Caring for our nails can be both simple and daunting. As one of the first features a person may notice, our nails can represent our favorite colors and designs. In others, nails can show the world that we like to keep it simple with a clear coat of polish or bare and beautiful. While some may have naturally healthy nails, others may have to put in some extra work to maintain their appearance. Underneath the polish, acrylic, gel, or dip powder, our nails need the proper nutrients to grow and flourish. In this article, we’ll look at the ways our nails can show early warning signs for health issues, as well as the ways in which we can care for our nails to keep them growing, nourished, and strong.
Nails Can Suggest Health Problems
Anytime you go to the doctor, you may notice that the physician wants to take a look at your nails. In doing so, the physician can detect many common nail conditions that can be early indicators of a systemic health condition or disease. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, changes in color, shape, or texture of your nails can be harmless or critical. If you are concerned, it is best to consult a board-certified dermatologist to ensure that you receive the proper diagnosis.
Common color changes that may be indicative of health problems include blue, white, pale, or yellow nails. For many, even this information may be confusing in doing a self-check on your nails. Dr. Ross Radusky addresses this confusion in an article he reviewed published by Everyday Health that helps recognize signs of normal nails and abnormal nails. Normal nails are smooth and attached to the skin with a uniform color and a white lunulua (“little moon”) near the cuticles. Abnormalities in nails are present in the form of discolorations and oddly shaped spots, as well as thinning or thickening of the nails. Look out for these changes to see when you should seek professional help.
Protein on the Inside and the Outside
Whether you’re working out, doing your hair, or painting your nails, protein always finds a way to integrate itself into the conversation. The nails are made up of a protein that grows in many layers called keratin. Keratin keeps the nails strong and prevents breakage, so if there is any disruption in the function of keratin, this may lead to weak, brittle nails. Weak nails can be hereditary and/or environmental, according to the University of Wisconsin Dermatology Department. In helping to reduce brittle nails, before grabbing the protein top-coat polish at your local drug store, it is important to ensure that you are eating enough protein in your diet. Protein rich foods like oats, eggs, and chicken can help ensure that your body is getting what it needs to contribute to its growth.
Protecting Your Cuticles & Nails During Manicures
Manicures are a great method of cleaning your nails and removing dead skin cells from your hands through exfoliation. When doing an at-home manicure or going to your local nail salon, it is important to ensure that your cuticles and nail beds are not being damaged in the process.
In the process of applying acrylic nails, many nail technicians file down the natural nail in order to make the surface rough. As a result, the nails may become weak and irritated. In addition, a powerful glue is also applied to ensure the acrylic tightly binds to the natural nail, making the removal process equally as harmful for the nail bed. The harm caused in the process can take months to reverse, so it is best to save the long nails for special occasions or ask your nail technician to be gentle when giving you a manicure. A less harmful option is a gel manicure that can be soaked off with less wear-and-tear on your nails.
Our cuticles are often the first thing to go when we get a manicure. The American Academy of Dermatology notes that the cuticles play an important role in protecting our nails and the surrounding skin from infection. When we cut these too low, we open the area like a wound and make it much easier for bacteria to get inside the body. If you feel comfortable, try limiting the amount of cutting that you or your nail technician does to your cuticles. Just as you would moisturize your body after a shower, remind yourself to keep your cuticles well-moisturized, especially between manicures. Most creams or oils, such as these from SkinzCosmetics, will be great in keeping your hands nourished and your cuticles strong.
Clean Your Tools
Thankfully, most nail salons in the past 10 years have adapted a hygienic method of cleaning nail tools to ensure proper sanitization. Given new social distancing guidelines and the possibility of encountering the virus at any point, if you do decide to go to a salon, call ahead to ensure that your nail technician is following the proper guidelines from the local board of health. This also applies to all those who love to do an at-home manicure. Let your nail tools soak in 90% rubbing alcohol for about 5 minutes to disinfect between uses.
Toxic-Free Nail Polish
When we apply polish, it sits on our nails for days or weeks before it is eventually removed. Traditional nail polishes are typically applied in multiple coats and can be removed with an acetone-based nail polish remover. Our nails are similar to our skin in that they are incredibly absorbent, so the chemicals we put on our nails can end up in our bodies. In recent years, there has been a surge in toxic-free nail polish in response to the consumer desire to control the chemicals that enter our bodies. Drs. Nassim and Liu from the Harvard Health Blog define “non-toxic” as “five-free”, referring to polishes that do not contain: formaldehyde, toluene, dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde resin, and camphor. While the absorption of these chemicals has been confirmed, the question of whether these cause negative health effects has not been determined. Toxic-free nail polish is a great option for those who have sensitive skin and is also easier to remove than regular nail polish.
Maintaining healthy nails is often the result of less disturbance and more nourishment. In general, it is best to keep your nails clean and dry. To prevent weak nails, refrain from biting or picking at the nails and using your nails as a tool. As a final tip, keep your hands moisturized, giving extra love to your cuticles. If you experience any changes in your nails, consult with a board-certified dermatologist.