Nail care – the what’s and what to do’s

All of us has, at one or other point, struggled with brittle nails.  More often than none it is due to lack of nutrition, weather, harsh soaps and working with your hands, in water, without wearing gloves.

Our nails are a substructure of the epidermis and are mainly composed of keratin (a type of protein).  Nails grow from approximately 0.05 to 1.2 millimetres (1/500 to 1/20 of an inch) a week and, if you lose a nail, it takes about 7 months to grow out fully. How do you know if your nails are healthy or not? 

I am going to list a few things that you can look at:

  1.  A lack of protein, folic acid and vitamin C, causes hangnails.  These are nails that curve down when they become long.  Another indication of protein deficiency are white bands across the nails;
  2. A lack of vitamin A and calcium causes brittleness and dryness;
  3. A deficiency of the B-vitamins causes fragility, with horizontal and vertical ridges;
  4. Insufficient intake of vitamin B12 leads to excessive dryness, very rounded and/or curved nail ends, and darkened nails;
  5. Iron deficiency causes “spoon” nails (concave shapes) and/or vertical ridges;
  6. Zinc deficiency causes the development of white spots on the nails;
  7. A lack of “friendly” bacteria (lactobacilli) in the body can result in fungus-growth in and around the nails;
  8. A lack of sufficient hydrochloric acid contributes to splitting nails.

Before we look at supplements and dietary changes / add-ons we can use, remember that some of the above conditions can also be due to a skin allergy, for example eczema.  The latter can, if a person had it / has it on his / her hands, can affect the way the nails look.

As stated above, vitamin A, C, B-complex, B12, Calcium, Magnesium and Zinc, (taken with copper to balance out the zinc) are all important.  Vitamin D3 and iron are also essential nutrients.  A good Omega-oil supplement will not only feed the nails and nailbeds, but is also needed to keep our skin supple and moist, but it is also “brain food!”

When we look at what we can add to our daily food intake, things like alfalfa, flaxseed, lemongrass, parsley, pumpkin seed and sage, are good nutrients.  Chamomile, rosemary and turmeric are great to use for circulation and for nourishing the nails.  Eating enough good quality proteins or taking a protein-supplement if you are vegetarian, as well as grains, legumes, oatmeal, nuts, seeds and eggs, are all good.

Eating plenty of fresh fruits and raw vegetables, cutting down or avoiding refined sugars and simple carbohydrates, as well as drinking plenty of water, are all important as well.  Fresh carrot juice is high in calcium and phosphorus – good for strengthening the nails; and as you know, high in vitamin A; so good for our eyes as well!

Eating too many citrus fruits, using too much salt and/or vinegar, can cause an imbalance between the protein/calcium levels in our bodies.  Royal jelly, spirulina or kelp are rich in silica, zinc and the B-vitamins.  Brewer’s yeast or wheat germ oil, taken daily, can help with splitting nails and/or hangnails. 

If your nails’ colour is not what it used to be, or your nails are brittle, mix equal parts of honey, avocado oil, egg yolk and a pinch of salt together.  Rub the mixture into your nails and cuticles.  Leave it on for 30 minutes and rinse off.  Repeat this every day and, after about 2 weeks, you should see changes.  If you’d like to strengthen your nails, soak them in warm olive oil or apple cider vinegar for 10 – 20 minutes every day.

Take care not to use your nails to scrape or pick, for example removing a staple.  Use gloves when you are working in water, in the garden or around the house.  When cutting your nails, make sure that they are warm, as it is easier to cut without splitting – and warm nails will not blunt your nail clippers / scissors either!  Keeping it relatively short is not only easier to maintain and work with, but the longer the nails, the bigger the chance of it breaking and/or bending / curving.

When you are filing your nails, be careful not to file in different directions (this can cause the nails to become brittle and/or split).  Instead file in one direction.  Don’t pull on a cuticle if it is dry or formed a small, loose skin.  Rather cut it off and put some moisturizer on.  Biting your nails?  Firstly; best to get rid of the stress and the reason(s) you are doing it and, if all else fails, put a bitter residue / polish on your nails…but rather stop or don’t start at all!

If you like to wear nail polish often, use a base coat before you put your colour on.  This will protect your nail from discolouring.  Do give your nails time-off as well to breathe, as nail polish can stop oxygen from penetrating the nails.  Before you use any brand’s nail polish remover, make sure that it contains acetate and not acetone.  The latter can be toxic to skins and are much harsher on the nail and skin, than acetate.

Lastly, I would like to mention a few other considerations to be aware of…

Exposing our hands and nails to too much water and soap, can cause the nails to loosen from its beds.  Water causes our nails to swell and, when they shrink once dry, it can become loose and/or brittle.  If you smoke, suffer from allergies, are on anticancer medication, is a diabetic, stress or has / had a prolonged illness, your nails can also show one / more of the above-mentioned symptoms.  Speaking to your health practitioner about it, is always a good idea.  Artificial nails might look good, but the chemicals and glue used can cause havoc; especially if it is not done properly and if you don’t take “time-out” from wearing it.  Fungal infections can also occur easier.  In a study done on hospital nurses it was found that they carry twice as many bacteria on their hands! 

In a recent interview on the radio a researcher that researched the difference between using hand sanitizers and warm water and soap, said that hand sanitizers clean our hands from everyday dirt / dust, but it cannot protect you from picking up the E. coli-virus.  However, when you wash your hands with warm water and soap (for 20 seconds; including under the nails), we not only get rid of germs and dirt, but anything else that might cause us to contract an illness.

There are many brands on the market that has different ingredients in; promising to moisturize your hands, lessen the look of ageing, and so forth.  Glycerine, vitamin E and added oil (coconut oil, argan oil or coconut butter), are something to look out for when choosing a product.  A hand serum is another good option to use; especially if your hands are very dry.

Our hands and nails are always on display – so take the time to take care of then too!

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