If the thought of flaunting your feet in sandals makes your toes curl, here’s some advice for you to ensure good nail health.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
If the thought of flaunting your feet in sandals makes your toes curl, here’s some advice for you to ensure good nail health.
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Your nails are an important part of your presentation to the world. Fingernails are also important for fine touch and handwork. Toenails have a protective role, especially your big toenail. People often ask doctors about splitting, cracking, ridging, discolouration or white spots on their fingernails or toenails. While the main concern is often about the appearance of the nails, the state of your nails can also say a lot about your general health. Here are just a few of the most common problems that can affect your nails, and some advice on how to look after them.

1 Nail Injury

Toenails, especially, are prone to repeated injury over the years from footwear, sporting injuries and changes due to arthritis. Anyone who has ever hiked in boots that put pressure on the big toenail will be able to relate to this. Fingernails can be damaged by chemicals, soaps and detergents; manicures; cutting or dissolving cuticles; and using harsh chemicals to apply and remove polishes, false nails and acrylics.

2 Fungal Infection

A fungal infection in a nail (onychomycosis) can appear as yellow discolouration, a lifting of the end of the nail from the nail bed, or thickening of the nail. In some cases, the nail can be completely destroyed. You can treat the condition with an over-the-counter, anti-fungal nail polish containing terbinafine. More extensive infections need oral anti-fungal tablets.

3 Paronychia

This is an inflammation of the skin around the nail. You might notice the appearance of a red, swollen, painful area at the edge of a nail. You might also see a yellow rim of pus under the surface. This is seen in nail biters and people who fidget by pulling at the skin around their nails. It is also common in people who have their hands in and out of water and chemicals, such as detergents. It is sometimes seen after manicuring where the skin is damaged, or when artificial nails are applied. It is usually caused by a bacterial infection, but it can be fungal. See your doctor for advice, because it might need a minor surgical procedure or antibiotic treatment.

4 Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a common skin condition. Up to 50 per cent of psoriasis sufferers have their fingernails and toenails affected. The fingernails are more commonly involved than the toenails. Pitting, thickness, lines and ridges and lifting of the nail from the nail bed are common effects of psoriasis. Often all the nails eventually become involved. This usually requires specialist advice from a dermatologist.

5 Nail Biting

Nail biting is common in children, but it may persist into adulthood, when the habit is much harder to break. Apart from being unhygienic, it can damage the skin around your nails. Nail biting can be associated with anxiety or an obsessive compulsive personality. You can try to stop nail biting by being very mindful and using willpower. You may need the help of a psychologist with behavioural therapy. Applying a bitter paint will help remind you. Regular manicures may help, too.

6 Brittle Nails

Brittle nails are a reasonably common problem, primarily of cosmetic significance. There may be ridging along the length of the nail and splitting of the end of the nail. Repeated wetting and drying is the most common cause. Chemicals, detergents and alkalis can also cause brittle nails.

7 Dark Discolouration

Longitudinal brown or black bands are relatively common in people with darker skin. Trauma can cause a bleed under the nail (subungual hematoma) causing black staining in a section of the nail bed. Melanoma is rare, but important to identify. It may look like a single dark streak under the nail, or an area of dark discolouration. You should see your doctor if in doubt.

8 Taking Care Of Your Nails
 You need to feed your nails. Virtually every nutritional deficiency can affect the appearance of your nails in some way. The best source of nutrients is a well-balanced diet with plenty of quality protein (chicken, fish, toufu and lean meat).
 Supplements which may help your nail health include ingredients such as biotin, silicon, vitamin E and fish oil. Supplements like Swisse’s Hair Skin Nails are formulated with biotin, zinc and selenium for healthier nails.
 Wear waterproof gloves for wet work or work with chemicals.
 In the garden wear tough gardening gloves to avoid injury.
 Avoid soaking your hands in soaps or detergents.
 Don’t bite your nails. There are lots of reasons nail biting is a bad habit.
 Carry an emery board for quick repairs to broken or torn nails.
 Avoid metal nail tools under your nails. Regularly replace disposable nail tools like used emery boards and sticks.
 Moisturise your hands regularly, especially after hand washing.
 Use a cuticle oil, such as avocado oil, around your nails before bed.

 Be particularly cautious of acrylic or gel treatments that use harmful UV rays.

9 Nail Hardeners And Moisturisers

Nail hardeners are basically nail polish with different solvent and resin concentrations to make the nail plate less porous. However, prolonged use can make nails more brittle! Nail moisturisers are creams and lotions that can be useful for brittle nails.

10 Artificial Nails, Sculptured Nails And Gel Nails 

Artificial nails, sculptured nails and gel nails use chemicals to cover the nails. This can be a useful temporary measure for nail biting or to improve the appearance of damaged nails. Some techniques roughen the nail surface. The chemicals may cause allergic contact dermatitis and some techniques can damage the nail surface or the soft tissue around the nails.

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