I’m sure you rarely take a look at your hands and think there are some things you should know about your nails, but I’m going to share some things with you that might make you think a bit more about how you look after your nails. I’m including some basic facts about nails, but also some things you probably won’t know, and things you’ve never considered before. Read on for some things you should know about your nails.
One of the things you should know about your nails is what they are and why they are there. Ok, obviously nails are there to protect the ends of your fingers and toes, but why? Your fingertips and toes are incredibly sensitive. In particular, the fingertips have a huge accumulation of nerve endings. Indeed, the fingertips have the densest area of feeling receptors in the whole body. Nails are the human equivalent of animal claws and although we have developed beyond the uses to which the animal kingdom put their nails, we still use them for scratching and picking up tiny things.
One of the interesting facts about nails you may not know is that they are made of the same material as your hair – the protein, keratin. The keratin cells at the root of the nail harden and flatten, while new cells form beneath the top layer, pushing the hard cells out to become the nail. The pinkish look of your nails comes from the blood vessels that feed the nail bed – i.e the part where the new cells are formed. The actual nail doesn’t require feeding because they are “dead.”
One of the interesting facts about your nails, which if you think about it you know but probably haven’t given much thought to, is that your fingernails grow more quickly than your toe nails. Actually, fingernails grow about 2.5 millimeters each month while toenails grow about 1 millimeter a month. The fastest growing fingernail is the one on the middle finger and the slowest growing one is the thumbnail.
Another of the things to know about your nails is that the nails on your right hand will grow quicker if you are right-handed, and vice versa if you are left-handed. And, did you know that your nail growth will slow down with age and that, contrary to what you may have heard, they do not continue to grow after your have died? Interestingly, nail growth speeds up in pregnant women. Nail growth is also affected by climate, growing faster in summer and warm conditions. Nails grow more slowly during illness, growth is affected by hormone imbalances and nails grow faster during the day than at night. But, maybe the most disappointing of nail facts is that male nails grow faster than female nails.
Nails are incredibly strong given how thin they are, and this is due to the strength of the accumulation of keratin. Despite this, however, they are prone to breakage, splitting and tearing. And apparently – and I only read this; I have no supporting evidence and am not likely to try it myself – a human fingernail will dissolve in cola in only 4 days! Toe nails are stronger, being twice as thick as fingernails, and this is because before we invented shoes, we needed more protection for our feet/toes than for our hands/fingers.
One of the facts about your nails already mentioned is that the main part of the nail – despite that it looks like it is this bit that is growing – is actually dead. This means your nails do not breathe, they cannot get tired and they do not sweat. However, the nail beds and the nail cuticles (the tissue that connects the nail to the body) are made of living, growing tissue and therefore, like the rest of your body, need oxygen, minerals and vitamins. You should also look after your cuticles with as much care as you do your other skin. Do not cut cuticles or file them, and moisturize them regularly.
Another of the things you should know about your nails that I’ve already shared with you is about the blood vessels that feed the nail bed and give your nail their color. These same blood vessels and the color of your nails can be signals of your health. Bad food habits and dieting can have an effect on your nails and also some medical conditions. Here’s a run down of some possible medical issues your nails MIGHT be telling you about:
• Spoon shape with upward curve – iron deficiency and potential anemia
• Round shape and downward curve – lung disorder, heart, liver or respiratory disease
• Wide and square-shaped - hormonal disorder
• Yellow nails (not caused by nicotine) – lymphatic disorder, liver disorder or diabetes
• White nails with pink tips –cirrhosis of the liver
• White lines across the nails – liver disorder
• White spots – zinc deficiency
• Bumpy nails – rheumatoid arthritis
• Half-white nails with dark spots – kidney disease
• Dee blue nails – nails are starved of oxygen, indication of asthma or emphysema
• Green nails – bacterial infection
• Thick cuticles – poor digestion of proteins
• Dry nails – dehydration
• Brittle nails – silicon, calcium and zinc deficiency and/or circulation, kidney or thyroid problems
• Thick and dark nails (at same time) – potential fungal infection
• Nails that peel, chip or crack easily – nutritional deficiency, lack of hydrochloric acid, protein deficiency
Having read the list, please don’t look at your nails, notice one of the above and panic. Only be concerned if you have noticed a change and remember, if you’ve been ill or have been dieting, or you have changed your eating regime, it will affect your nails. The symptoms above are only one potential signal of an underlying medical issue, so always consult your MD if you think something is wrong.
Despite the female need for long nails, they aren’t that healthy. Long nails are hotbeds for bacteria – unhealthy and unhygienic. Nails should be trimmed regularly to remove the dirt and germs that accumulate under them. A nail brush is an essential tool for the bathroom. It is also important to regularly clean your nail care tools, and if anyone in the family has a nail infection, tools should be disinfected regularly and preferably not shared to avoid transference of germs. File nails regularly and repair chips, breaks and tears as soon as possible to avoid ragged edges. Wearing nail polish can be good for your nails. Polishes contain hardeners which protect your nails and make them stronger. Do note, however, that continuous use of dark colored polishes might eventually stain your nails. Nail polish remover contains alcohol, which can dry out your nails, so always moisturize after removing polish.
Many people bite their nails (and many of us find this a disgusting habit), but there is no medical cure for this. Anyone who does this really should make every attempt to kick the habit. It is not healthy to transfer germs from your hands to your mouth and vice versa (and your nails won’t look good either).
Lee Richmond of the USA was once the holder of the Guinness Book of Records title for the longest fingernails. She managed to grow them to an incredible total length of 28 feet and 4.5 inches until she lost them in an RTA in 2009. The longest single nail belonged to an Indian gentleman and it measured 48 inches.
Archeological records show that manicures were part of beauty routines 4,000 years ago.
Some superstitious people believe that it is bad luck to cut your nails after dark. There is no medical foundation for this and it probably came from the time when cutting your nails in poor candlelight or dim light wasn’t a good idea.
Have these things you should know about your nails helped you to make some changes to your hand care routine or are your carefully manicured nails always a matter of pride and key to your looks?
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