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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, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

Nail problems

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. If you have diabetes, it's particularly important for you to talk with your health care provider before trimming an ingrown nail. 

  • 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 dirty 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.

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 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.

Online Resources

American Academy of Dermatology  http://www.aad.org
American Academy of Dermatology  http://www.aad.org/media-resources/stats-and-facts/prevention-and-care/nails/nails

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