All About Your Nails

By Wine, Bill

Did you know that fingernails grow faster than toenails? Or, that nails grow faster in the summer than in the winter?

Nails are made of a protein called keratin that's also part of your skin and hair. Although the part of the nail you keep trimmed isn't living, the nail originates in living cells in the matrix, the area where the nail joins the finger or toe, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

Your nails grow about 0.1 mm each day, but the actual rate depends on your age, your health, your genes and the season. Men's nails grow faster than women's nails.

Nail problems

Nail disorders make up about 10 percent of all skin conditions, the AAD says. Minor problems can be treated at home; more serious problems need to be seen by a health care provider. Here are some common nail problems:

  • White spots - These are very common and indicate that the matrix area has been injured. These do not need treatment and will eventually grow out.

  • Splinter hemorrhages - These look like thin vertical lines beneath the nail. They can be caused by nail injury, and certain medications or diseases. Ask your health care provider if you have questions about these.

  • Ingrown nails - These occur at the corner of the nail that curves to meet the skin. These are caused by poorly fitting shoes or improper nail trimming. To avoid this problem, trim your nails -- particularly the nail on the big toe -- straight across. If the ingrown nail is painful, see your health care provider for advice.

  • Fungal infections - These are common problems for nails, especially toenails, and can be difficult to treat. The infection can cause the nail to become discolored and the nail plate to separate from the nail bed.

  • Bacterial infections - These infections cause pain and redness. They can be caused by nail injury, or exposure to water or chemicals.

Buyer beware

Nail care and nail salons have become big business. But certain nail-grooming procedures and practices -- both in salons and at home -- can be dangerous. The risks? Nail damage, infections, allergic reactions or disease. So watch for physical changes in fingernails or toenails.

"Discoloration, marked thickening, nail lifting or loss, any [odd] new growth, all are reasons to see a dermatologist," says Richard K. Scher, M.D., a professor of clinical dermatology at Columbia University.

Cuticle removal can lead to swelling, redness and infection of the tissues around the nail and the nail root. Using a wooden pick, common in the "French manicure," can cause a fungal infection. Chemicals in nail products can cause allergic reactions, as can nail hardeners, wraps and tips. Artificial nails can damage the natural nail beneath.

Not only do natural nails need the least maintenance, they're usually the healthiest choice.

When choosing a nail salon, Dr. Scher says, view "any sign of lack of cleanliness or improper sterilization of instruments" as a warning.

At a salon

  • Make sure the salon is clean. Ask how the staff cleans the instruments.

  • Consider bringing your own instruments rather than sharing.

  • Look for the technician's license.

  • Make sure the manicurist washes her hands between clients.

  • Don't have cuticles removed entirely. At most, have them trimmed.

  • Avoid acrylic nails.

  • Leave medical procedures, like corn or callus removal, to doctors.

  • Don't cover yellowed or thickened nails with polish. See a doctor for a diagnosis.

At home

  • Take breaks from covering nails with polish to allow you to inspect them.

  • Wear rubber gloves if you use harsh chemicals or soap and water for long.

  • Use moisturizing lotion on nails from time to time.

  • Keep the nail area clean and dry.

  • Keep your nails short.

  • Avoid nail-biting.

  • See a doctor if a change in nail color or appearance lasts more than a few days.

Medical Reviewer: [Godsey, Cynthia M.S., M.S.N., APRN, Lambert, J.G. M.D., Lee Jenkins ] Last Annual Review Date: 2011-01-18T00:00:00-07:00 Copyright: Copyright Health Ink & Vitality Communications

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