Strong, healthy fingernails and toenails are a reflection on our overall health and appearance. Like our hair, skin and teeth, nails need proper care and attention to remain in good condition. Below, we’ve outlined the basic nail care tips you need to keep your fingernails and toenails in tip-top shape.
Healthy Vs. Unhealthy Nails
Healthy nails are firm and smooth. They have pinkish-white nail plates, visible cuticles (nail beds) and strong white tips. There are no pits, ridges, grooves, dents or discolorations. Thin, uneven, discolored or ridged nails may be a sign of poor nail hygiene or vitamin deficiencies.
Sometimes, abnormal nail appearance is also a sign of an underlying medical condition. See a dermatologist if you notice the following signs or symptoms:
- Discoloration over an entire nail or nails
- Dark streaks under the nail plate
- Changes in nail shape – like curled nails
- Changes in nail strength – like thickening or thinning
- Separation of a nail plate from the surrounding skin
- Failure of new nails to grow out
- Nail bleeding, swelling or pain
How to Properly Care for Fingernails
Your nails should be clean, dry and neat-looking at all times. Here are the self-care steps you should take at home to maintain good nail hygiene.
- Trim regularly. Keep fingernails short to prevent a buildup of bacteria, fungi and dirt underneath, and to limit the risk of long nails snagging, breaking or being accidentally ripped off. Use nail clippers to trim fingernails down to a uniform height. Leave a slight round at the tips and use an emery board to further shape and smooth nails to remove jagged edges. Never run an emery board back and forth across your nails – move the file in one direction across the length of the nail.
- Don’t bite, pick or peel. Stop biting and peeling fingernails, picking at cuticles and ripping off hangnails. Even minor cuts and abrasions around your fingers allow infection-causing bacteria and fungi inside your body. Fingernail biting is an especially unsanitary habit because your mouth is full of bacteria that spreads when you bite your nails and then touch your face, other parts of your body and surfaces. Additionally, biting and picking may damage the skin and live tissues surrounding your nails.
- Leave the cuticles alone. The cuticles are an important part of nail structure. They are a protective layer of skin that sits on top of the growth matrix, which is the area where new nails start to grow. Cuticles act as a barrier to infection-causing bacteria and fungi. If you remove or damage your cuticles, you increase the risk of infection and you may impair the growth of new nails. According to dermatologists, there is no need to cut or remove cuticles. If you want the appearance of longer nails, use a wooden orange stick to gently push the cuticles back.
- Moisturize daily. After a bath or shower, moisturize the skin around your fingernails to prevent dryness and keep the skin soft and supple. Don’t forget to moisturize your cuticles too, because they can dry out just like other areas of skin. Consider purchasing a moisturizing cuticle oil, which you can find in any drugstore.
- Wear gloves. Wear gloves when your hands are exposed to water, dirt, chemicals and the cold. This includes while you’re washing dishes, working in a garden, doing yardwork and housecleaning. Frequent exposure to water increases the risk of nail splitting, while chemicals may dry out, discolor or damage nails. Cold air and low humidity can dry out cuticles and the skin around your fingers, so wear thick gloves outside on cold winter days.
- Polish with care. When you polish your nails at home, choose a high-quality product without harsh, toxic chemicals like formaldehyde, toluene and dibutyl phthalate. Go easy on harsh polish removers as well – only use removers that are acetone-free. If you use a lot of bold polishes with strong pigments, give your nails a break to breathe and repair before moving on to a new color.
Make sure to regularly clean and sanitize the tools – like nails clippers – that you use for fingernail care. Replace disposable emery boards frequently.
How to Properly Care for Toenails
The same actions listed above apply to proper toenail care. Toenails should be clean, dry and trimmed to a manageable length. See a dermatologist if you have an ingrown toenail, rather than try to dig it out yourself and risk causing an infection.
Good toenail care also involves wearing properly fitting shoes that don’t pinch or irritate your toes. Additionally, wear fresh, clean socks every day. Use flip flops when you’re walking around public areas like a community pool or dormitory showers. Wet, humid public areas with a lot of foot traffic are breeding grounds for the development of fungi and fungal infections.
How to Protect Nail Health at a Salon
When you visit a salon for a manicure and pedicure, choose a reputable location that has a current state license and properly licensed nail technicians. Make sure all nails tools and foot baths are cleaned and sanitized between uses. And ask about the quality of the salon’s nail polishes. If a salon uses polishes with harmful ingredients, or if you don’t know the ingredients, be safe and bring your own polish from home.
Contact Florida Dermatology and Skin Cancer Centers for Skin, Hair and Nail Conditions
Receiving a regular checkup from a licensed dermatologist is a proactive step you can take to maintain the health of your skin, hair and nails. If you’re ready to schedule an appointment, we have several convenient clinic locations in Florida. Find the location nearest you and give us a call today.