Our fingernails play a key protective role and are also aesthetically important. They protect our fingertips – our main source of tactile information – and enable us to grasp and manipulate all sorts of objects. They are also a window to general health problems. These tips will help you keep your nails healthy and beautiful.
1. Keep nails always clean and dry. Nails can easily become an ideal home for bacteria and fungi. For this reason, you should keep them clean, avoid leaving your hands too long in water and wear rubber gloves when cleaning or when handling chemicals.
2. Don’t abuse your nails. Nails, like hair, are made of keratin and are an integral part of the skin. They are constantly in touch with the environment and easily damaged. When you use them as a tool to scratch things or manipulate objects, do so carefully. And when you decorate them, learn the facts about the risks associated with different techniques.
3. Moisturize your nails daily. Like the skin, nails also dry out. Use the same cream you use for your hands for your nails and cuticles. If your nails break easily use a product containing urea, phospholipids or lactic acid to harden them. You can also take supplements containing biotin (vitamin B7).
4. Trim your nails frequently. The best way to cut nails so they grow strong is to cut them straight across and round the edges with a nail file. Do not cut the cuticles: they are there for a reason! Don’t forget that the skin is a vital organ, and in this case, it acts as an anti-bacterial barrier. If you go to salons for manicures, take your own manicure kit to avoid infection.
5. Don’t bite your nails! Nail biting may damage the nail bed (the flesh under the nail). Remember that bacteria and fungi can take advantage of even the smallest cut. To avoid tearing live tissue, it is also best to trim rather than pull off hangnails.
6. Use nail polish in moderation. Varnishes often contain harmful ingredients, such as acrylates and, most especially, dibutyl phthalate, toluene and formaldehyde, known as the “toxic trio”. When you use red or orange varnish, prevent excessive nail colouration by applying a base coat. Once the varnish is removed, the nails should return to their natural appearance within a few weeks. Don’t use nail remover more than once a week, as these products often contain substances that dry out the nails.
7. Eat a balanced diet. Keratin, the material nails are made of, is a fibrous protein structure, which explains why eating protein-rich foods, such as meat or fish, promotes the growth of strong nails.
8. Check the general appearance of your nails. If the eyes are the mirror of the soul, we could say that the nails are the mirror of the body. Certain changes in colour, shape, texture and even growth rate may indicate health problems. For example, a yellowish colour is associated with lung diseases, while the appearance of dark lines under the nail may indicate the presence of melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer. But don’t panic: not everyone with whiteish nails has hepatitis!
9. Know your nails well. To be able to detect suspicious changes in your nails, it’s important to know that healthy nails are smooth, uniform in consistency and colour and without spots or discolourations. Growth should be slow but steady: about 2-3 cm per year on average. Nails in older people grow more slowly and gradually become more fragile. Rough vertical lines – which are harmless – become more prominent with age.
10. Consult your physician. If you notice any changes in the appearance or growth of your nails, see a dermatologist, who specializes in treating nails and skin. Do not ignore or hide a problem. For example, covering an infection or any other complication with artificial nails may simply worsen matters.
By Violeta Camarasa, science journalist