Now more than ever, fingernails are a fashion statement. Covered with acrylics or tips, lacquers or polishes, nails are always on display. But at their core, nails are a living, growing part of us. The health of our nails can also serve as an overall indicator of our well-being.
To assess your nails, you have to get a good look at what’s going on. That means occasionally taking a short break from false nails or polishes. Long enough to see what you’re dealing with, at least.
Healthy nails should be smooth with no discolorations. The most commonly reported abnormality has to do with texture; specifically brittle nails, flimsy nails, and peeling nails.
The three types of texture
Brittle nails are actually referred to a onychoschizia. Their most visual characteristic is horizontal splitting. This condition is linked to repeated wetting and drying of your fingernails, as well as with exposure to nail products including polish hardener, remover and glues. Brittle nails might also be a sign of hypothyroidism or iron deficiency.
Flimsy nails are a bit different. These are the paper thin nails that don’t seem to grow because they are always breaking. Soft, flimsy nails are another byproduct of overexposure to chemicals. These weak nails can also indicate a deficiency in B vitamins, calcium, iron, or fatty acids.
Peeling nails are usually the result of fingernail trauma brought on by nail tools — like drills used to remove acrylic products or to smooth the surface before applying false nails.
A potential fix is for all of these is to wear gloves when getting your hands wet, like when you clean or do dishes. Also, you can avoid excessive immersion or exposure to acetones and other nail products.
The various types of color
Yellow nails are relatively common, and relatively harmless. They usually stem from either an infection or a reaction to a product like nail polish. In rare cases, yellow nails could be a sign of something bigger, including thyroid conditions, psoriasis or diabetes. The good news is you can typically give your nails a breather and get them back in good health. Natural fixes including tea tree oil or vitamin E can take the edge off infections.
Black lines may look like splinters, which is why this presentations are also known as a splinter hemorrhage. They can be black, brown or dark red. This is usually the result of a nail trauma, such as slamming your nail in a car door or drawer. As it heals, the injury grows out and clears up. Worse case scenario, it could be a sign of nail melanoma.
White spots, or leukonychia, can be a sign of an injury, an allergy, or a fungal infection. These spots come in a variety of sizes and can impact all of your nails or just a few. Again, this should resolve and grow out. Over-the-counter treatments do a good job of treating fungus. It requires laying off the polish for a while.
White spots can also be a sign of heart disease, kidney failure, anemia, liver cirrhosis and other serious conditions.
While most of these nail conditions are not dangerous, you don’t want to take a ‘hands off’ approach. If the problem doesn’t get better, seek professional help.
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