Scratch an itch. Strum a guitar. Peel an orange. Your fingernails come in handy all day long, but too much use -- or misuse -- can cause problems ranging from nasty fungal infections to brittle, broken nails. In this article, we'll talk about fingernail-related health problems, and we'll give you some home remedies for fingernail care and maintenance.
Your nails are made of keratin, the same type of protein in your hair. Each nail actually consists of several parts, all of which play an important role in its health and growth:
- Nail plate: This is what you see as the fingernail.
- Nail bed: This lies below the nail plate; the two are attached. The capillaries in the nail bed nourish the nail and give it its pinkish color.
- Nail matrix: You don't see most of this, yet it may be the most important. It's below the cuticle at the base of the nail. Cells in the matrix produce the fingernail. If the matrix gets damaged, your nail will be distorted or may even stop growing completely.
- Lunula: This is the part of the matrix that you can see. It's the half-moon-shaped portion at the bottom of your nail.
- Cuticle: This fold of skin, made of dead cells, keeps foreign substances, such as infection-causing bacteria, out.
- Nail fold: This is the ridge of skin around the nail.
Although plenty can go wrong with the nails, one of the most common complaints dermatologists hear is that fingernails are brittle, or easily broken. Fingernails can become brittle either because they are too dry, making them hard and easily cracked, or because they are too moist, which leaves them soft and prone to tearing. For that reason, doctors treat brittle nails in much the same way they would treat skin problems. For example, since nails can become dry and split at the tip if they're exposed to too much dry heat, detergents, or nail polish remover, one piece of advice is obvious: Avoid harsh chemicals and other drying influences, and use moisturizer. But don't overdo it -- nails become soft and brittle when exposed to too much hand lotion and other moisturizers. Nails may be extremely soft right after a lot of time underwater or may become dried out from repeated soaking and drying.
Fingernails grow faster than toenails.
Nails on the longest fingers grow the fastest.
If you're right-handed, nails on that hand grow faster than on your left hand; the opposite is true for lefties.
Your fingernails will also grow faster during the summer, during pregnancy, and when they are recovering from injury.
Trauma, the doctors' term for injury, is another major problem for fingernails. The classic example: Whacking the fingernail with a hammer. If a bruise forms beneath the nail, a doctor may have to relieve the pressure that builds up.
Injuries also open the door to infections, especially fungal infections. Although these generally plague toenails more often than fingernails (for the same reason athlete's foot develops -- the hot, moist environment of shoes), fungal infections can strike the nails on the hands, with some unpleasant consequences. Infection may turn the nail plate chalky white, yellowish, brownish, or even green and make the nail fold look red and irritated. (If you suspect a nail infection, discuss it with your doctor.)
And finally, certain skin diseases, such as psoriasis, can show up in your nails.
What you don't want to occur: Separation of the nail plate from the nail bed, a condition called onycholysis. It can occur after an injury, infection, allergic reaction to a nail cosmetic, or exposure to chemicals or as a result of disease, such as psoriasis. If the nail appears white, it may have separated. You'll need to see your doctor, and you'll want to be careful not to aggravate the problem further. Unfortunately, once the nail separates, it won't reattach; you have to wait for a new nail to grow in.You also want to take good care of the nail matrix. If this is damaged, it will start producing a deformed nail or, even worse, no nail at all.
Let's review some home remedies that can help you overcome fingernail problems in the next section.
For more information about nail, skin, and foot problems, try the following links:
- To see all of our home remedies and the conditions they treat, go to our main Home Remedies page.
- To learn more about ingrown toenails, read Home Remedies for Ingrown Toenails.
- If you suffer from athlete's foot, try the practical tips provided in Home Remedies for Athlete's Foot.
- Home Remedies for Dry Skin includes valuable advice for keeping your skin healthy.