Our fingernails are made of layers of a protein called keratin. This protein is also found in your skin and hair.
However, your nails are more than just keratin. Your nails comprise several different components:
- The nail plate is the part of the nail that you can see.
- The skin around your nails is referred to as nail folds.
- The skin covered by your nail is known as a nail bed.
- A cuticle is a tissue that covers the bottom of your nail to protect newly formed keratin as your nail grows.
- The white half-moon seen at the base of your nail is called a lunula
How Nails Grew and Their Structures
On average, fingernails grow at a rate of about 0.08 to 0.12 inches a month. Therefore, it takes about four to six months for a nail to regenerate fully.
Interestingly, the nails of the hand you use most often grow slightly faster than the nails of your non-dominant hand [American Academy of Dermatology].
Now that you know the general structure of your nails read on to learn about some of the problems that can develop there.
The Disease That Affects The Nail
Our bodies host a variety of microorganisms, some of which are beneficial to us. These microorganisms also include bacteria and fungi.
Fungal infections are caused by microscopic plants that live on our skin and on dead tissue of our hair and nails.
The following list contains the more common nail irregularities, diseases, and disorders
Infections of the nail fold can be caused by bacteria, fungi, and some viruses. The proximal and lateral nail folds’ act as a barrier, or seal, between the nail plate and the surrounding tissue.
Bacterial infection can occur between the natural nail plate and the nail bed, and between an artificial nail coating and the natural nail plate.
Fungal or yeast infection
This results in Onychomycosis and can get into the body through a tear in the proximal and lateral nail folds as well as the eponychium.
This type of infection is characterized by onycholysis (nail plate separation) with visible debris under the nail plate. It usually appears white or yellowish.
Ringworm of the nails is characterized by nail thickening, deformity, and eventually results in nail plate loss. And this is another symptom of candida yeast infection.
Atrophy or wasting away of the nail plate which causes it to lose its luster, become smaller and sometimes shed entirely. Injury or disease may account for this irregularity.
This is claw-type nails that are characterized by a thickened nail plate and are often the result of trauma. This type of nail plate will curve inward, pinching the nail bed and sometimes require surgical intervention to relieve the pain.
Brittle nails which often split vertically, peel and have vertical ridges. This irregularity can be the result of heredity, the use of strong solvents in the workplace or the home, including household cleaning solutions.
Over-thickening of the nail plate and maybe the result of internal disorders — seek medical advice.
White lines or spots in the nail plate and may be caused by tiny bubbles of air that are trapped in the nail plate layers due to trauma.
Nails that are, however, characterized by horizontal lines of darkened cells and linear depressions. This disorder may be caused by trauma, illness, malnutrition, or any significant metabolic condition.
Usually caused by iron deficiency anemia. These nails show raised ridges and are thin and concave. Seek a physician’s advice and treatment.
Vertical pigmented bands, often described as nail ‘moles,’ which usually form in the nail matrix.
The inward advance of skin over the nail plate, usually the result of trauma to the matrix due to a surgical procedure or by a deep cut to the nail plate.
Pterygium Inversum Unguis
A condition characterized by a forward growth of the hyponychium characterized by live tissue firmly attached to the underside of the nail plate, which contains a blood supply and nerves.
Characterized by raw, scaly skin and is sometimes confused with eczema. When it attacks the nail plate, it will leave it pitted, dry, and it will often crumble.
Characterized by a vertical splitting or separation of the nail plate layers at the distal (free) edge of the nail plate.
Caused by aging although are not limited to the aged or elderly. The nail plate grows forward on the nail bed in a ‘rail and groove’ effect.
Caused by trauma to the nail plate. It can happen from merely trapping your finger or toe in the car door to friction from improperly fitting or ‘too-tight’ shoes, to a sports-related injury.
Nail Patella Syndrome
A rare genetic disorder involving nail and skeletal deformities (among a host of other related anomalies) that occurs in approximately 2.2 out of every 100,000 people.
Things Not to Do to Protect Your Nails
The Use of Harsh Chemicals
The ingredients in bottles of nail polish can be pretty frightening. Formaldehyde (what they use to embalm dead people) can be found in a lot of them!
Luckily, there are exceptions such as Zoya, Sally Hansen, and many others
You should know precisely what 3/4/5 free means in the nail polish world and which chemicals you should be looking out for in your polishes.
Stop Getting Gels and Acrylics
While we can’t deny that the click-clack of gels or acrylics are super fun, they’re pretty horrible for your nails.
To make the acrylic and gel stick on your nails, the technician needs to buff them. Severe buffing can cause the nail to be extremely thin and very prone to breaking.
Cutting Your Cuticles
No one wants crusty cuticles messing up their beautiful manicure. However, picking at them or cutting them is not the answer.
You should put down that cuticle clipper unless you want your nails looking like Lays Ridges.
Instead of clipping those crazies, you can apply cuticle oil. The oil will soften up your cuticles so that they’re nice and pliable which will allow you to push them back.
Stop Washing Up Without Protection
A long, hot bath can be just what the doctor orders for anyone under stress, but soaking hands for long periods can cause the nails and cuticles to become engorged with water and weaken.
Using of The Nails As Tools.
It is undeniably hard to resist this urge. Why reach for the pan scraper when our fingernails work perfectly fine for removing food caked on a pan?
But poking, prying and picking can cause cuts to the cuticles and damage to nails.
Biting Your Nails
The next time you have the urge to bite your nails, think of everything you’ve picked or scraped with those fingers in the previous 24 hours.
Disgusting! Not only can biting cause damage to the nail beds, but it also exposes your mouth to all manner of dirt and bacteria.
Work out that nervous energy on a yoga mat or find a quiet place and meditate instead.
Pulling Off Hangnails
Sure, it’s sitting there like a hanging chad, just begging to be pulled, but resist! Pulling hangnails off can rip live tissue and expose the nails and hands to fungi and bacteria.
Pushing The Cuticle Back Too Far.
Nail enthusiasts tend to get a little overzealous with cuticle care, but it must be left alone as much as possible, as this skin protects the nail.
Trim only the part that has started to lift away with sharp, clean cuticle trimmers.
Overuse of Polish Remover
While the urge to remove the electric blue polish from your nails and switch to neon green may be overwhelming, try to squelch it. Using too much polish remover can dry out and damage the nails.
Consider using acetone-free polish remover no more than once a week.
Peeling Off Your Polish
A nervous habit much like nail-biting, polish peeling doesn’t just remove polish. It also removes layers of actual nail.
Stick to polish remover for removing polish and find somewhere else to expel that nervous energy (see item #12).
Sharing Your Nail File
Do you know that leopard print nail file from college? Keep it to yourself. Bacteria and other microbes make their homes on nail files, so using someone else’s tools is a surefire way to transfer these nasty critters from the file to your body.
Toss the old file and buy a new one to keep in your purse.
Diet to Improve Nail Health
Researchers have identified somewhere between 20-25 different proteins (selenoproteins) in the human body that depend on the presence of selenium.
Some of these proteins are believed to be crucial for hair and nails. For these proteins to be able to function properly, they require sufficient amounts of selenium.
Biotin can help improve keratin production.
Keratin is the protein that forms the nails, skin, and hair—so including the recommended levels of biotin in your diet can be beneficial to your appearance.
One study illustrated a 25% increase in the thickness of nails when consuming biotin supplements.
A similar study stated that there was a significant improvement in nail strength in 91% of participants who took the recommended levels of biotin for their age group.
Foods to try are:
Bananas, beans, cauliflower, eggs, lentils, peanuts, and salmon.
Omega-3 fatty acids nourish your hair follicles for stronger, shinier hair that grows faster, and your nails will also become stronger and less brittle.
The three active ingredients—alpha-linolenic acid, eicosapentaenoic acid, and docosahexaenoic acid—are all essential fatty acids and “are critical components in the stratum corneum, which is the outermost layer of the epidermis that contains keratin and has water-holding capabilities.
Deficiency in essential fatty acids can result in dry scalp or dandruff,” she says. Foods to Try are:
Eggs, flaxseed, fish oil, mackerel, salmon, sardines, spinach, tuna, and walnuts.
Vitamin C is an essential nutrient that your body can’t manufacture and must be obtained from food.
This vitamin is necessary for the production of a substance known as collagen, which is used to make fingernails and hair as well as other parts of your body.
Without enough vitamin C, you may experience symptoms such as dry, thin, hair that split easily and slowed the growth of hair and fingernails.
Vitamin C also plays a vital role in the integrity of your immune system and the healing of cuts and bruises.
The University of Maryland Medical Center explains that a mild deficiency of vitamin C may be common and can be addressed by taking a supplement, available at your local health food store.
Vitamin A helps the body process protein, needed to sustain the nail bed, and ward off hangnails. A lack of vitamin B may cause ridges and fragile nails.
Foods to try are:
Apricots, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, Cheddar cheese, egg yolks, mangoes, oatmeal, spinach, and sweet potatoes.
Both selenium and zinc play an orchestral role in maintaining our looks because they are involved in maintaining smooth and elastic skin, strong and durable nails, and healthy hair.
If the body lacks selenium and zinc, the deficiency is likely to show on the quality of our skin, hair, and nails.
On the other hand, increasing our intake of these two particular compounds often results in visible changes that occur within weeks.
Foods to try are:
Cashews, green beans, lean beef, lobster, oysters, and soybeans.
The condition of your nails broadly reflects the state of your physical health. Your nails depend on sufficient supplies of protein, minerals, and vitamins to function. When your body does not receive enough of these nutrients or does not utilize them properly, it is reflected in the condition of your nails.
Establishing and maintaining strong, healthy, natural nails, then, relies on the consistent intake of proper nutrition via your diet and vitamin and mineral supplements. Slightly increase your intake of key nutrients like selenium and zinc, you can trigger some of the crucial processes that support your skin, hair, and nails and see a difference that you could never obtain using creams, lotions, and conventional beauty care products.