A Complete Guide to Nail Health for Strong, Healthy Nails
Anatomy of Nails
Our finger and toenails are made of a few different components:
- Nail plate: The part of the nail you see, trim and paint
- Nail folds: The skin around the nail (perionychium)
- Nail bed: The skin covered by your nail
- Hyponychium: The skin containing the small blood vessels that provide nutrients to nail cells
- Cuticle: The tissue that covers the bottom of your nail to protect the newly formed keratin (eponychium)
- Nail root: The part of the nail when new cells are produced
- Lunula: The white half-moon at the base of the nail
Nails start growing in the nail root hidden under the cuticle. As cells at the nail root grow, new nail cells push out the old nail cells. The old cells harden and flatten with the help of a protein they produce called keratin. Keratin is basically a building block for our bodies to create our hair, top layer of skin, and nails.
Fingernails grow slowly, about 3 millimeters per month. At that rate, it takes around 6 months to fully replace a nail. Toenails grow much slower and take about 12 to 18 months to fully regrow. Healthy nutrition and proper care can influence this rate and your overall nail health.
Fun Nail Facts
- Women's nails grow faster during pregnancy
- Nails on your dominant hand grow faster due to increase blood flow
- Nails grow faster in the summer
1. Do not touch your cuticles
If you’re visiting your local nail spot or doing your nails yourself, leave your cuticles alone! Dermatologist at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, Dana Stern, MD, says, "The cuticle is the natural barrier to fungus and bacteria – and once you breach that, protection is lost." Damaging your cuticles can lead to infections and ultimately permanent nail damage.
2. Keep your nails dry and clean
Nail beds are most sensitive when wet. Nails become soft, flexible, and prone to tears when they have been soaked. Keeping your nails dry will also prevent bacteria from growing under the nails.
3. Limit contact with cleaning chemicals
When doing housework and laundry wear gloves to protect your hands and nails. Cleaning chemicals can be very damaging to your skin and nails.
4. Moisturize your nail beds and cuticles
Dermatologist at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey Margaret Ravits, MD, said, “If your nails are prone to breakage, it could mean they need moisture – and putting oil around the cuticle helps moisturize the entire nail, which will reduce the incidence of chipping, cracking, and splitting,"
5. Limit professional manicures and let your nails breathe
As nice as manicures are there are slight risks to the process. Reused manicure tools can increase the risk of nail bed infections. Overexposure to various chemicals found in nail products can decrease nail health. Typical acetone nail polish removers have been shown to strip nails and cause them to become brittle.
Over time, frequent manicures can really harm your nails. However, if you do want that fun splash of color in your life use nail and cuticle safe products like Burt’s Bees Cuticle Cream or Pacific Nail Polish. Natural brands like these do not contain widely used chemicals that not only smell toxic but can really damage your nails.
Diet and Nail Health
Your diet plays a huge role in all aspects of your life, but you might forget that includes your nails. Getting the proper nutrients in your diet is crucial to your nail health. Whether you get them through food or supplements it is important to have these vitamins and minerals in your diet.
- Biotin: 2.5 milligrams of biotin supplements taken daily has been found to strengthen nails and improve nail health
- Vitamin B12: 2.4 mcg of B12 per day is recommended. B12 helps with iron absorption, to supply blood to nails. It is found in animal foods, such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy.
- Folate: 400 mcg of folate is recommended. Lack of folate will result in rigid and brittle nails. Folate is found in green vegetables, citrus fruits, beans, peas, lentils, nuts, seeds, and avocado
- Iron: 8 mg for men and 18 mg for women is the daily recommended. Iron helps cells get oxygen. It is found in beef, chicken, fish and eggs, dark green leafy vegetables, peanuts, seeds, beans, and other fortified foods.
- Protein: Around 55 grams per day is recommended for a 160lb person. Protein supports muscle growth, energy levels, and boosts keratin production. Protein is found in animal foods like meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy, as well as plant foods, such as soy, legumes, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
- Omega 3 fatty acids: 1.6 grams for men and 1.1 grams for women daily is recommended. Omega 3’s can help lubricate and moisturize your nails, giving them a shiny appearance. Fatty fish like salmon, trout, mackerel, tuna, and sardines are packed with them, but they can also be found in walnuts, soy, eggs, chia seeds, flaxseeds, and fish and flaxseed oil.
- Vitamin C: 90 mg for men and 75 mg for women daily is recommended. Vitamin C is crucial to the production of collagen. Collagen gives shape and strength to many tissues including your nails
- Zinc: 11mg for men and 8 mg for women daily is recommended. Zinc is important for the growth and division of cells. Animal proteins like beef, poultry, fish, and eggs are packed with zinc. However, soy, chickpeas, black beans, nuts, and seeds also contain it.
- Magnesium: 400-420 mg for men and 310-320 mg for women is recommended daily. Magnesium is a mineral involved in protein synthesis which is required for nail growth. Whole wheat contains lots of magnesium. One piece of whole wheat bread has 23 mg. , Dark green leafy vegetables, as well as quinoa, almonds, cashews, peanuts, edamame, and black beans, are good sources, too.
Your nails are literally and figuratively an extension of you, so take care of them! Eat well, practice good nail habits, and your nails will thank you.
Written by Kiana St Onge