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All About Your Nails

All About Your Nails

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.

Nail problems

You can treat minor problems at home, but for more serious problems, you should see your 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 on their own.
  • Splinter hemorrhages. These look like thin vertical lines beneath the nail. They can be caused by nail injury, certain medications or diseases. Ask your healthcare 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 you have an ingrown nail that is painful, see your healthcare provider for advice. If you have diabetes, it's particularly important for you to talk with your provider before trimming an ingrown nail on your own. 
  • 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. Talk to your healthcare provider for treatment options.
  • Bacterial infections. These infections cause pain and redness. They can be caused by nail injury, biting the nail or exposure to dirty water or chemicals. Talk to your healthcare provider for treatment options.

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.

Cuticle removal can lead to swelling, redness and infection of the tissues around the nail and the nail root. 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.

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 technician washes her hands between clients.
  • Don't have cuticles removed entirely. Even cutting or pushing back cuticles may allow an infection to develop.
  • 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 let them “breathe.” This will allow you time to inspect your nails for any issues.
  • Wear rubber gloves if you use harsh chemicals or soap and water for long periods.
  • 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.

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