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.
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
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
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.