Nurture & Heal: Healthy Nails

For women with brown skin, nails are one symbol of beauty and individuality--whether you have naturally long nails with airbrushed designs, extra-long and brightly polished acrylic nails, or shorter nails with a French manicure. It is important to realize that your nails are a living part of your body and they require care. Like our hair, nails are made of keratin. 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 nailfold
  • The cuticle is a section of skin at the end of the proximal nailfold 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.
  • Our nails grow a couple of millimeters per month, but that rate of growth can vary slightly from nail to nail and during different periods in our lives such as pregnancy when our nails grow more quickly.

The health of our nails is determined by many factors, including diet and overall health, as well as our nail-care practices. Much like our hair, nails can be damaged by weathering. Weathering is a wearing away of the outer layer of the nail. Filing the nail plate, using our nails as tools, even the friction from scratching, computer keyboards or gloves can lead to weathering.

There are many abnormalities that can occur in your nails. Often it is easy to ignore the abnormality and cover it with an acrylic nail or with nail polish. This may be detrimental to your health since changes in the nail and the nail fold area may be a sign of an internal medical problem or an underlying skin disorder.

Signs of Poor Nail or Internal Health

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

If you suspect your nails are unhealthy, see your doctor or a dermatologist right away. Be sure to note any other symptoms you might have and any recent changes in your diet, lifestyle, occupation and hobbies.
There are certain essentials to good nail care as outline below:

Basic Nail Care

  • Protect your hands and nails from harsh soaps, which can cause dry, brittle nails. Use mild soap to wash your hands, avoid water as much as possible and wear rubber gloves with cotton liners while performing during wet work.
  • Protect your hands and nails from extreme weather, which can also cause dry, brittle nails. Coat your nails with moisturizer and wear gloves in winter.
  • Moisturize your hands and nails daily or twice daily with a creamy lotion or hand cream. Be sure to work lotion into the cuticles and nail plates. Carry a pocketsize moisturizer in your purse.
  • Keep nails clipped short, if possible. File them in one direction only to create an even nail shape and to avoid nail breakage. Don’t forget to clean under the nail but do not poke anything underneath the nail.
  • Take regular breaks from polish, nail tips and acrylic nails which discolor and dry the nails and also makes them more susceptible to infection. Buff nails for shine.
  • Examine your nails regularly since melanoma skin cancer can develop in fingernails or toenails. For people 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.

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