Nails make it easier to pick up small things, clean a frying pan, and scratch an itch. They also provide an external sign of your health, with weak, brittle nails often signaling some nutritional deficiency. Ignore your nails and you could wind up with painful ingrown nails or annoying fungal infections.
Follow these 14 tips for not only well-groomed, but healthy nails on all 20 fingers and toes.
1. To keep your nails hydrated, rub a small amount of petroleum jelly into your cuticle and the skin surrounding your nails every evening before you go to bed or whenever your nails feel dry. Keep a jar in your purse, desk drawer, car — anywhere you might need it. Not a fan of petroleum jelly? Substitute castor oil. It’s thick and contains vitamin E, which is great for your cuticles. Or head to your kitchen cupboard and grab the olive oil — it also works to moisturize your nails.
2. Wear rubber gloves whenever you do housework or wash dishes. Most household chores, from gardening to scrubbing the bathroom to washing dishes, are murderous on your nails. To protect your digits from dirt and harsh cleaners, cover them with vinyl gloves whenever it’s chore time. And for extra hand softness, apply hand cream before you put on the rubber gloves.
3. When pushing back your cuticles (it is not necessary to cut them), come in at a 45-degree angle and be very gentle. Otherwise the cuticle will become damaged, weakening the entire nail, says Mariana Diaconescu, manicurist at the Pierre Michel Salon in New York City.
4. Trim your toenails straight across to avoid ingrown toenails. This is particularly important if you have diabetes.
5. Dry your hands for at least two minutes after doing the dishes, taking a bath/shower, etc. Also dry your toes thoroughly after swimming or showering. Leaving them damp increases your risk of fungal infection.
6. Air out your work boots and athletic shoes. Better yet, keep two pairs and switch between them so you’re never putting your feet into damp, sweaty shoes, which could lead to fungal infections.
7. Wear 100 percent cotton socks. They’re best for absorbing dampness, thus preventing fungal infections.
8. Stretch out the beauty of a manicure by applying a fresh top coat every day, says Susie Galvez, owner of Face Works Day Spa in Richmond, Virginia, and author of Hello Beautiful: 365 Ways to Be Even More Beautiful.
9. To make your nails as strong and resilient as a horse’s hooves, take 300 micrograms of the B vitamin biotin four to six times a day. Long ago, veterinarians discovered that biotin strengthened horses’ hooves, which are made from keratin, the same substance in human nails. Swiss researchers found that people who took 2.5 milligrams of biotin a day for 5.5 months had firmer, harder nails. In a U.S. study, 63 percent of people taking biotin for brittle nails experienced an improvement.
10. Add a glass of milk and a hard-boiled egg to your daily diet. Rich in zinc, they’ll do wonders for your nails, especially if your nails are spotted with white, a sign of low zinc intake.
11. File your nails correctly. To keep your nails at their strongest, avoid filing in a back-and-forth motion — only go in one direction. And never file just after you’ve gotten out of a shower or bath — wet nails break more easily.
12. Massage your nails to keep them extra strong and shiny. Nail buffing increases blood supply to the nail, which stimulates the matrix of the nail to grow, says Galvez.
13. Polish your nails, even if it’s just with a clear coat. It protects your nails, says manicurist Diaconescu. If you prefer color, use a base coat, two thin coats of color, and a top coat. Color should last at least seven days but should be removed after 10 days.
14. Avoid polish removers with acetone or formaldehyde.