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Tips To Maintain Healthy Fingernails

6 min read

By Clarissa Vanner

Medically Reviewed by Patty Weasler, RN

Whether you take pride in giving yourself a weekly manicure or struggle with biting your nails, most of us want to achieve healthy and beautiful nails. But perfectly manicured nails go far beyond aesthetics — it’s good for your health too. Good nail care can help prevent ingrown nails, fungus infection of the nail, and infections of the skin.

Signs of healthy nails include pinkish-white-colored nail plates, healthy cuticles, a lunula at the nail base (half-moon-shaped white section), and nails and white tips that are even lengths, says Good Housekeeping. To help you achieve healthy fingernails, we’ve rounded up some of the top tips. Let’s get into it!

Trim Your Nails Regularly

To keep your nails healthy it’s important that you trim them regularly. Regular trims make your nails less prone to breaking and snags.

Good Housekeeping says you should try to trim your nails every 2-weeks or so, however, you can adjust the frequency once you see how quickly (or slowly) your nails grow. The source also says you should keep your nails short (at least for a little while) to allow your nails to grow stronger.

Keep Your Nails Clean

Washing your hands is so important for preventing germs but taking time to keep your nails clean is important too. If you have traces of nail polish on your nails, start by removing it with an acetone-free remover. This is the best type of remover that won’t dry out your nails.

Next, using a clean toothbrush, apply a dab of soap, and then gently scrub your nails and your skin. The toothbrush will help remove dirt while simultaneously gently exfoliating your skin.

Take Care of Your Cuticles

A common myth is that you should trim or remove your cuticle. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Everyday Health explains, “think of your cuticles like the protective caulking around a bathtub.” When you trim or push them back too far (or aggressively), you’ll damage them leaving your nail bed vulnerable to bacteria and infection.

If you must push back your cuticles, do so gently and preferably after your shower or bath, when the skin is soft. You also shouldn’t do this more than once a week. Moisturizing your cuticles regularly should also be part of your routine. Apply cuticle oil and massage the oil into your cuticles and nails.

Keep a Nail File on Hand

Another way to keep your nails healthy is to always be prepared and that includes keeping a nail file on hand. Many things can cause damage to your nails from working out, to washing the dishes, or perhaps the daily tasks at your job. But if you keep a nail file on hand you can buff any rough edges on the spot.

Good Housekeeping recommends a glass nail file over an emery board. Emery boards can cause the nails to snag and peel whereas glass nail files can be used on brittle nails.

While we’re discussing nail tools, it’s also important to regularly clean them to prevent bacteria. Wash metal and glass tools with soap and water and then wipe with rubbing alcohol. If you do use an emery board make sure you replace them regularly.

Don’t Skip the Base Coat or Topcoat

If you’re going to give yourself an at-home manicure, it’s important that you don’t skip out on the base coat or topcoat. First, the base coat helps prevent your nails from being stained when you apply the polish. It can also benefit the polish color by making it appear more saturated, Good Housekeeping points out. Further, a good base coat can also help reinforce your nail tips and protect them against damage.

The topcoat may not play a vital role in your nail health, but it will help your manicure last longer. The topcoat can help provide a nice shine and seal the polish color. To make your at-home manicure last longer, the source also recommends adding a top coat every few days to prevent chipping.

Give Your Nails a Break

Although painted nails or false tips can be pretty, it’s important to give your nails a break every once in a while. Especially if you want to protect their health. Nail polish can dry out your nails and cause them to weaken, ultimately leading to breakage.

So if you want a bold color for the weekend, perhaps you can remove it come Monday and allow your nails to take a break for the week. Good Housekeeping says you should also steer clear of acrylic or gel manicures when possible. While they may be long-lasting, they are very hard on your nails and can lead to nail damage.

Wear Gloves When Cleaning Your Home

Cleaning your home is important but all of those harsh chemicals can wreak havoc on your skin and nail health. Even hot soapy water from doing the dishes can weaken your nails. So, to keep your nails healthy make sure you wear gloves when cleaning your home.

You should also wear gloves when gardening. This will prevent dirt and bacteria from entering your nails. Don’t skip the gloves in cold weather either! Cold, dry air can leave the skin around your nails feeling dry and flaky.

Read the Labels on Nail Products

You might be used to reading food labels, but reading the labels on your nail products is just as important. Avoid nail products that contain toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde, toluene, dibutyl, and phthalate. These types of ingredients can cause damage to your nails like cracking and brittleness.

Another important ingredient to avoid is acetone, which is commonly found in nail polish remover. Acetone can be drying, causing your nails to become brittle. Instead, look for an acetone-free nail polish remover.

Add More Protein-Rich Foods to Your Diet

Another way you can benefit your nail health is by stocking up on protein-rich foods. Good Housekeeping says, “your fingernails are made of a protein called keratin, so just as with the clarity of your skin or the shine of your hair, you can improve your nails by tweaking your diet.”

Some great options include lean sources of protein like fish, chicken, and turkey, as well as beans and nuts. The source also notes some vitamins and supplements may also benefit your nail health such as fish oil, biotin, and vitamin E.

Fingernail Care Don’ts

As you can see now, there are many easy habits you can start doing to promote healthy, strong fingernails. We also think it’s worth mentioning the bad habits that can hinder your nail health.

The most obvious one is to stop biting your fingernails and picking at your cuticles. Mayo Clinic says, “these habits can damage the nail bed. Even a minor cut alongside your fingernail can allow bacteria or fungi to enter and cause an infection.” You should also avoid pulling off hangnails because this can cause you to pull off live tissue.

Signs of Unhealthy Nails to Watch For

An essential part of keeping your nails healthy is knowing the signs of unhealthy nails. This will help you recognize when you need to make some changes and/or when you need to see a doctor.

Signs of unhealthy nails include peeling or splitting nails, tiny white spots on the nail, or red or swollen skin around the nails. Some signs can also indicate a more serious underlying health problem. Let’s take a look at these next.

What Your Nail Health Says About Your Overall Health

WebMD says to be mindful of white nails as this can indicate a liver condition. However, if your nails are half white and half pink this may indicate kidney disease.

Further, the source notes pale nail beds can be a sign of anemia while yellow-tinged nails “with a slight blush at the base,” can be a sign of diabetes. Finally, nails that are yellow and thick and grow slowly may be a sign of lung disease. Contact your doctor if you have any of these nail changes.

When to See a Doctor

Nail problems are most often caused by environmental factors, however, underlying health problems can be the cause in some cases. This is why it’s important to observe your nails regularly and notify your doctor of any changes.

Book an appointment with your doctor if you are at all concerned with your nail health. If necessary, your doctor may refer you to a dermatologist. Early intervention is always important so don’t be afraid to ask.


Patty is a freelance health writer and nurse (BSN, CCRN). She has worked as a critical care nurse for over 10 years and loves educating people about their health. When she's not working, Patty enjoys any outdoor activity that she can do with her husband and three kids.

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