Fri | May 25, 2018

More to nails than meets the eyes

Published:Wednesday | February 20, 2013 | 12:00 AM

By Dr Arusha Campbell-Chambers

Getting one's nails done has become very popular in recent times, especially around special events like Valentine's Day. It is helpful for us to be aware of the importance of nails to our bodies and how we can take good care of them.

Nails are made of keratin, the protein found in skin and hair. The visible part of the nail is actually dead tissue formed by living skin cells in the fingers and toes. Nails grow at a very slow rate.

They serve various functions. These include protection and support of underlying tissues and the mechanical function of aiding us to pick up objects. They are also of cosmetic importance; we know that healthy nails can be attractive. The reverse is true in that when nails are affected with a disease, they can be unsightly and make the individual very self-conscious when interacting with others. Some nail changes can also indicate the presence of internal diseases, and these should not be ignored.

So what can we do to help keep our nails healthy? The following are some tips to aid in nail care:

Nails should be kept dry and clean to prevent bacterial and fungal nail infections.

Do not remove your entire cuticle (the tissue that connects the skin to the visible nail). It protects your skin against infection.

Cut nails straight across to help prevent ingrown nails. They may be rounded slightly at the top.

Avoid digging out ingrown toe nails, especially if the overlying skin is red, swollen and tender.

The use of nail cosmetics and salon/spa nail services are generally safe once proper sanitisation occurs. However, there may be increased risk of the following in some individuals:

1. Allergic reactions (e.g. some people may be allergic to some types of acrylic)

2. Irritant reactions (e.g. to some nail hardeners)

3. Mechanical damage (e.g. very long nail attachments may lead to lifting of one's own nail in some circumstances)

4. Infection: This risk is increased when a lot of cuticle is removed and when unsterilised instruments are used. One may consider bringing one's own implements in the case of the latter.

Consult your dermatologist if you develop any nail changes, for example, changes in colour, shape, ridges, pain and swelling of nails and their surrounding skin, as they may indicate conditions which require treatment. These conditions include fungal nail infections, bacterial nail and nail-fold infections, viral warts, eczema, psoriasis and internal diseases like anaemia, lupus, kidney disease, heart disease, lung disease and liver disease, to name a few. So there is definitely more to the nail than meets the eye.

Our nails are important to us and we should definitely do what we can to take good care of them, and not ignore nail changes which may be treatable.

Dr Arusha Campbell-Chambers is a dermatologist and founder of Dermatology Solutions Skin Clinics & Medi-Spas; email: