Nail Care for Men

Most often when literature speaks of healthy nail care, the intended audience is women, given that beautiful nails have long been considered a symbol of beauty and individuality.  However, healthy nails are also important for men.  One true sign of a well-groomed man is handsome hands, with freshly cut nails and clean, neat cuticles. It is important for all of our male readers to realize that your nails are a living part of your body and they require care.

  • The nail has four components: the matrix, bed, plate, proximal nail fold, and cuticle.
  • The nail plate is formed in the nail matrix which is located beneath the proximal nail fold
  • The cuticle is a section of skin at the end of the proximal nail fold that protects the nail matrix
  • The nail plate lies atop the nail bed which is the living portion of the nail with nerves and blood vessels

Basic Nail Care

In addition to maintaining a well-balanced diet, with adequate nutrients and vitamins, the following tips will help to ensure good nail health:

  • Keep fingernails and toenails clipped short. 
  • Cut straight across the nail and file in one direction only, to create an even nail shape and to avoid nail splitting.
  • Don’t forget to clean under the nail, but be careful not to poke anything underneath.
  • Be sure to moisturize the nails on a regular basis in addition to the hands and feet
  • It is also a good idea for men to have regular manicures and pedicures.  Many men enjoy this service and find it an essential part of maintaining healthy-looking hands and feet.

Signs of Poor Nail or Internal Health

There are many abnormalities that can occur in men’s nails. Changes in the nail and the nail fold area may be a sign of an internal medical problem or an underlying skin disorder.

Melanoma

The most serious threat to nail health is melanoma. You should examine your hands and feet regularly since melanoma skin cancer can develop in fingernails or toenails. For men of color, melanoma may appear as a brown line or streak in one nail only. (Discolorations on each nail or several nails may be normal in individuals of color.)  One of the biggest and most dangerous myths in communities of color is that we do not contract skin cancer because of the protection that the melanin in our skin offers.  This is indeed a falsehood.  In fact, there is a higher percentage of fatality in people of color with skin cancer because of inaccurate or late diagnosis. It is imperative that you see your primary physician or dermatologist—one with experience in treating men of color--immediately if you notice any abnormalities in your nails.  Regular self-examinations of both your fingernails and toenails are essential to early detection. 

Fungal Nail Infections (Onychomycosis)

A less serious, but very common nail abnormality is Onychomycosis. Fungal infections of the fingernails or toenails are common in men with brown skin, particularly those who frequent gyms and other similar facilities. Nail infections are contagious and because of that they develop from public showers, saunas, spas, sporting activities, as well as from footwear. Infections are caused by both fungus (Trichophytum rubrum or mentagraphytes) and yeast (Candida).

Fungal and yeast nail infections have several different presentations or appearances:

  • Distal and lateral subungual onychomycosis in which the nail thickens, starting at the tip or the sides of the nail. The thickened nail then turns to an opaque or yellow color.
  • Superficial white onychomycosis has white patches that appear on the surface of the nail.
  • Distal (furthest part of the nail) onycholysis in which the nail lifts off the nail bed starting under the tip of the nail.
  • Proximal (cuticle end) nail fold onycholysis in which there is separation of all or part of a nail from its bed.
  • Chronic paronychia involves swelling, redness, and tenderness of the nail cuticle area.

If you think that you may have a nail infection, your dermatologist will be able to perform testing for confirmation. This usually involves obtaining a small amount of the nail plate to send for culture.

Treatment for Nail infections
Since fungal nail infections are not life threatening and are often more of a cosmetic problem, you and your doctor may decide against treatment. Treatment options include both topical and oral medications. Although oral medications are generally more effective as compared to topical treatment, topical therapy avoids potential side effects associated with oral medications. Hence, topical agents are the first line treatment for early nail fungal infections.  Following are some popular treatments:

  • Ciclopirox Nail Lacquer (Penlac) is an anti-fungal, clear, nail polish that is painted onto the infected nail daily for two weeks at a time. The residue is removed and the lacquer is applied again daily for a total of 6-9 months or more.
  • Terbinafine (Lamisil) or Itraconazole (Sporonox) pills are taken daily and are prescribed for 3 months to treat infected toenails and 6 weeks for fingernails.

With either of these prescription medications, at the end of treatment, the nails will not appear improved. However, as the nails grow out they will grow out normally. Nails grow slowly, so it may require 6-9 months for fingernails and 12-18 months for toenails, to see a completely healthy toenail. Side effects have been reported with the use of these medications and may involve liver inflammation and altered taste to name a few. Your doctor, who will decide if this medication is appropriate for you, may test your liver function before and after one month of treatment with oral medications.

Other Nail Conditions

Following are several other nail abnormalities and the underlying conditions to which they may be pointing:

  • yellow or opaque nails (psoriasis)
  • thick, brittle or twisted nails (lichen planus, psoriasis, fungal infection)
  • pale nail beds (anemia)
  • red, painful cuticles (paronychia)
  • pinpoint holes in the nail (psoriasis, alopecia areata)
  • nail separation (psoriasis, fungal infection)

If you suspect your nails are unhealthy, see your doctor or a dermatologist immediately. Be sure to note any other symptoms you might have and any recent changes in your diet, lifestyle, occupation and hobbies.

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