Nails are often considered ‘lifeless’ structures, but they are extensions of the skin. Nail inspection can give a great deal of information about the internal working of the body. How they look and discoloration of the fingernails can provide clues to various health problems.


People have always looked for an easy way to strengthen the natural nail plate. Nails are made of protein called keratin, and a deficiency of protein can show up as soft, fragile, or brittle nails.

Since gelatin is a form of protein, the logic is that the protein would help strengthen nails. This has never been proven to be the case. Since nails contain no calcium, there is no rationale for taking calcium to strengthen nails. Several studies have shown the vitamin biotin can make nails stronger.


Brittle Nails show vertical splitting or separation of the nail plate layers at the distal (free) edge of the nail plate. Overexposure to water and chemical solvents such as household cleaning solutions can cause the nails to become brittle.


Most of the time, the natural aging process causes nail splitting and vertical ridges. As we age, the nail bed's natural flow of oils and moisture is greatly reduced. This oil and moisture is the cement that holds the nail platelayers together and gives the plate its inherent flexibility.


White spots on the nail are perhaps the most common nail disorder (leukonychia). The most common cause of white spots on the nail is minor injury to the nail matrix. These spots grow out from the matrix with the nail plate and eventually disappear.

Over-vigorous pushing back of the cuticles with a metal or wooden instrument can also cause it. Always soften the cuticles first with a lotion or warm water before pushing them back, and never use anything but gentle pressure.


Separation of the nail plate from the nail bed (onycholysis) is usually caused by a fungal infection (usually the yeast fungus Candida), psoriasis, trauma, and sensitivity to certain nail products.

Usually, nails will not reattach on their own unless the causative factor is eliminated. Sometimes the nails never reattach. If the cause of the lifting is allowed to continue affecting the nail, it can eventually create a scar in the nail bed and the nails will never reattach.


Claw-type nails (Onychogryposis) have a thickened nail plate and are caused by trauma. This type of nail plate will curve inward, pinching the nail bed.


Pseudomonas bacterial infection can occur between the natural nail plate and the nail bed, or between an artificial nail coating and the natural nail plate. It is generally caused from air pockets under the nail plate that allow moisture to get in. The discoloration is simply a by-product of the infection and is caused primarily by iron compounds. It is not a mold. Pseudomonas thrives in moist places; it feeds off dead tissue and bacteria in the nail plate, and high moisture levels allow it to grow.

The infection will cause the nail plate to darken and soften underneath an artificial coating. The darker the discoloration, the deeper the bacteria have traveled into the nail platelayers. If the bacteria have entered between the nail plate and the nail bed, it may cause the nail plate to lift from the nail bed.


Yellow nail beds are often seen with lymph edema, lung effusions, or chronic chest infections. The nails become thickened and yellow, and can become separated from the nail bed.


Small hemorrhages between the nails result in narrow red or reddish brown lines running along the nails length and occur in people with heart valve infections.

A brown streak along the length of the nail can be seen with ingestion of some antibiotics as mynocycline. Some pigmentation is found in people with diseases of the adrenal glands, and fungal or bacterial infections. A pigmented line in a nail can be sign of a malignant melanoma or other skin cancer. Brown nail beds occur in chronic kidney disease.


White spots on the nail, (leukonychia), is perhaps the most common nail disorder The most common cause of white spots on the nail is minor injury to the nail matrix, caused by trauma or minor injury. These spots grow out from the matrix with the nail plate and eventually disappear.

It can be caused by your nail technician over-vigorous pushing back your cuticles with a metal or wooden instrument. Always have the cuticles softened first with a lotion or warm water before pushing them back, and only use gentle pressure. White nail beds are seen with liver or kidney problems. Blue nail beds are often seen in treatment with the drug heparin.


Horizontal lines of darkened cells and linear depressions are caused by trauma, illness, malnutrition, chemotherapy, or some major metabolic condition, or other damaging event. The protein formation of the nail plate is interrupted.


Kidney failure may cause the bottom half of the nails to turn white and the top half of the nails to turn pink or appear pigmented (half-and-half nails.


Concave ridges (Koilonychia) are usually caused by iron deficiency anemia. These nails show raised ridges (Beaus lines), and are thin and concave.


Vertical pigmented bands (Melanonychia), often described as nail 'moles', usually form in the nail matrix. It could signify a malignant melanoma or lesion. Dark streaks may be a normal occurrence in dark-skinned individuals, and are fairly common.


Called "subungal (under a nail) melanoma" by dermatologists, this form accounts for about 2% of melanomas The most common early warning sign is the appearance of a brown to black-colored streak underneath the nail, which is often mistaken for a bruise.


Vertical Ridges are also characteristic of aging, although are not limited to the aged or elderly. The nail plate grows forward on the nail bed in a 'rail and groove' effect, much like a train rides on its' tracks. As we age, the natural oil and moisture levels decline in the nail plate, and this nail and groove effect becomes apparent.


Red ligulae (the white area at the base of the nail) are seen in heart failure. If blue, it usually is copper accumulation.


Nail fungus becomes more common with age. As we age, our nails begin to grow more slowly and start to thicken, making them more susceptible to attack by fungi.

Nails that are kept moist and warm have a higher risk of developing fungal infections. People who perspire heavily, work where their hands are frequently in water, wear tight socks or shoes that don’t provide ventilation, or who frequent locker rooms, swimming pools, or other public bathing facilities have a higher risk of developing fungal infections.


One consequence of cold weather is decreased circulation to the fingers resulting in Reynard’s Phenomenon. The fingers become discolored, alternating from red to white to blue and are often painful. Wearing gloves helps to keep the fingers warmer and improving the blood flow to the nail area.


Psoriasis of the nails results in raw, scaly skin. It is sometimes confused with eczema. When it attacks the nail plate, it leaves the nail pitted, dry, and crumbly. The plate separates from the nail bed and appears red, orange or brown, with red spots in the lunula.

The changes result in separation of the nail from the nail bed (onycholysis) and thickening of the nail bed (subungual hyperkeratosis). Often splinter hemorrhages, reddish-brown discoloration of the nail bed, and white spots on the nail plate will appear. If you have nail psoriasis, you should not wear acrylics because your condition can be aggravated.


Acrylic nails are safe: they can be dangerous if there is repeated exposure to the chemicals on the skin. Most of the chemicals used to make artificial nails are acrylic-based. Certainly they would be dangerous if ingested, but no significant amount of the products can go through the nails into the bloodstream. The danger is only when products are applied improperly.
Extension products that do not fully cure or harden, w
hether acrylics or gels, can cause an allergic reaction. It is important to prevent products from repeatedly touching your skin. There are no components in the products used to create artificial nails that cause bacterial and fungal infections of the nails.


Nail and hair salons can spread fungal infections. Contaminated instruments as scissors, nail files, and razors can spread fungi. Be sure that instruments are properly sterilized between clients. Good hand washing habits are also important.

About 50% of nail deformities are caused by fungal infections. The remainder results from various causes as: trauma, psoriasis, lichen planus, and occasionally cancer. Drugs, infections, and diseases can cause discoloration of the nails (chromonychia).

Your doctor can often make a diagnosis by examination. However, to confirm the diagnosis, the doctor he must take fungal scrapings and perform a culture.

Between paintings, look at your nails and see that the real you is healthy


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