How to get healthy nails

What can our nails tell us?

As a nail technician you will always come across many different things that often clients look for your guidance and advise on how to improve their nail condition and growth. It is important only to provide advise and not diagnose, if you are ever unsure always refer your client onto their GP.

Some people will like their nails long or short, polished or natural, our nails are an extension of our fingertips and due to the never ending growth cycle, they help provide an accurate record of our health—and can signal internal problems before other symptoms appear. So lets look at what you should look out for!

Nails tend to lose moisture as we age, leaving them thinner and more brittle. Extreme dieting and vitamin deficiencies can also damage nail health. For example, brittle nails might indicate poor diet lacking in vitamin A, while dry nails suggest a lack of B vitamins. Often natural vitamin supplements can be used to help improve these conditions.

People affected with psoriasis or arthritis often experience problems with their nails. The majority of people have nail concerns, ranging from simple discolouration to pitting of the finger and toe nails. The nails of someone suffering with psoriasis or eczema can thicken, become yellow, or start to crumble, and skin around the nail can become inflamed. Nails can also lift away from the nail bed this is known as onycholysis.

While our nails can mirror our inner health, sometimes nail problems are just problems with your nails through external factors such as nail extensions or over use of solvents on the hands. For example, warts can occur in any part of the nail, and the actual nail can be destroyed as a result. Warts are a painful viral infection,that affects the skin underneath or around the nail. As a nail technician this is something that I often see on a regular basis and many clients struggle to find a permanent cure.

In the table below I have put together some basic nail disorders that you may come across and what they look like.

What are your nails telling you?
appearancepossible causes
clubbing—nails bulge and curve downwardheart or lung disease
spoon-shaped—nail tips turn up at endanemia or B12 deficiency
vertical ridgeshormone imbalance or protein deficiency
horizontal ridgesphysical or psychological stress
black vertical lines or spotsintestinal ulcer or melanoma
thick nailscirculatory problems
red skin around cuticlespsoriasis
blue nail bedheart or lung problems
yellowish nails with pink basediabetes

If the hands are constantly in water or in contact with chemicals without protective gloves this can result in a fungal infection. Fungal infections are often found on the nails without clients even realising, if these are left untreated it can result in the nail being lost.

What can we do to improve the nail condition?

Some nail infections can be treated with simple home-care treatments. If no abscess has formed, or severe swelling and inflammation infected nails may improve with regular soaking in warm water and tea tree oil. I would advise clients to massage a drop of tea tree oil into the nail bed two or three times a day to treat nail infections, tea tree is an effective natural treatment and can be as effective as clotrimazole, a prescription antifungal medication.

To strengthen and improve the nail condition try some fingernail TLC with a 10-minute soak in extra-virgin olive oil. Strengthen weak nails with a warm water soak: add 2 or 3 drops horsetail or rosemary essential oil to a cup or so of warm water. To soften brittle nails, add 2 or 3 drops evening primrose or calendula to a cup of warm water and soak. I find clients are amazed with the natural remedies that they can use at home themselves. Why not try adding this advise into your aftercare leaflets.

Diet can be the reason for poor nail condition so why not get your clients to think about their own diet Your nails need a varied and well-balanced diet that includes fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, plenty of protein from beans, peas, lentils, and soy products, seeds, nuts, eggs, fish, and lean meats. Most importantly advise them to drink plenty of water.

Remember to pay attention to the signals that your clients nails are sending and if you are concerned advise them to see their local GP.

As a nail technician it is important to keep your knowledge up to date and always read and research, you can never know everything so keep open minded and always be ready to learn from others around you.

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