We’ve all done it: As we’re reaching forward to shake hands with someone new, we sneak a quick glance down at the nails attached to the hand. Are they short? Yellow? Chewed-up or long enough to scratch? Healthy fingernails and toenails will look smooth, with no pits or grooves. They will all be the same color, without spots or areas of discoloration. Keep reading to learn how to keep yours in tip-top shape:
Give your nails the same basic care and attention you give your skin and hair: Keep your fingernails, toenails and the surrounding skin clean and dry, to keep bacteria and fungus from collecting and causing an infection. After bathing and during cold weather seasons, gently rub hand lotion around the nails and cuticles to moisturize and hydrate the areas. Every few weeks, use manicure scissors or clippers to trim fingernails straight across, and then round and smooth the tips with an Emory board. Short nails are safer and healthier, because they provide less of an opportunity for bacterial growth and accidental breakages. Make sure you’re thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting your nail tools after each use.
Be kind to your nails as you are to other sensitive parts of your body – don’t bite fingernails, pick at cuticles, or poke metal tools under the nails, as this can open up cuts that let in bacteria and fungus, as well as cause damage to nail beds. And don’t pull out hangnails yourself – you could accidentally rip up healthy tissues too, which is incredibly painful and unsanitary. Use clippers to take care of any hangnails or chipped nails. Avoid cuticle removal, which is not necessary for maintaining healthy nails. Your cuticles keep the nail plate attached to the skin, and removal can expose the fragile area to infection. And even strong nails are prone to breakage from misuse – they are not designed to be used as tools for snapping soda tabs and scratching off labels.
Keep your nails strong and healthy by protecting them from the elements: wear gloves during cold weather spells to prevent your skin and cuticles from drying out in the low humidity. Also wear gloves while washing dishes, gardening, or using strong cleaning chemicals – sustained exposure to water and chemicals can increase the risk of split nails, and caked-up dirt from the garden can be tedious and time-consuming to remove. Eat a well-balanced diet rich in nutrients such as leafy greens, nuts, seeds, fish oils, and proteins, all of which sustain keratin (the protein that makes up nails) for strong fingernails and toenails. If your dietary intake is not enough to strengthen weak and brittle nails, consider taking a biotin supplement for a boost.
A professional manicure and pedicure is the perfect way to treat yourself – but make sure your salon is treating you right too. Only use salons that are licensed and that use licensed technicians. Most importantly, confirm that all salon equipment is properly sanitized between uses and customers, including the foot baths. You can avoid this risk completely by bringing your own nail tools for the manicurist to use.
Choose cosmetic products carefully; be wary of nail polishes that contain the ingredients dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde, or toluene. These are toxic chemicals that cause nails to become brittle and split or break more easily. Limit your use of harsh products like nail polish removal; when needed, choose an acetone-free polish remover that won’t dry out your nails.
As with fingernails, toenails should be kept clean, dry, and short. Clip the toenails straight across routinely to prevent ingrown toenails. Change your socks daily, and wear sandals or shoes while at public pools, public bathrooms, or hotels, to keep out bacteria and fungus that can cause infections. Be mindful of the shoes you wear as well; too-tight footwear pinches toes together, which can lead to painful rubbing and nail breakage.
It’s time to see a dermatologist if you notice any unusual or sudden nail changes that persist over a number of days or weeks. Contact a doctor if your nails change shape or color over the entire nail, begin separating from the skin, or change texture. Other causes for concern are bleeding, swelling, and pain around the nails, or a dark streak in a nailbed. You should also see a dermatologist if your fingernails or toenails are not growing out as they should.
If you have questions or concerns over the health and care of your nails, call Florida Dermatology and Skin Cancer Centers today, to schedule an appointment for an examination by our team of medical professionals.