Groomed nails are an obvious part of personal hygiene and key to a polished appearance, but nails are also important indicators of our overall health. While nail quality is partly determined by your genetics and habits, the state of your talons can also reveal underlying health conditions.
The nail has both living and non-living components. The overlying nail plate is dead, but the skin beneath the nail is living. Despite this dead outer layer, it’s vital to watch what you put on your nails as they are more porous than skin and absorb harmful agents (as well as beneficial balms).
The nail is composed of the nail plate (the visible overlying layer), a matrix, which is the underlying vascular layer that produces the plate, and a bed, which is the pink skin under the nail plate. The paronychium is the soft tissue border around the nail, the lunula is the white crescent at the base of the nail and the cuticle is the thin tissue that emerges from the nail’s base.
Containing an average of 50 layers of alpha-keratin protein, fingernails grow around three-and-a-half millimetres a month, whereas toenails grow about half that rate. The more fingernails are used, such as the index finger, the faster they grow. Fingernails take three to six months to completely regrow and toenails 12 to 18 months.
We tend to take our nails for granted, but think of all the things you couldn’t do effectively without fingernails. Backscratching, nose picking, knot untying, splinter scavenging, finger tapping, guitar strumming, flower plucking and scratching off stains all depend on your nails. At a push, they also double as an inbuilt weapon system.
Nails protect your digits from damage and soft tissue injury. The counter-pressure posed by nails when you touch something enhances the sensitivity of your fingers and toes. Without them, you would be less able to feel textures.
Both conventional and complementary medicine practitioners use nail diagnosis as a barometer for body health. Healthy nails are strong, smooth, convex, with equal thickness, have white moons and are translucent at the bed and white at the tips. If you have any nail concerns, it is best to consult your health professional for a diagnosis.
Find out what your nails are saying with the following rough guide.
Funny-coloured nails can be due to chemicals, chemotherapy, dyes, medications, nail polish, nicotine, infections, injuries or melanoma.
Yellow and thickened nails point to fungus. Black nails can be due to injury or melanoma. White marks or leukonychia on nails may signify low albumin, protein deficiency, trauma to the area, low zinc or iron or antibiotic use. A white line can indicate heavy metal poisoning such as arsenic. The entire nail turning white sometimes relates to heart disease or diabetes.
This disturbing look can be due to hardening chemicals such as formalin, rough removal of fake nails, psoriasis or a fungal infection.
Splitting or peeling nail
This may be due to extreme dryness, continuous trauma, excess washing, nail polish or chemical use. Consider checking the thyroid if the problem persists.
Psoriasis or a fungal infection is the most common cause of nail thickening. Injury, arthritis and trauma are other possible factors.
This is a common symptom which may be normal depending on the person. Nails tend to get more ridged with age, illness, deficiencies and arthritis. Infections, lichen planus, lupus and topical chemicals can also contribute to ridges.
Inflammation around the nail
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