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Scratching the Surface of Fingernails


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Nails are an extension of the skin. They are made of keratin, the same tough, fibrous protein that is found in eagle talons and rhino horns. If you lose a nail, it takes more than six months for it to completely grow back. Interestingly, nails grow faster in the summer, during pregnancy and immediately after an illness.

What you eat or don't eat can profoundly impact your nails. Malnutrition, drastic dieting and eating disorders affect the health of your nails, as do hormone imbalances and aging. Getting older means your nails will hold less moisture, which can make them thinner and more brittle.

Artificial nails

Residues of acrylic resins can cause redness, swelling and pain in the nail bed. In severe allergic reactions, the nail can separate from the nail bed, and if the nail root becomes damaged, the replacement can be permanently deformed. Also nail glue is poisonous if accidentally swallowed and most nail polishes and removers contain toxic chemicals, such as formaldehyde and acetone, respectively.

Fungal infections can also occur when moisture gets trapped between the fake nail and the real nail. One recent study showed that nurses with artificial nails had twice as much bacteria on their hands as those with natural nails.

The fingernail as a diagnostic tool

A healthy nail bed should look pink, a sign that it's receiving a rich blood supply. The nail itself should be lustrous, strong and flexible. Nails that appear unusually white may signal liver disease, while cherry red nail beds with half moons may indicate heart irregularities. If you're anemic, your nails may look pale and easily break.  If you're diabetic, you may develop yellowish nails. Unusually thick nails may indicate circulatory problems, while severely ridged nails can be caused by kidney disease or poor nutrient absorption. Vertical ridges can also indicate a tendency to develop arthritis while horizontal ridges can occur as a result of severe stress, either psychological or physical, such as from infection and/or disease.  Concave, dry or white, spotted nails often mean that you're lacking in iron, calcium, zinc, protein, silicon, or vitamins A, B and C.


Strengthening Your Nails

Soap and water dries out nails just like skin. Regularly moisturizing your fingernails and cuticles with lotions or creams containing lactic, glycolic or malic acid helps keep the skin supple, and myrrh may help condition the nails for longer growth.

Of course it is always a good idea to correct any potential underlying health problem first. But it may take a year or two before you might see the result in your fingernails. Meanwhile, biotin may help correct thin, fragile nails. A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology showed that a group of women with brittle nails who were given biotin experienced a 25% increase in nail thickness. And sipping on horsetail or oat straw tea supplies natural silicon, which is needed to grow strong, resilient nails. GLA-rich black currant seed oil may also help correct weak or brittle nails.

Incidentally, those who suffer from nail fungus (onychomycosis) might be relieved to know that researchers at the University of Rochester School of Medicine found tea tree oil to be as effective as the prescription medication clotrimazole. Massage the nail bed with a drop of tea tree oil two or three times a day. In addition, taking acidophilus can inhibit the bacteria that can cause fungal nail infections.


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