep your nails healthy and well-groomed; avoid undoing all of that effort by taking the following steps to protect them.
- Avoid overuse. Picking, poking, and prying with your nails can break or tear them.
- Keep teeth away. If biting your nails is a common stress reaction for you, try some nail-biting remedies.
- Don’t pull at hangnails. You will likely rip off more skin than you meant to and put yourself at risk for infection. Instead, cut off hangnails using a nail clipper.
- Don’t pick at cuticles. If cuticles are dry or jagged, use a cuticle cream, oil, or other moisturizer to soften them, and gently push them back.
- Stay polished. Even if you aren’t looking for a wild airbrushed design, a thin layer of clear polish looks great and helps nails retain moisture.
- Get help when needed. Persistent nail problems or irregularities could be a sign of a larger health issue, so talk to your doctor if they don’t go away.
Fixing Broken Nails
Few situations are more annoying than a broken nail! If you experience a break or tear, you don’t have to cut it (and all of your other nails) down to the quick and wait for them to grow back. The latest trend in nail repair is to use a small piece of a tea bag and some nail glue to patch the broken nail. Nail-mender kits and false nails are also available if you prefer a more high-tech approach.
As summer approaches and you will be baring those hands and feet more often, you want your fingernails and toenails to look their best. By following these tips, you will be ready to show the world your enviable digits!