How to Maintain Healthy Nails

A woman lays here hands on a whit erug showing off her glossy nails with white tips.

What will open a pull-top can, tighten a slotted screw, scrape off an adhesive label, can be painted any color of the rainbow, and if properly cared for, will be functional and fabulous for a lilfetime? If you're not sure, here's another helpful hint: we each have 20 of them, we always have them with us, and the top ten are used and abused far more often than the ones below. If you answered finger and toe nails, you'd be absolutely right, but if you're using any one of your nails as a tool to pull tightly-seated batteries out of their compartment, chewing on them as a calorie-free substitute for a snack, or any of the other things we all do with our fingernails at one time or another, then you would be wrong! Our fingernails, which evolved about 2.5 million years ago from claws, were never meant to do hard labor. Instead, their job is to protect our fingertips, give us the ability to scratch, and help us do dainty little things like turn pages in a book, pick up a small, light-weight objects, and look pretty while doing it all. Just about anything else we might do with our nails has the potential to damage, dry, or discolor them. Here are some tips about what is and isn't likely to hurt and help your nails:

Lovely looking nails

    Your nails should always be clean, neat, and moisturized. Never cut cuticles --- they protect your nails from invasion by bacteria. Buffing nails to a healthy glow is a good thing, right? The answer is actually yes and no. Buffing is good, of course, but like many other things, it can be overdone and too much of a good thing can quickly become a bad thing. Buffing nails more than once a month can weaken and damage nails. If you want to buff your nails, a good way to do it is to apply a tiny dab of Vitamin E oil to each nail, then use a scrupulously clean chamois buffer for that perfect, beautiful, shiny glow. Vitamin E oil promotes nail health by hydrating, and may protect against the harmful effects of polish, polish remover, and other damaging products. It may also help restore the natural, smooth shine of your nails. Vitamin E oil can be used twice a day, morning and night, but always take care to never buff more than once a month.

Filing nails

    As you probably already know, filing nails with a back and forth sawing motion can easily damage, tear, and pull the nail. Even though it may seem easier and quicker, it is best not to do it! File your nails from each outside corner to the center. It may feel awkward at first and may take a few seconds longer, but it can help maintain the integrity of your nails. Also the type of file you use is important! The best option for nail health is a glass file. These do not tear or shred the edges of the nail and can seal the keratin edge to minimize chipping. It takes a glass file a very,  very long time to wear down, unlike the emery boards of old that wear down and wear out after a few uses. And a glass file will never rust like some metal files do. Glass files are easy to clean with soap and water and while they work best on natural nails, they can be used on artificial nails as long as you remember to dip them in water every so often to minimize friction. Glass files leave the edges of your nails uber-smooth which makes your manicure look neater, and more importantly, smooth nail edges help maintain optimal nail strength and beauty.

Liquid nail polish remover

    Acetone based removers are fast but also the most frequent cause of dry, brittle, cracked and split nails. They can cause red, flaky, sensitive skin around the nail and cuticle, and acetone has a strong, unpleasant odor that can irritate the nose, lungs, and eyes. There are many high-quality non-acetone removers on the market. Best to choose and use one of them.

Some diseases of the nails

    Melanoma is the most serious skin cancer and it does attack the nails. Generally, a dark brown or black streak going vertically down the nail may appear. This may be a sign of melanoma. There may also be darkening or discoloration of the skin around the nail, or spreading of the dark streak. Any such sign is cause for an urgent visit to a Board-certified dermatologist. It is easy to mistake these signs for trauma, but unlike trauma or injury, the signs of melanoma will not grow out with the nail and will not go away without treatment. Even if you aren't sure of the cause, if you have any of these signs, a visit to the dermatologist is indicated without delay.

Fungal/bacterial infection

    These infections are comon and can be caused by a number of things including a visi to the nail salon. Files, cuticle scissors, and other manicure tools must be scrupulously clean and sanitized between clients, and since you can't always check on the hygienic practices of your salon, it might be a better option to invest in a manicure set of your own, and bring your tools to the salon.This can drastically reduce the risk of salon-induced bacterial or fungal infection. You will know you have a fungal infectoin if your nail thickens, pulls up off the skin, turns green, yellow, or white, has white or yellow patches, is painful, may be  distorted in shape and/or the skin around the nail may be tender, swollen, or red, with or without pus. Bacterial infections usually cause pain, swelling, reddening of the skin, and discolored patches on the nail. Any of these signs and symptoms require a visit to a Board-certified dermatologist for further evaluation and treatment, sooner rather than later.

Psoriasis of the nails

    Psoriasis of the nails can occur years, even decades after psoriasis of the skin and it is more common in finger nails than toe nails. The condition is usualy painful and you may see blood under the nail. White or yellow discoloration may be present as well as small pits, grooves, ridges, or actual dents in the nail, or a thickening/crumbling of the nail may be present. Treatment is varied and is usually effective, however, since nails grow slowly, the nail will respond slowly, and a full course of treatment may take as long as 6-12 months. Since nails affected with psoriasis are not likely to grow out normally without treatment, and may worsen over time if left untreated, waiting for the treatment to be completed is generally a better option.

    Even if you are not sure you have any of the above signs/symptoms, or you have any other question related to your hair, skin, or nails, please come in to see the Board-certified dermatologists at SINY dermatology. We are located at 56850 Main Road, Southold, NY, 11971. Telephone for an appointment at 800-778-3090, or make an appointment online at sinyderm.com. Our physicians and support staff are here waiting to welcome and help you. Please come in and see us!

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