Before painting your digits, take a closer look at your nails. They can tell you a lot about your health.
-PJ Gach, BettyConfidential.com
We've all heard stories that your nails can tell you if you're malnourished, have cancer, or are in the pink of health. Are these fairy tales true? Dr. Ariel Ostad, a Manhattan board certified dermatologist, says "Yes." What your nails "say" are an indication of your overall health.
He sites an example: a patient came in with what he thought was a hangnail. It was actually skin cancer! "When in doubt, always seek guidance from a physician," says Dr. Ostad. "Since many health problems have an impact on the nails, it's worth listening to what your hands have to say."
Take a look at this nail health checklist:
Dented or pitted nails
If your nails suddenly have dents or pits, it could mean that you have psoriasis. It's an inflammatory skin condition that can show up as red, sometimes scaly patches on your skin. It also can affect your nails. Once the condition is treated, the nails will return to their pre-dented or pitted look. Remember that nails only grow a millimeter a week, so it may take a few months before they look like they used to do.
Spoon shaped nails
No, it's not a new style. A healthy nail usually is raised in the middle and then curves down at the tip. When a nail's shape is reversed, raised at the tip, curving at the middle, this is a sign of iron deficiency anemia. Don't worry, this can be fixed. Once corrected, the nails will go back to their normal shape.
If you do a lot of dishes or are exposed to cold air (hello winter!), your nails will start to peel. Nails are made up of several layers of protein (keratin). There's a very simple solution to this common problem: moisturize your nails! By moisturizing your nails a few times a day, you're re-hydrating them and bringing them back to good health. Dr. Ostad also suggests that nail polish will help seal the layers. Now you have a good excuse for a manicure.
Did you know that about 20 percent of women suffer from "brittle nail syndrome?" It's when nails can't hold onto moisture. What happens is that the nail plate layers dry out and crack. Dr. Ostad says, "Medically speaking, it's possible for an under-active thyroid to cause both dry skin and brittle nails. Nutritionally, a diet low in iron can cause nails to become thin, brittle and easily broken (eating more green, leafy vegetables, red meat and eggs will help boost your iron intake). Biotin supplements (a B-complex vitamin) have also been shown to improve the condition of brittle nails." Before you freak out, the most common reason why women have to deal with brittle nails is too much water. Now you have a reason to get someone else to do the dishes, or buy gloves to protect your nails and hands when doing them.
A healthy nail is pinkish in color. "When all of the nails turn yellow it can be a sign of lung disease or diabetes," says Dr. Ostad. "Yellow spots on the nails can be an indicator of fungus or psoriasis." Unless you constantly wear dark nail polish without a base coat, as dark nail polish will turn your nails yellow, Dr. Ostad suggests visiting a dermatologist if the condition persists.
If a nail bed has a dark, long pigmented band of black or brown, it could be malignant melanoma. It's most often found on the thumb or big toe. See a doctor to rule out that it's not a bruise.
It many not be a wart
Wart-like lesions on the nail fold or in the nail bed could be squamous cell carcinomas. See a doctor if they persist.
Protect your nails checklist:
A balanced diet of leafy green vegetables and proteins will keep your nails and you healthy.
As mentioned earlier, moisturizing your nails daily is the best and easiest way to keep your nails from peeling, flaking and cracking. Dr. Ostad recommends lactic acid creams in 5 -12 percent concentrations.
When working with chemicals, washing dishes and detergents use rubber gloves to protect your hands and nails. During cold weather months wear gloves as they will protect your nails from damage from the weather.Leave the cuticle alone
According to Dr. Ostad, the cuticle protects the nail matrix. Think of it as a seal. By removing it, you can increase the risk of permanent damage to your nails. Don't remove cuticles or push them back. If a wart appears near a nail, don't pick it. It can turn into a squamous cell carcinoma. See a doctor if it doesn't go away in a few months.
PJ Gach is Senior Editor: Style + Beauty at BettyConfidential.
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