When we were little girls, fiddling around with mom’s makeup was a favourite pastime and amongst that painting our nails was probably the most fun (next to going crazy with lipsticks of course). Irrespective of age — be it a schoolgirl, a college student, a housewife or a working woman — we all love flaunting well-manicured, beautiful hands. Here’s a quick how-to on not just beautiful but healthy nails as well.
Nails, both of the hand and feet, are made up of a protein called keratin. A nail primarily consists of a nail plate (made of the translucent keratin and layers of dead cells) and the nail bed (the skin beneath the nail). One might think it’s rather strange to pay attention to a body part that’s not used for anything except trying open lids but they serve an important purpose — protecting finger tips and the surrounding tissues.
Do nails indicate general health?
The general rule of thumb is that healthy nails are smooth, free of ridges and strong. Discoloured nails are sometimes indicators of serious health conditions. For instance, some experts believe that red nail beds could indicate high blood pressure, greenish nails could be a sign of some kind of local fungal infection, and unnaturally white nails have been linked to anaemia and so on.
What kind of disorders could lead to unhealthy nails?
Certain conditions, mental and physical, could be the cause of unhealthy nails. For example, hyperthyroidism and psoriasis can make nails brittle. Old age and hormonal imbalances (caused due to menopause or menstruation) are also possible reasons for weak nails.
What am I doing wrong?
We use our hands for anything and everything — cooking, cleaning and what not. Imagine how much you put your nails through! Our nails might seem hard and strong but they are in fact more permeable than our skin. When you use strong cleaning agents like phenyl or detergent, you invariably expose your nails to a lot of harsh chemicals. Artificial nails, which are hugely popular these days, could also harm nails and cause infections, especially if you have nails that are already weak. Prolonged and regular use of nail polish removers or nail hardeners also tends to weaken nails.
Unhygienic habits like using dirty socks, wearing shoes or sandals that are too tight or walking barefoot in a dirty environment can cause infections. Beware of unhygienic conditions in nail salons while getting a manicure or pedicure because they could spread viruses and bacteria too. And yes, not to forget that notorious habit of biting nails!
What kind of nail diseases are out there?
Fungal nail infections (which are contagious) can lead to crumbling or distorted nails and can be treated with anti-fungal medications. Paronychia is a type of infection that causes swelling near the nail area and occurs due to bacteria or fungus that enters the skin through a tear. Other type of nail problems include Onychorrhexis (dry, flaky nails that break easily) which affect those who have to immerse their hands constantly in water; Pseudomonas infection (a bacterial infection caused between the nail and nail bed or an artificial and natural nail) which becomes worse in the presence of moisture and may result in discolouration or the nail coming off all the way; Psoriasis, which results in pitted nails that often crumble or separate from the nail bed.
How can I take better care of my nails?
Healthy nails are beautiful nails so make sure you keep them clean and cut them often. Just as our body responds to nutrition, our nails do too. Deficiencies manifest themselves in the form of brittle (calcium) or hangnails (Vitamin C) too. Vitamin H (or Biotin), which benefits the skin, eyes and nervous system, is also said to help keep nails in a good shape so try including foods rich in Vitamin H in your diet, such as eggs, beans and peas. Studies have shown that the intake of Vitamin C, E and A can also improve the health of nails.
Some of you may have noticed white spots on your nails — that is a sign of zinc deficiency which can be countered by taking zinc-rich foods like beef, chocolate, dried watermelon seeds and peanuts. Another mineral, magnesium is also responsible for nail growth and can be found in cereals, white potatoes and nuts.
Avoid subjecting your nails to harsh salon treatments regularly and give them a break from nail polishes/filing/removers for some time if you notice that they are starting to look yellowish. If you have to, use a good quality remover (acetone-free) or nail polish. Wear rubber gloves when using cleaning agents (detergents, for instance).
Nails are prone to dryness as much as your skin, so every time you wash your hands, moisturise them well. Wash your feet if you’ve been out — we tend to care for our fingernails a lot more and ignore our toe nails that are just as susceptible to infection and breakage.
And whatever happens, don’t try to open that lid with your nails.
Nailed it yet?
No one likes dirty, unkempt nails and what’s more, you aren’t doing yourself any favour by keeping them that way. The most important thing is to eat well and groom them regularly. That doesn’t mean you have to rush to the parlour for a manicure or pedicure every week but just keep them clean.
Another piece of advice: if you notice any irregularity with your nails like discolouration or infection, don’t panic, seek out a doctor who’ll diagnose it appropriately.
Remember: healthy nails are beautiful nails!