Nail Care: Grooming, Manicures & Problems
Nails are a specialized form of skin. They provide 10 (or 20) little places that you can decorate. But more than that, they protect your sensitive fingers and toes, and they help you pick up small things, scratch itches, and hold on to or manipulate objects. You can also abuse them by biting, peeling, and picking at them.
Nail Care & Grooming
Your nails provide important clues to your overall health. Broken, discolored, or misshapen nails can indicate nutritional deficiencies, infections, or skin conditions. Good nail care keeps your hands and feet looking nice and is part of a general program of good health habits.
Basic tips to care for your nails include:
- Keep them clean and dry. This helps prevent infection.
- Shape them straight across rather than to a point. Pointed nails are weaker and can break more easily.
- Do not bite or pick them. Bitten nails are more easily infected.
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Nail Polish & Removers
Nail polishes and removers are chemical lacquers, hardeners, and solvents. FDA-approved nail products are safe to use, but some people have allergic reactions to some of the chemicals.
Acetone, a common solvent in nail polish remover, can dry your nails, making them brittle and prone to splitting and breaking. Also, one compound used in some acrylic nails – methacrylate (MMA) – has caused allergic reactions so severe that people have lost entire nails, causing it to be banned in many states.
Check with your local salon stores before allowing them to do work on your nails. If your nail salon does use MMA, ask them if they have an alternative product. It's not worth risking the loss of your nails!
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Artificial Nails & Manicures
Artificial nails and manicures are very popular and can help your hands look nice. However, they can also be a source of health problems. Manicure tools and instruments used in salons are used on many different people. If these tools are not properly sterilized, you can get an infection including: HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, or warts.
If you have your nails professionally applied or manicured, you should check to make sure the manicurists sterilize their equipment after each use. An alternative would be to take your own manicure tools for the manicurist to use.
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Because they're right out there on the ends of our hands and feet, nails are subject to a lot of abuse. Some of the abuse, like biting, is self-inflicted. But everyone has experienced broken or ripped nails from catching them on or in something, or cracking and splitting from overexposure to water and chemicals.
Minor nail problems usually heal as the nail grows out and require little treatment other than perhaps protecting the finger or toe if it is especially sensitive. In addition to allergic reactions to nail cosmetics and chemicals, there are a few other common problems that can occur with nails.
- Abuse: biting, picking, and peeling. When you bite your nails, you are interfering with their ability to protect your sensitive fingers.
What's more, you are inviting infection. Your nails can become infected because the surface is either broken or removed. You can also be eating all kinds of nasty things that may be under your nails from things you have touched during the day. If you touch your dog, your car, or your school books and then bite your nails, you are ingesting the same kinds of things you would if you had licked these objects. Pretty disgusting, huh? In addition, bitten-down nails are not very attractive.
- Fungal infections: A fungal infection occurs when a fungus attacks a fingernail, a toenail, or the skin under the nail. You can get fungal infections from walking barefoot in public showers or pools. If you have athlete's foot, the fungus can spread from your skin to your nails.
- Color changes: Nails may sometimes change in color as a result of an injury, some medications, nutritional imbalances, or skin conditions. If the color of your nails has changed dramatically, it is a good idea to check with your doctor.
- Hangnails: The skin around your nails can become irritated and infected from biting or chewing, minor injuries, or exposure to water and chemicals. Hangnails can cause soreness around your nails, and if an infection develops you should see your doctor.
- Ingrown nails: These can be painful. They are usually caused by improper trimming of the nail or by wearing shoes that are too tight. If you have an ingrown toenail, do not attempt to treat it yourself by cutting or digging at it. Have it treated properly by your doctor.
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Updated By: Calvin Lui
Reviewed By: Nancy Brown, Ph.D.
Last Reviewed: February 2016
Below are links PAMF accessed when researching this topic. PAMF does not sponsor or endorse any of these sites, nor does PAMF guarantee the accuracy of the information contained on them.
Consult the following article from the American Academy of Dermatology: