Nail Care is the New Skincare

Nail art, manicures, and all the rest are perhaps bigger news than they’ve ever been. Indeed, you can’t walk down any high street in the world without seeing at least one salon dedicated to making nails look beautiful… but all too many of us are neglecting the health of our nails, and focusing too much on their appearance.

It’s long been said that your fingernails are one of the parts of your body that act as a sort of wellness bellwether – that is, there is a wide range of health conditions (both mild and relatively serious) that make themselves known via your nails. As such, it’s important to pay attention to what your nails are trying to tell you, and to look out for some of the tell-tale signs of poor health of certain deficiencies that can affect the appearance and consistency of your fingernails.

Listen to What Your Nails Have to Say

So, what kind of diseases and health issues can make themselves visible via the nails? The answer is a long list of potentially dangerous healthcare issues, as well as more everyday concerns which are easily rectified.

Heart disease, malnutrition, thyroid problems, even certain cancers will give warning signs in the fingernails, as well as skin issues like eczema and psoriasis, too. This is all because our nail health is dependent on the health of our entire organism, and our nails will be negatively affected by issues relating to our well our bodies are taking nutrients from the foods we eat, and how well we’re taking care of ourselves.

What Should a Healthy Fingernail Look Like?

In order to understand what a healthy, normal, and well-nourished fingernail looks like, it’s important to first understand what our nails actually are. Both our fingernails and toenails are made up of multiple layers of keratin – that’s the same protein that forms our hair, and the topmost layer of our skin. Interestingly, the part of our fingernails which is visible is actually ‘dead’ – that is, it has no nervous response, and isn’t connected directly to living tissue. That’s why we feel no pain when we cut them.

Essentially, a healthy nail should be completely uniform in both texture and colour. You’ve probably noticed, while unwell or on a course of antibiotics, that your nails change their texture almost overnight; they often become covered with lumps, bumps, pits, or grooves. All of these are the kinds of signals that the nails give in order to show that something’s not quite right with our body.

Other common malaises, as well as climatic conditions will also affect the appearance and texture of the nails. You may well have also noticed that during long, dry spells, or during the middle of winter when the air is often very dry, that your nails break more easily. This is most likely due to a lack of hydration, causing excessive dryness and brittleness within the nail. Most of us will also have some kind of fungal issue with our toenails at some point in our life, which is usually treated with a topical antifungal cream. However, more enduring changes in nail colour or texture, or dramatic changes in their appearance, should encourage you to seek the advice of a certified dermatologist or GP.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common changes in nail appearance, and consider what they might mean.

Discoloured Nails

Yellow nails indicate chronic lung disorders (typically caused by smoking), as well as issues as diabetes, psoriasis, or vitamin deficiencies. However, it can also be the result of a fungal infection, which can be easily treated with medicated creams.

Blue or bluish nails, on the other hand, send a very clear message: that your body is lacking in oxygen. This could be the result of a circulatory issue, or diseases such as lymphedema, Raynaud’s phenomenon, or severe hypotension. If this bluish colour endures, it’s important to get it checked out by a doctor, as it is also associated with embolisms, pneumonia, and emphysema.

If the entirety of your fingernails start looking very pale, this might suggest a lack of hemoglobin in your blood. Hemoglobin is a protein that helps carry oxygen to different parts of your body, and a drop in this protein can indicate issues such as liver disease, malnutrition, or anemia. However, if your nails are mostly white, this could suggest liver diseases like cirrhosis or hepatitis, as well as autoimmune diseases and kidney issues.

Spots and Lines

While often, dark lines beneath the nail are the result of an acute injury, it’s worth keeping a close eye on them and getting them checked out by a healthcare professional: they can also be a symptom of skin cancer. Black or dark lines can also be the result of heart disease, kidney issues, or circulatory abnormalities, or diseases such as lupus.
Many people believe white spots (which are a common nail issue) are due to a lack of calcium, perhaps because calcium is well known as an important component for nail and bone health. However, it’s more likely to be a sign of malnutrition in general, or because of an acute injury to the nail bed. Severe malnutrition – especially a lack of iron – can result in the nails becoming concave in shape; an abnormality known as koilonychia.

Changes to Nail Texture

Rippled nails are usually caused by injuries. However, they can also be a tell-tale sign of psoriasis, particularly if the ripples or pits are joined by colour, shape, or thickness changes, too.

If your nails have started to become especially brittle and breakable, or if they start cracking on their own, this is most commonly a sign that you’ve been using too many harsh chemicals on your nails (we’re looking at you, nail polish!) or that they’ve been exposed to harsh weather conditions. However, they are also associated with hypothyroidism and anemia, so be sure to get them checked out if you’re concerned.

Other Nail Issues and Their Meanings

Have you noticed that your nails are growing much more slowly, or seem to have stopped growing altogether? This could be the result of stress interrupting your normal bodily functions, and the result of heightened cortisol levels causing changes to your nails.
Other nail changes come around in slightly more dramatic ways. There’s a condition called ‘Beau’s Lines’ – a horizontal dent that runs right through the middle of a nail, which suggests a viral infection often accompanied by high fever. However, they’re also sometimes caused by diabetes, vitamin deficiencies, or vascular diseases, too. Some people also find their cuticles becoming painfully swollen and reddened, a condition caused by a paronychia infection. This creates swelling in the nail bed, and is often a sign that the individual has lupus.

Nail Health is Bodily Health

Perhaps because we’re so used to cutting our nails, covering them up, or filing them down, we often overlook what our nails are trying to tell us. However, as we’ve seen, our nails can provide us with no shortage of clues as to what is going on in our bodies, and as such, they do require our regular attention.

Nail health is an aspect of bodily health, and in general, if everything is fine with our nutrition levels and overall well being, our nails should be absolutely fine, too. Of course, if you want to strengthen your nails and improve their appearance and texture, you should look at getting more iron in your diet, or improving your overall nutritional intake.

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