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Healthy Nails vs Unhealthy Nails: The Signs to Spot

Medically reviewed by Mia Dacumos, MD · Nephrology · Makati Medical Center

Written by Tracey Romero · Updated Jun 15, 2021

    Healthy Nails vs Unhealthy Nails: The Signs to Spot

    Have you ever paid much attention to your nails? For some, the answer might be yes, as maintaining the appearance of your nails is essential to self-grooming. However, some people may occasionally give their nails a trim but don’t really have much to say about them. The nails can be easy to ignore but did you know they too can play an essential role in a person’s health? Here’s what you need to know about healthy nails vs unhealthy nails. 

    Why are Nails Important?

    The nails of the fingers and toes are part of the integumentary system, which consists of the parts of the body that enables sensation and which protect the other parts of the body from external damage.

    The nails, in particular, are made of compacted sheets of keratin, which is a protein that also helps in the formation of hair and the epidermis of the skin. 

    Although the nails are considered to be just “accessory structures” of the integumentary system, they contribute to making your life a bit easier. Aside from protecting the fingers from damage, nails also make it easier to grasp certain things. 

    Fingernails and Health Conditions: What’s the Connection?

    Parts of the Nail

    When it comes to understanding healthy nails vs unhealthy nails, you must first know the unique parts of the nail. The nail consists of three main parts namely: 

    • Free margin
    • Nail plate
    • Nail root

    However, the nails grow from the nail root or nail matrix, which is located under the skin. The nail matrix contains cells that divide and push out sheets of dead cells containing keratin, which is what we see as the nail plate.  

    Fingernails usually grow faster than toenails. In fact, fingernails can grow 0.55 mm to 1.2mm every week. 

    How to Take Care of Your Nails

    Practicing good hygiene and self-grooming habits can make a world of difference between having healthy nails vs unhealthy nails. Below are a few tips and good habits to practice to ensure that your nails stay in good shape:

    Do not cut your cuticles

    The cuticle is a translucent layer of dead skin cells that are usually located at the edge of the nail plate. If you’ve gotten into the habit of cutting off your cuticles when cutting your nails, or whenever you’re getting a manicure then it’s probably best to stop doing that. The cuticle prevents bacteria from entering the area of the nail matrix, and cutting it shorter makes the nail more vulnerable. If you accidentally cut yourself with unclean tools, you also expose yourself to more bacteria.

    Next time you get a manicure, ask your nail technician to simply push back the cuticles instead of cutting them.

    Cut your nails according to the shape of your finger

    According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, trimming your nail in the shape of your fingertips ensures that the nail remains strong. Typically, nails are cut straight across then gently rounded at the edges.

    Protecting your hands also protects your fingernails

    Whenever you’re washing dishes, cleaning, or handling any harsh chemicals it’s best to use gloves in order to protect not only the skin, but also the fingernails as well. This can prevent bacteria from growing under the nail.

    Don’t bite your nails

    People bite their nails for a variety of reasons. However, this habit can be extremely harmful to your nails. Too much nail-biting can cause irritation and may lead to infections in the skin near the nail or in the nail itself. One way to curb the nail-biting habit is to find something else to fidget with.

    Don’t wear shoes that are too tight

    Wearing shoes that are too tight can cause damage to the toenails and even result in chronic foot pain. The mere consideration of what you wear on the daily will spell the difference between healthy nails vs unhealthy nails. 

    Manicures and Pedicures

    Some people go to salons to get manicures or pedicures. If you’re someone who gets manicures or pedicures regularly, make sure to remember the following:

    If you can, bring your own tools like nail clippers and nail files. This can ensure that you won’t be acquiring infections from tools that were used on someone else. If you can’t bring your own tools, make sure  that the tools used by your nail technician are sterilized and cleaned properly.

    It may also be beneficial to skip the nail polish. Harsh chemicals like nail polish or nail polish remover can damage the nails and cause them to become discolored or brittle. If you suspect your nails are becoming weaker because of repeated manicures or pedicures, use a nail hardener. Also, opt for acetone-free nail polish removers when they’re available.

    Nail Care Tools and Uses: What Does Each One Do?

    Healthy Nails vs Unhealthy Nails: Signs of Nail Trouble

    When it comes to the consideration of Usually, a change in color or texture will tell you the difference between healthy nails vs unhealthy nails. Below are a few indications of underlying issues in the nail:

  • Nails that have turned white all over, and not just the tips, may be indicative of hepatitis or kidney failure.
  • When a person is anemic, their nails can appear paler than usual.
  • Nails that are turning yellow can be a sign of damage from nail polish, or the onset of a fungal infection.
  • Indentations that run across the sides of the nails, known as Beau’s Lines, can be a sign of psoriasis or problems concerning the function of the kidney.
  • When the nail plate lifts away from the skin of the nail bed, it could be indicative of thyroid disease or result from a fungal infection.
  • Key Takeaways

    Healthy nails vs unhealthy nails, how do you know? The nails are a part of the body that’s often overlooked, but this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be taking care of them. Remember to trim them regularly and avoid any harmful habits such as biting or applying nail polish. If you notice any sudden discoloration or changes in appearance, then consult a medical professional to determine the root of your problem. 

    Learn more about Skin Health here. 


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Mia Dacumos, MD

    Nephrology · Makati Medical Center

    Written by Tracey Romero · Updated Jun 15, 2021

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