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July 4, 2013 at 10:53 PMComments: 0 Faves: 1

Tips for Healthier Nails

By Jeffrey VanWingen M.D. More Blogs by This Author

A patient called me in tears this week. "I'm never going back to that salon again. They ruined my nails!" Her call got me thinking a little more about our fingernails. They are a reflection of our health, nutrition, hygiene, and even our artistic side, yet we often neglect them. As such, here are a few tips to keeping them looking healthy and vibrant.

Why do we have fingernails and where do they come from?

Regarding our fingernails, the "why" question is an easy one. They serve definitive and obvious purposes. In addition to protecting the tips of our fingers, they serve as a "universal tool," helpful for picking, opening, and scratching. Pinpointing exactly "where" the nails come from is a bit more difficult to see and lies deep to the cuticle. Atop the farthest bone in each finger grows layers of a protein called keratin. These layers heap and push out through the skin, hardening
along the way and becoming what we think of as fingernails.

The qualities of a healthy fingernail

As the keratin layers compact, harden and emerge from the nail bed, healthy characteristics should be seen. The nail should be smooth, uniform in color with a lunula (half-moon shaped light area) at the base, and attached to the skin, growing parallel to the finger.

Keeping fingernails healthy

Prevent and Treat Splitting

Strong nails require a multitude of vitamins and minerals - vitamins A-E, calcium, iron, and zinc, just to name a few. A balanced diet and perhaps a multivitamin can accomplish this. Many women associate pregnancy (prenatal) vitamins with strong, robust nails, but this is actually more related to hormonal changes of pregnancy than the vitamins.

Keeping a balance between over-hydrated and dehydrated nails helps prevent splitting and is optimal for growth. Protect the nails from excessive soaking, as this can weaken them. At the same time, regularly using a skin moisturizers over the nails and cuticles can help maintain hydration to prevent drying and splitting.


Keeping harmful agents away from the nails is also helpful in preventing damage. Examples include using potent cleaning solvents without gloves or frequent use of acetone-containing nail polish remover. Mechanical damage to the nails is also harmful.  This includes using the nails as tools and biting the nails habitually.

If a split does occur in the nail, quick action is important. Split nails have a tendency to extend and worsen. There are different products out there, but I recommend Super Glue Gel.

Mind What's Under the Nails 

Keeping the nails trimmed and clean minimizes debris beneath the nails. Long nails accumulate skin cells from scratching, and bacteria thrive on this. Moisture can further accumulate here, weakening the nails.

Nail Polish and Acrylics


Nail polish is okay in my book. It strengthens the nail, adding to its protective abilities and preventing splitting. Problems can arise, however, with using potentially damaging chemicals, namely acetone, to remove nail polish. As such, I recommend filling in chips when you're able, with the goal being infrequent removal of the polish. 

Acrylic nails are okay too, but more precautions are needed. Gaps can develop between the acrylic and the nail, letting in moisture, which can breed bacteria and fungi. Sometimes fungal infections get a good foothold and become permanent, making for heaped, split, unsightly nails. Like with nail polish, chemicals used in removing the adhesive can damage the nail. The bottom line on acrylics is that, if you want them, use a reputable salon that sterilizes instruments, maintains hygiene, and seals the acrylics well onto the nail. Once on, avoid trauma to the nails that could weaken the bond.

In Conclusion

You know your fingernails like the back of your hand because they are, in fact, located on the back of your hand. Other people notice them too. So, keeping your nails healthy is an important reflection of your overall health.

Next Up: "Nail Symptoms That May Be a Sign of More Serious Disease"

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