Nails are composed of a protein called keratin. Fingernails grow fast, about 1.2 centimeters in a month—they grow from the area at the base of the nail under the cuticle. As new cells grow, older cells become hard and compacted and are eventually pushed out towards the fingertips. Healthy fingernails are smooth, without pits or grooves. They're uniform in color and consistency and free of spots or discoloration.
Nails often reflect our general state of health. Changes in the nail such as discoloration or thickening can signal health problems like liver and kidney diseases, heart and lung problems, anemia and diabetes. Keeping the fingernails looking their best does require regular care along with manicures. Cuticles should be moisturized and groomed and nails should be trimmed, filed and protected.
To keep your fingernails looking their best, follow these simple guidelines:
- Do keep the fingernails dry and clean. This prevents bacteria, fungi and other organisms from growing under your fingernails.
- Do wear cotton-lined rubber gloves when washing dishes, cleaning or using harsh chemicals, and avoid long soaks in the tub.
- Do trim and file fingernails regularly. Use a sharp manicure scissor or clipper. Trim the nails straight across, then round the tips in a gentle curve. It might be easiest to trim and file fingernails when they're soft, such as after bathing.
- Do use a moisturizer especially after washing your hands. Rub it into your fingernails and cuticles to prevent cracking and peeling.
- Do wear sunscreen lotion during the day on the hands and cuticles to prevent sun damage, which can hurt nails. Reapply every time you wash your hands.
- Don’t abuse fingernails. To prevent nail damage, don't use fingernails as tools to pick, poke or pry things.
- Don’t bite fingernails or pick at cuticles. These habits can damage the nail bed. Even a minor cut alongside your fingernail can allow bacteria or fungi to enter and cause an infection.
- Don’t pull off hangnails. You might rip live tissue along with the hangnail. Instead, carefully clip off hangnails.
- Don’t soak nails for long periods as the water and soap weakens them.
- Don’t push the cuticle too far. Trim only the part of the cuticle that has started to lift away.
- Don’t over-use nail polish remover.
- Don’t ignore problems. If a nail problem arises that doesn't seem to go away on its own or is associated with other signs and symptoms, consult a dermatologist for evaluation.