Here's what you need to know to keep your fingernails in tiptop shape.By Mayo Clinic staff
Take a close look at your nails. Are they strong and healthy looking? Or do you see ridges, dents, or areas of unusual color or shape? Many less than desirable nail conditions can be avoided through proper care, but some actually indicate an illness that requires attention.
Fingernails: What to look for
Anatomy of a healthy fingernail
Nails grow from the area at the base of the nail under your cuticle. Healthy nails are smooth and free of spots or discoloration.
Vertical nail ridgesVertical nail ridges extend from the cuticle to the tip of the nail. Vertical nail ridges are fairly common and nothing to worry about.
Your nails — composed of laminated layers of a protein called keratin — grow from the area at the base of the nail under your cuticle. As new cells grow, older cells become hard and compacted and are eventually pushed out toward your fingertips.
Healthy nails are smooth, without ridges or grooves. They're uniform in color and consistency and free of spots or discoloration. Nails can develop harmless conditions, such as vertical ridges that run from the cuticle to the tip of the nail. Vertical ridges become more prominent with age. Nails can also develop white lines or spots due to injury, but these eventually grow out with the nail.
Not all nail conditions are normal, however. Some are signs of diseases that require medical attention. See your doctor if you notice these changes in your nails:
- Yellow discoloration
- Separation of your nail from the nail bed (onycholysis)
- Indentations that run across your nails (Beau's lines)
- Nail pitting
- Opaque or white nails
- Curled nails
- Don't abuse your nails. To prevent nail damage, don't use your fingernails as tools to pick, poke or pry things.
- Don't bite your nails or pick at your cuticles. These habits can damage the nail bed. Even a minor cut alongside your nail can allow bacteria or fungi to enter and cause an infection (paronychia).
- Keep your nails dry and clean. This prevents bacteria, fungi or other organisms from growing under the nail. Clean under the nails regularly and thoroughly dry your hands and feet after bathing. Wear rubber gloves when using soap and water for prolonged periods.
- Trim nails and file nails regularly. Trim nails straight across and file down thickened areas. Use a sharp manicure scissors or clippers and an emery board to smooth nail edges. Trimming and filing are easier and safer if done just after bathing or soaking the nails.
- Never pull off hangnails — doing so almost always results in ripping living tissue. Instead clip off hangnails, leaving a slight angle outward.
- Wear shoes that fit properly. Shoes that place excessive pressure on your toes or pinch your toes may cause your nails to grow into surrounding tissue.
- Moisturize your nails frequently. Nails need moisture just like your skin does. Rub lotion into your nails when moisturizing your hands. Be sure to apply a moisturizer after removing fingernail polish.
- Watch for problems. If you have a nail problem that doesn't seem to go away on its own or is associated with other signs and symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor to get it checked out.
Special considerations: Manicures and weak nailsIf you rely on manicures to make your nails look good, keep a few things in mind. Don't have your cuticles removed — it can lead to nail infection. Also, check to be sure that your nail technician properly sterilizes all tools used during your manicure. Using unsterilized tools may transmit yeast or bacterial infections.
Weak or brittle fingernails can be a challenge to toughen up. The following tips can help you protect them, making your nails less likely to split or break.
- Keep your nails short, square shaped and slightly rounded on top. Trim brittle nails after a bath or a 15-minute hand soak in bath oil. Then apply a moisturizer.
- Moisturize your nails and cuticles several times a day and after your nails have been in water. Also, apply moisturizer at bedtime and cover your hands with cotton gloves.
- Apply a nail hardener, but avoid products containing toluene sulfonamide or formaldehyde. These chemicals can cause redness or irritate the skin.
- Apply nail polish. A thin coat of nail polish may help keep moisture in the nail. Remove and reapply the nail polish after a week.
- Don't use nail polish remover more than once a week. When you do need a remover, avoid those that use acetone, which dries nails.
- Take a biotin supplement. Taking 2.5 milligrams of biotin daily may increase the thickness of nails.
It's easy to neglect your nails. But a little basic nail care can go a long way to keeping your nails in healthy condition.