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Essential Facts for Nail Care

Updated on November 30, 2015
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White spots? Ridges? Discoloration? Get the facts from this article.

Nails take a lot of abuse throughout the day. But you can keep them strong and beautiful with this article full of advice.

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The Basic Facts

The cuticle protects the matrix, the “root” from which nails grow. When new cells develop here, older cells harden and are pushed out, resulting in layers of protein that make up the visible nail plate. The nail bed is situated under the plate and consists of skin cells beneath (and tightly attached to) the nail.

What To Look For

Nail disorders make up about 10 percent of all skin conditions. Here are some common symptoms:

  • White spots can result from pushing the cuticle back too vigorously (this damages the nail plate) or other trauma to the nail bed or plate. The spots eventually grow out.
  • Weak, thin and splitting nails are either genetic or caused by loss of moisture or frequent contact with chemicals like those in household cleaners.
  • Yellow discoloration occurs when you wear dark polish for long periods of time. A fungal infection also can cause discoloration and separation from the nail bed.
  • Swollen, red skin around the nails is just one symptom of irritation or infection.
  • Vertical ridges often occur as you age or if nails are dehydrated. Light buffing can help smooth small ridges.

Simple Solutions

Maintaining healthy nails is easy. Beauty Rx:

  • Don’t cut cuticles. This can introduce bacteria to the nail (or the skin around it), causing infection. Instead, apply moisturizers (try Sally Hansen Cuticle Massage Cream) and gently push your cuticles back with a towel.

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  • If you have brittle nails, use products with toluene and formaldehyde sparingly. These ingredients, found in some polishes and strengtheners, can dehydrate and weaken nails. Two products without them: OPI Nail Envy Sensitive & Peeling Formula and Almay 4-in-1 Nail Treatment.

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  • Get rid of discoloration. For polish stains, use whitening products like Bio Solutions Nail Blanche, and switch to a lighter color every six weeks. For fungal infections, see your dermatologist, who may prescribe a topical or oral treatment.

What Works

Eat healthfully and moisturize nails regularly for best results. Just like hair and skin, your nails reflect how well you take care of yourself. Healthy nails protect the tips of our fingers, help with tactile sensation and provide aesthetic benefits. But they also have another significant function: They can suggest the presence of certain medical conditions. Any dark band that runs vertically down the nail plate should be shown to a dermatologist, as it can be a sign of melanoma. Skin cancer can occur under and around the nails. And certain changes in nail shape and color (whitening) can signal heart, lung or kidney diseases.

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