How to Keep Your Nails Healthy & Beautiful
Twenty years ago, the narrow spectrum of nail polish colors included light pink, deep red, dark brown and all predictable shades in between. How did women ever survive with such limitations? These days, there is a color to go with every outfit, from bright orange to turquoise to chartreuse to gray. You can even match your toes and fingernails to your favorite sports team or destination.
Headed to a Vols game? Alternate bright orange and white on your fingers and toes. Going on a Disney vacation with your family? Adorn your toes with Mickey Mouse ears. With so many talented nail artists taking their creativity to new levels, the options are endless, and unlike so many other painful and unhealthy regimens that we subject ourselves to in the name of beauty, taking care of your nails and keeping them pretty is actually good for you! Here are 20 simple “do’s and don’ts” for keeping your nails healthy and beautiful.
By Julianne Hale
1 Keep nails shaped and trimmed. Unlike tanning, waxing and the many other tortures women endure to keep up society’s standards of beauty, keeping nails attractive actually helps keep them healthy. As an added bonus, it protects your wardrobe, preventing nails from tearing or catching on clothes and other items.
2 Keep nails dry and clean. This helps protect them from fungi and bacteria. Don’t fall for the labels on dishwashing soap claiming they are good for your nails. Hot water and soap can be a damaging combination. Get yourself some cute gloves to wear when you tackle that looming pile of dishes in your sink.
3 Moisturize the cuticle area. The cuticles are the only line of protection between the nail bed and the bacteria and fungi of the world. Moisturizing them prevents cracking and peeling, which can cause damage to the nail bed.
4 Sterilize nail tools. Don’t let your inner penny pincher convince you that the leopard print nail file you used in college is still an acceptable tool. It’s not! Nail tools should be meticulously cleaned and sterilized and nail files should be replaced regularly to prevent bacteria and microbes from colonizing.
5 Disinfect tears or cuts on the cuticle. Infections on this delicate area of skin around the nail are not only unattractive, but can cause long-term damage. Disinfect any tears or cuts immediately with antibacterial ointment.
6 Treat ingrown and torn nails as soon as possible. Unsightly and painful, ingrown nails and torn nails should be treated immediately to avoid infection. Most respond well to home remedies including antibacterial ointment and some TLC. In rare cases, these conditions may need to be seen by a dermatologist.
7 Take zinc and biotin supplements. If you suffer from weak or brittle fingernails, these supplements often labeled “hair, nail and skin supplements” might be just what you need to strengthen your nails.
8 Wear gloves. When you are standing at the sink washing dishes, using household chemicals to clean, or pulling weeds in your garden, your hands and nails are often taking a beating. Putting gloves on can protect both the hands and the nails from the wear and tear that these common activities cause.
9 Coat outside of nails with polish. Putting a clear coat or regular polish on the nails actually helps keep them moisturized and prevents splitting. Plus, keeping your nails pretty can actually make you want to point out menu items to your restaurant server or communicate with your hands.
10 Check out your salon. Do you know what the most common infection acquired at nail salons is? Warts. Yuck. Protect yourself from these and more serious infections by making sure your salon is licensed, clean and sterile, and free of penalties from the local health department.
11 Use 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.
12 Bite 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, 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.
13 Pull 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.
14 Push the cuticle back too far. Nail enthusiasts tend to get a little overzealous with cuticle care, but it’s critical for it to 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.
15 Overuse 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.
16 Peel 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).
17 Soak nails for long periods. A long, hot bath can be just what the doctor orders for anyone under stress, but soaking hands for long periods of time can cause the nails and cuticles to become engorged with water and weaken. Enjoy your bath, but occupy those hands with a juicy novel or the latest issue of HealthScope magazine.
18 Share your nail file. 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.
19 Ignore inflammation, a strange growth, color or texture. Healthy nails should have a uniform color and consistency. If you notice something that looks abnormal, have it checked out by a dermatologist, as it may be a sign of something more serious.
20 Go barefoot. When the weather is warm, many of us throw caution to the wind and run around our houses or yards without shoes or socks. Liberating though it may be, running around barefoot is also an invitation to fungus and bacteria to join the party on your feet. Keep your guest list germ-free by keeping your feet covered.
Good nail care is fairly simple—keep them clean, dry, polished, shaped and follow the rules of basic hygiene (no tool sharing!) and you will have beautiful, healthy nails for life.
Julianne Hale and her family reside in Cleveland. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Illinois State University and then an MBA from the University of Phoenix. Julianne is a member of the Chattanooga Writers Guild, is married, and has three children.