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6 Common Nail Health Issues and How to Solve Them

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This article first appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of New Beauty. Click here to subscribe

More than a year without salon manicures meant a lot of bare-nail days and DIY manicures, as well as more time to Google all of our burning questions about nail health, like these six below.

Why won’t my nails grow?

This is a loaded question, and experts agree there is no clear answer. We know nail growth slows with age, but other reasons could be a diet lacking certain nutrients—incorporate biotin-rich foods like eggs, almonds and spinach—and daily damage from wearing nail polish, filing your nails (try a glass file instead of a cardboard one), and picking at your nails.

The solution: Though there isn’t much medical evidence showing dietary supplements are effective for nail growth, Mazz Hanna, CEO of Nailing Hollywood and founder of Mazz Hanna skin care, considers them a key part of having healthy nails. “I stir Vital Proteins Collagen Powder ($25) into my coffee every day,” she says. “Biotin and prenatal vitamins are also great for supporting nail growth.” Another pro tip: New York dermatologist and nail specialist Dana Stern, MD says nutrients and oxygen are delivered to the nails by the bloodstream, so cardio activity or hand massage will optimize circulation. The first-of-its-kind StimuNail device ($68) supports blood flow with gentle heat, vibrating massage and red LED therapy for healthy nail growth.

Why are my nails yellow after removing my nail polish?

If you’ve ever removed your nail polish only to see ugly yellow stains on your nails, that’s not uncommon. According to Hanna, the nail plate can become slightly discolored after wearing nail polish, which typically occurs with darker colors, but can also happen with lighter ones. “This can be due to a few different factors, but this is the main one: Nitrocellulose is a common ingredient in most nail polish, and the presence of moisture causes it to degrade. This forms nitric acid, a strong oxidizer that reacts with the nails and turns them yellow,” she explains.

The solution: Wear a good base coat, which will act as a protective shield between your nails and the pigments in the polish. “If you want a more natural, clear look, use a product with an optical brightener in it like Perfect Formula Pink Gel Coat ($30), which will filter out yellow tones,” says Shari Gottesman, founder of Perfect Formula.

Why are my nails so weak and brittle?

For many people, growth isn’t the issue, but rather they may have trouble sustaining their length because their nails are thin and weak. The same dietary imbalances, daily damage and general aging process mentioned above play a role, as well as exposure to excess water and certain chemicals in dishwashing detergents and cleaning supplies. Dr. Stern says, “The nails are 1,000 times more absorbent of water than the skin, and water absorption puts a tremendous strain on nail cells, leading to brittleness and breakage.

The solution: “We treat nail restoration in the same way we approach damaged skin,” says Dermelect Cosmeceuticals founder Amos Lavian, who developed the brand’s 12-free Phyto Strong Nail Hardener ($18) to resurface, fortify and moisturize the nails. Apply one coat beneath your nail polish to keep nails thriving and strong. Dr. Stern also recommends wearing gloves when working with chemical products during daily chores, and keeping nails shorter, which prevents more water from being absorbed into the nail plate.

Why is cutting my cuticles considered a bad thing?

We’ve all been there: The salon nail tech asks if you want your cuticles trimmed during a manicure and you usually default to “no,” but do you really know why? “The cuticles are the nail’s natural protective seal,” says Bay Harbor Islands, FL dermatologist Lucy L. Chen, MD. “I don’t recommend cutting them because it can cause skin trauma and introduce microorganisms like bacteria and yeast into the skin. This can lead to an infection called paronychia, in which the nail becomes red, swollen and painful, and may need antibiotic treatment.”

The solution: To avoid dry cuticles, Dr. Chen suggests using cuticle oil to keep them hydrated. “Not only does it keep cuticles healthy, but it can lead to longer, healthier nails altogether,” Hanna adds. “My Mazz Hanna Cuticle Oil ($29) was formulated with nourishing organic oils to help heal damaged cuticles and stimulate nail growth.”

Do white spots on my nails mean I’m nutrient-deficient?

White spots on the fingernails can come and go, and there are several causes. “They usually occur after minor trauma to the nail, like overly aggressive cuticle manipulation or nail biting. You can think of it almost like a bruise,” Dr. Stern explains. “These spots are especially common in kids because they tend to be more active and their nail plates are thinner and less protective. This is why it was perpetuated that the spots are due to a calcium deficiency and millions of children have been erroneously told that they need to drink more milk!” Keep in mind that white spots will grow out eventually: Adult fingernails take about six months to replace themselves; children’s nails grow faster. On the toenails, Dr. Stern says a different type of white spot known as a keratin granulation is a rough white patch that develops after prolonged nail polish wear.

Why do I get ridges on my nails?

Think of vertical ridges on the nails like wrinkles on the skin: Both are influenced by diet, aging and genetics. “When parts of the nail become thin or atrophy, the result is ridging,” says Dr. Chen. “The medical term for it is onychorrhexis.” However, in some rare cases, ridges can be associated with an inflammatory condition such as lichen planus, in which the onset tends to be more rapid and there is also thinning of the nail. “Horizontal ridges, on the other hand, are called Beau’s lines, and they can be a sign of a more concerning illness,” adds Dr. Chen.

The solution: A ridge-filling base coat can even out of the surface of the nail to create a smoother appearance and/or canvas for nail polish. One coat of Olive & June Ridge Filler ($14) delivers a combination of vitamin E and hydrated silica that both fills in gaps on the nail plate and keeps it healthy and nourished.

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