Nails of steel
WellBeing|Issue 194
Brittle, ridged, yellow, gnawed or frail nails may be a sign of deeper health issues. Help is at hand for naturally nice nails without the nasty chemicals.
CAROLINE ROBERTSON

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.

Keratin claws

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.

Handy tools

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.

Nail news

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.

Discolouration

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.

Lifting nail

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.

Thickened nail

Psoriasis or a fungal infection is the most common cause of nail thickening. Injury, arthritis and trauma are other possible factors.

Ridged nail

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

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM WELLBEINGView All

Travel the Top End

Immerse yourself in the eerie colonial ruins of Victoria Settlement and experience the rugged tropical landscape of Garig Gunak Barlu National Park, fringed with white beaches and teeming with all manner of birds, fish, crocodiles and unique Aussie wildlife.

9 mins read
WellBeing
WellBeing #196

Yoga to foster friendliness

Unconditional friendliness is the key to transforming your life, and it starts with the self. Harness the yogic concept of maitri to work towards conscious, radical acceptance of the self and invite more happiness into your life.

10 mins read
WellBeing
WellBeing #196

Protecting the commons

“The commons” are the natural and cultural resources, ranging from land to knowledge, that should be accessible to all members of society. Under intense social evolutionary pressure, however, we need to be vigilant that these commons are protected and secured for the good of all.

9 mins read
WellBeing
WellBeing #196

Pregnancy-safe beauty

Your skincare regime may make you feel great, but beauty products often hide a large amount of harmful chemicals. Natural beauty columnist Ema Taylor shares her guide to the ingredients you should avoid while you’re expecting.

7 mins read
WellBeing
WellBeing #196

The climatarian diet

Our daily food choices have an impact not only on our health but also on the climate. We explore how to shop, cook, eat and reduce waste in a warming world.

8 mins read
WellBeing
WellBeing #196

Kiwifruit

While more research needs to be conducted on humans, kiwifruit is looking particularly promising as a powerful medicinal food. Eating two of these delicious fruit per day is showing positive health benefits for many of the conditions that affect us today.

4 mins read
WellBeing
WellBeing #196

Designing a sociable home

Architecture and interior design can help build our personal relationships, and numerous design strategies can nurture fertile ground for social interaction. We explore how to foster feelings of togetherness and set the tone for sociable life at home.

9 mins read
WellBeing
WellBeing #196

Kit Willow A winning formula

Two years after being fired from her own label, Kit Willow started again from the ground up. Second time around, though, she is reshaping a broken industry and forging a fresh outlook in which makers, market and Mother Earth all benefit.

8 mins read
WellBeing
WellBeing #196

Accentism

Accentism, discriminating against someone because of their accent, is still prevalent in societies around the world. We explore accent bias in an increasingly diverse world, the politics and cultural significance of accents and what your accent says about you.

9 mins read
WellBeing
WellBeing #196

Effects Of Coffee On Your Body And What It Is Doing To The Planet

Coffee is a massively popular drink, second only to water. In this article we take a deeper look at coffee, the many ways you can have it, the effects it has on your body and what it is doing to the planet.

10 mins read
WellBeing
Issue 194
RELATED STORIES

Robotics Help Refine Hip, Knee Replacement

ORTHOPAEDIC HEALTH - As we move further into the 21st century, more and more of the amazing things that science fiction promised us are becoming reality. One fascinating technological development is the use of robots in a variety of applications – including orthopaedic surgery. There are many reasons to utilize robots in various medical procedures, and the evidence is growing that the advantages of doing so are numerous.

1 min read
Central Florida Health News
September 2021

7 Yoga Asanas to Practice with Arthritis

A general guideline for people who suffer from arthritis & practice yoga is to not force or push your way into positions. Move around gently to compress and release the areas involved in the movements and move slow enough so you notice how you feel and know when to move further and when to back away.

3 mins read
Women Fitness
May - June 2021

Are you Vitamin C DEFICIENT?

Here’s a fun fact for you: Humans are the ONLY mammals that don’t make their own vitamin C.

2 mins read
Natural Solutions
December 2020

Bird Dogs - Health Matters

Joint Relief Made Easy

5 mins read
The Upland Almanac
Spring 2021

MORE US PATIENTS TO HAVE EASY, FREE ACCESS TO DOCTOR'S NOTES

More U.S. patients will soon have free, electronic access to the notes their doctors write about them under a new federal requirement for transparency.

4 mins read
Techlife News
November 07, 2020

THE ENEMY WITHIN

UNCONTROLLED INFLAMMATION UNDERLIES MANY CONDITIONS COMMON IN PEOPLE WITH ARTHRITIS. LEARN HOW TO TAMP IT DOWN.

10+ mins read
Arthritis Today
Fall/Winter 2020

How to Pick the Right Mattress

IT CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE FOR YOUR SLEEP AND YOUR PAIN.

3 mins read
Arthritis Today
Fall/Winter 2020

A Doctor's Advice

FOR DR. TRAVIS STORK, A SIMPLE TOE INJURY LED TO ARTHRITIS AND BACK SURGERY.

4 mins read
Arthritis Today
Fall/Winter 2020

11 Ways to Build Resilience

Discover ways to overcome adversity and put a positive spin on any setback.

9 mins read
Arthritis Today
Fall/Winter 2020

BREAKINGIN A NEW KNEE

When the pain becomes too much, going under a knife is the option

2 mins read
The Good Life
November 2020