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Taking care of your nails is important for both your health and appearance. Whether you are shaking hands with someone or making a presentation at work, your nails will be noticeable. If they aren’t clean, it may give a rather bad impression of your personal hygiene.

More importantly, healthy nails are a sign of good health. If your nails are discoloured, badly cut or have infections, they can affect your overall health and lead to complications. For example, it’s quite possible that you would scratch or cut yourself or a loved one unintentionally if you have badly cut nails. 

And while keeping long nails might look good, especially if they are polished and well-shaped, the fact is that germs and dirt get stuck more easily in them. In cultures where people eat with their hands, like in India, dirt and germs stuck in nails can be ingested with food and lead to a stomach upset, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting

So, it is very important to care for your fingernails. You might go to a parlour to get them groomed from time to time, but cleaning them properly is something you should do a couple of times a day at least. Here are all the tips you need to take care of your fingernails.

(Read more: Nail fungus: Symptoms, causes, treatment and prevention)

  1. Why is nail hygiene important?
  2. How to clean your nails
  3. Nail care dos
  4. Nail care don’ts

Keratin is a type of protein that forms the cells of nails, hair and even skin. Nails start growing under the skin, in the area called the cuticle. When new cells grow under the cuticles, the old cells are pushed outwards. 

The part of the nails that you can actually see are dead cells, and this is the reason why it doesn’t hurt when you cut your nails - unless, of course, you are cutting closer to the dermis or the layer of skin under the nails. The dermis has sensitive nerve endings, so the closer you cut to the dermis the more it will hurt.

Healthy nails are smooth and do not have grooves, pits or discolourations. If your nails are healthy they will have a uniform colour and texture. Sometimes, with age, vertical ridges develop on the nails. These are normal and not a sign of ill health. However, if you observe any of the following in your nails you should consult a doctor or dermatologist immediately:

  • Changes in nail colour, even if the discolouration or dark streaks cover a small spot
  • Changes in nail shape, like if your nails start curling at the ends 
  • Thinning of nails, which can happen due to iron deficiency or vitamin deficiency
  • Thickening of nails, which can happen due to trauma or diseases like psoriasis and diabetes
  • Separation of the nail from the nail bed, which can be a sign of fungal infection or other issues
  • Bleeding under or around the nails, which usually happens due to trauma
  • Swelling or pain around the nails, which is common among those who bite or chew their nails
  • If nails do not grow at all or properly it could be because you have an underlying condition like fever, internal injury or infection

(Read more: Nail biting: Side effects, causes and management)

Keeping your nails clean is a very important part of your hygiene. There are a few things you should do to clean the nails every time you wash your hands. Other things, like trimming the nails or cleaning the cuticles can be done once a week. If you’re grooming your nails at home, it’s very important to get the right equipment. You will need the following to clean your nails:

  • Nail clippers or cutters
  • Nail scissors
  • Nail file
  • Tweezers
  • Nail cleaner (medium grain curette)
  • Soft brush
  • A soft liquid soap
  • Salt
  • Warm water

Remember to sterilise the equipment before using them every time. You can do this by soaking the instruments in boiling water for 10-15 minutes.

Cleaning the nail surface

Cleaning the surface of the nails is very important because these are easily visible. You should use the following method to clean the nail surface:

  • Wash your hands with soap
  • Remove nail paint or polish, if any
  • Soak your nails in a bowl of warm, soapy water for 10 minutes
  • Use a nail brush to gently scrub the surface
  • Gently remove dirt around the nails with a cleaner
  • Wash or rinse your nails with soap and water
  • Wipe your nails with a soft towel
  • Moisturise your nails with petroleum jelly, coconut oil or olive oil

Cleaning under the nail

It’s very easy for dirt and germs to get stuck under the nails, and so cleaning under the nails is very important and should be done at least once a day. Follow the steps mentioned below to clean under your nails every day:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water
  • Use the nail cleaner to scoop out visible dirt from under the nails
  • Soak your nails in warm, soapy water for five minutes
  • Apply soap on your nails
  • Use a nail brush to gently clean under your nails
  • Rinse the soap off your nails 
  • Dry your nails on a towel
  • Apply moisturiser or petroleum jelly on your hands

Cleaning the cuticles

Cuticles are where your nails grow from, so keeping them clean and pushing them slightly back is very important and should be done once every week or 10 days. Here’s how to clean your cuticles:

  • Wash your hands
  • Soak your nails in warm, soapy water for 10 minutes
  • Use a nail cleaner to scoop out the dead cells in the lunula, which is the area right above the cuticles
  • Rinse your nails with soap and water
  • Dry the cuticles with a soft towel
  • Moisturise the cuticles with petroleum jelly, coconut oil or olive oil

It’s very important to remember that cuticles are very sensitive, so make sure you do not accidentally cut them while cleaning them. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), you should never trim cuticles, since it increases the risk of infections. If you’re getting a manicure at the parlour, make sure the beautician doesn’t trim or cut your cuticles.

Trimming the nails

According to the AAD, trimming your nails the right way goes a long way in preventing infections, hangnails and ingrown nails. The right technique matters a lot here, and the AAD recommends the following steps:

  • Soft nails are easier to cut and shape, so the best time to trim nails is right after a bath. You could also soak your nails in warm water for five to 10 minutes before cutting them.
  • Use nail clippers and files to trim and shape the nails, but remember to disinfect them before use.
  • Cut the nails straight across, and then use a file to slightly round the nails at the corner.
  • Always file the nail in the same direction instead of filing back and forth, which can weaken the nails.
  • Moisturise the nails after trimming to keep them flexible and healthy.

To make sure that your nails are healthy, remember to do the following things. 

  • Keep your nails dry and clean to avoid bacteria growth.
  • Prolonged contact with water or health issues like iron and vitamin deficiency can cause nails to crack. Make sure you wear gloves and stay away from harsh soaps, dishwashers and detergents if you have this problem or to avoid it.
  • Clean your nails every time you wash your hands and take time out at least once a week to care for trim your nails and clean the cuticles.
  • Keep your nails moisturised by using petroleum jelly, coconut oil, olive oil or a good hand lotion.
  • Include adequate amounts of fruits, lean meats, fish, spinach, beans, eggs, nuts and whole grains in your diet. These promote good nail health.
  • Do consult a dermatologist or doctor in case you observe any discolourations or changes in your nails.
  • Ask your doctor about using biotin or nail hardeners to make your nails stronger.
  • If you’re going to a parlour to get a manicure or pedicure, make sure the beauticians there are trained, use sterilised equipment and their products are not expired. This can minimise the risks of bacterial infections and fungal infections.

Cleaning and grooming for your nails is very important, but making sure you don’t do anything to harm your nails is even more so. Make sure you don’t ever make the following mistakes, because they can be detrimental to your nail health.

  • Don’t bite or chew your fingernails. These habits can damage the nail bed and cause infections.
  • Don’t cut or trim your cuticles. 
  • Don’t try to treat hangnails or ingrown nails by yourself. Consult a dermatologist.
  • Don’t use harsh products on your nails, and limit your use of nail polish removers.
  • Don’t ignore nail problems or cuts and bruises on or around your nails. Consult a doctor to make sure the issue doesn’t become more serious.

References

  1. Cleveland Clinic. [Internet]. Cleveland. Ohio; 6 Things Your Nails Say About Your Health
  2. American Academy of Dermatology [Internet]. Rosemont (IL), US; WHAT KIDS SHOULD KNOW ABOUT NAIL CARE
  3. HealthLink British Columbia [Internet]. Government of British Columbia. Victoria. Canada. Caregiving: Fingernail Care
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [internet], Atlanta (GA): US Department of Health and Human Services; Nail Hygiene
  5. Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard Medical School [Internet]. Harvard University, Cambridge. Massachusetts. USA; Onycholysis.
  6. American Academy of Dermatology [Internet]. Rosemont (IL), US; HOW TO TRIM YOUR NAILS
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