Nail Health

Nail health and safety

Nail Hygiene

sanitized handsNails can easily harbor dirt and bacteria which will contribute to the spread of viruses and infections. Proper hand hygiene is a simple way of avoiding nail infections and even the common cold. Nails should be kept at a reasonable length, and everyone should make washing of the hands part of a normal and permanent routine. Some women prefer longer nails and as such it is essential that the undersides are cleaned frequently. Keep a small nail brush handy.

All required tools for cutting and grooming nails, (nail clippers cuticle pushers and files) should be properly disinfected. Disinfection of equipment before use is particularly crucial when used between clients, as is necessary in nail salons.

Infections of the nails are often depicted by changes in color or shape, pain and swelling of the surrounding tissue, or thickened nails. These infections are sometimes serious and may be required to be seen by a physician.

Here are some preventative measures to avoid the spread of bacteria and nail infections:

  • Keep nails short and make hand washing a part of your routine.
  • For longer nails keep a nail brush handy for the undersides during washing.
  • Ensure your nail grooming tools are disinfected before use.
  • When visiting a nail salon, confirm that your nail technician sanitize her/his hands between clients and is using clean tools.
  • Avoid biting or chewing nails. Germs can be transferred to the mouth and damaged cuticles invite infection.
  • Cuticles act as a seal around the nail plate and should be trimmed only if there is excessive growth onto the nail plate.
  • Do not tear or bite a hangnail; remove it with a sanitized nail trimmer.
  • Always wear comfortable-fitting shoes. Shoes that are too snug-fitting can cause callus and ingrown toenails.
  • Be extra careful if you are diabetic or have poor circulation.

Your Nails and Health: Warnings Signs

Your nails can sometimes give indications to your general health. Discolorations such as dark streaks, white spots, redness or extreme paleness may be signs of complications of the heart, in the lungs, the liver or other diseases in the body.

Very pale nails can sometimes be an indication of serious illnesses, such as diabetes, malnutrition, anemia, liver disease or congestive heart failure.

Nails that are mostly white with darker edges could indicate problems in the liver, such as hepatitis. Of course there could be other less serious reasons for a change in the condition of the nails, therefore always check with your physician if you have any reason to be concerned.

Nail disorders

Roughly half of all nail maladies are caused by fungal infections. Infections are more prevalent in toenails because the toes too often are enclosed in a warm, moist environment(shoe) that is ideal for bacterial growth.

Brittle Nails

Brittle nails that habitually split or break can be associated to different medical conditions. However, a more common cause is the aging process and long term exposure to water, detergents and other chemicals. Biotin (a vitamin supplement) can help to improve conditions in some cases of brittle nails, and frequent application of moisturizers can be beneficial.

Dark Lines in the Nail

Although some dark lines beneath the nail are benign, a sudden appearance of a new line on a previously clear nail should be examined as soon as possible. It could be caused by melanoma, a very deadly type of skin cancer.

Gnawed Nails

This is a nail disorder that is the result of a psychological compulsion. Nail biting could be just an old habit, but in many cases it's a sign of stress and anxiety. It has also been associated with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Seek some professional advice if you find it difficult to stop.

Pitted Nails

This is seen typically with people suffering with psoriasis. Pitting of the nails that are a result of disease usually affects several or all nails while pitting from nail trauma is usually affects the nail in question. Discoloration of the nail is common; the skin under the nail can seem reddish-brown. Disorders that could result in a minor or localized inflammation of the skin (dermatitis) could also distress the nails and result in nail pitting.

Swollen Nail Fold

Paronychia is the swelling and inflammation of the nail fold (the skin around the nail). It can be acute or chronic. It is usually caused by a bacterial infection and treated with antibiotics. It will usually clear up after a few days of treatment. Chronic Paronychia is much more problematic to eliminate and will require systematic treatment.

Yellow Nails

Yellow nails are usually signs of a fungal infection. As the infection gets worse, the nail bed could shrink and nails may thicken and crumble. In exceptional cases, yellow nails could be an indication of a more severe condition such as diabetes, thyroid disease and psoriasis or lung disease.

Things to know

      • Nail growth is affected by health, age, genetics, season, type and level of activity.
      • Nails grow more rapidly in summer than in winter.
      • Fingernails grow faster than toenails.
      • Typically, fingernails grow 3.5 millimeters (mm) per month, whereas toenails grow an average of 1.6 mm per month.
      • Nail growth is affected by trauma, nutrition, disease, medications, aging and chronic illnesses.
      • Women's nails grow more slowly than men's, except possibly during pregnancy.
      • Nail problems usually increase throughout life and affect a large number of senior citizens.

        Both your fingernail health and toenail health is critical to your well being!

        Visit your dermatologist for diagnosis and treatment of nail problems.