Taking care of your nails with proper manicure methods and moisturizer can go a long way towards keeping them healthy, report doctors at the Mayo Clinic. On the other hand, brittle nails and dry cuticles can be an indication of more serious medical complications. Healthy nails are smooth and evenly colored, without dents or ridges.
Nails are made of keratin, a protein that grows out laminated. New nail grows out from under the cuticles on the fingers. When new nail growth occurs, the old nail gets pushed out towards the fingertips and becomes dry and hard. Healthy new nail growth is uniform in color and smooth on the surface.
Vertical ridges that grow out with the new nail growth are usually harmless and signal excessive dry skin beneath the cuticle. The dryness can be treated by rubbing additional moisturizer into the cuticles regularly. Vertical ridges are a common occurrence with age. Other markings, such as white spots or lines usually signal an injury and typically grow out with the nail.
Nail conditions that could signal a severe lack of nutrients or other medical condition include a yellow discoloring of the nail or an opaque white coloring. When nails are curled or pitted, it could signify an iron deficiency, report doctors at the National Institutes of Health. Indentations that run cross-wise over the nails, called Beau's lines, can be caused by an injury to the nail or by malnutrition. When the nail separates from the nail bed it is called onycholysis and often signals a thyroid problem. Other diseases that can affect the appearance of nails include kidney, liver or lung disease, psoriasis and abnormal heart functions. Blood poisoning also can materialize in the nails.
Brittle nails and dry cuticles can result from nail biting that can damage the bed on which the nail grows. Cuts on the cuticles can result in infections from bacteria that get under the nail. Keep nails and cuticles clean and dry after washing. Clip dry hangnails, which are made of dead skin. Rub moisturizer directly on to dry cuticles, which can penetrate below the surface of the nail.
Dry brittle nails and cuticles can be avoided by trimming nails once they've been softened after a hot bath. Doctors at the Mayo Clinic advise patients to coat dry nails in moisturizer and cover with cotton gloves while sleeping. Nail hardeners that do not contain toluene sulfonamide or formaldehyde can help to firm brittle nails, as can nail polish. Biotin supplements also can help to harden brittle nails.
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