Nutrition & Beauty

Medical tips for healthy nails by Dr. Martin Godfrey

Our nails, like our hair, grow continuously throughout our lives necessitating regular cutting, polishing and filing, week in week out. This makes you wonder how our ancestors cut them when they lived primitive lives in caves and rough shelters without access to even the most basic flint nail clippers.

I’ll leave that one with you. But happily today we have a bewildering array of methods to keep our nails and toenails beautiful. Pop down any high street and you will see at least one ‘nail shop’ jostling for prominence amongst the likes of Subway, McDonalds and Marks and Spencer. Step into your local pharmacy and they have walls of nail products. But nail health is more than getting your cuticles pushed back or your feet massaged. Here are my medical tips for what you can do personally to ensure your nails stay strong and healthy without ever having to step out of your front door:

First, and I always emphasise this, ensure you eat a diet rich in protein. Ingestible collagen is particularly good at preventing the development of brittle nails, as is the vitamin biotin – an important component of the best healthy nail supplements.

Next it’s very important to practice good nail hygiene. Keep your nails clean and dry – this not only prevents the growth of fungi and bacteria underneath your nails, but continuously wet nails tend to split and present an easy route of infection into the skin.

And keep an eye out for unusual lesions on your nails, particularly your toe nails – very dry, discoloured or even very thick nails can be the sign of a chronic fungal infection and this may need months of treatment to heal.

Remember, when you cut your nails, always use the sharpest manicure scissors or clippers and never cut down into the corners . The latter practice easily leads to the introduction of harmful bacteria and eventually ingrowing nails (the term for an infected nail bed).  Ingrowing nails need strong antibiotics and can even lead to the loss of the nail altogether.

Other practices to avoid – don’t bite or pick at your cuticles – this again can lead to sometimes terrible nail infections which in some cases can lead to full blown septicaemia. And never pull off a hang nail. Just clip it down as far as is comfortable and put a bandage over the top to seal it in. Again, like biting, pulling it off can expose your healthy skin which can then get infected.

Lastly, if you have an elderly relative, particularly one with diabetes, make extra sure they are seeing their doctor regularly and having their feet and nails checked. Diabetes often leads to dangerous loss of sensation in the foot and simple acts like cutting the nails can lead to terrible damage.

Further reading:

  1. A dozen tips for more beautiful nails: http://www.webmd.com/beauty/features/more-beautiful-nails-a-dozen-tips#1
  2. Tips from the American Academy of Dermatology: https://www.aad.org/public/skin-hair-nails/nail-care/healthy-nails

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