What You Need to Know—And Forget—About Nail Health

Fact versus fiction about your fingers.

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What You Need to Know—And Forget—About Nail Health

Nail polish, cuticle oil, files and remover—oh, my. You don’t have to be a hand model to recognize the time and effort (and skill) it takes to achieve perfectly polished nails. The obsession with pretty fingers started a long time ago and is still going strong. As early as 3000 B.C., the Chinese were producing polish made of beeswax, egg whites, veggie dyes and gelatin. In more current times, according to NAILS magazine, there were 53,028 nail salons in the United States in 2012. It’s fair to say, we’re still obsessed with our nails. But, even if you’re not looking for a manicure (or a pedicure)—and regardless of art, gel or the organic trends—there are ways to keep fingers looking (and feeling) flawless. We scratched our way to decipher fact versus fiction.

1. Dark Colored Nail Polish Stains the Nail Plate: FACT

“Dark colored polish—while all the rage—does discolor the nail plate,” says Anita Zappacosta, executive director for OmegaLabs, Tropical Shine and a 20 year veteran in the nail industry. “It’s best to use a great base coat/hardener, apply two coats and then apply your beautiful dark colors. Also, when removing dark colors, use the nail plate buff gently to help remove stains.”

2. White Spots on Your Nails Indicate a Calcium Deficiency: FICTION

“Keep calm. The tiny white dots, called leukonychia, you notice on most peoples’ nails are just marks left by very tiny impacts on the nail plate,” says Alex Falba, leading OPI nail artist. “These shocks come usually unnoticed, as they’re painless, but they cause the keratin layers of the nail plate to locally get lose, causing the white spots. No need to freak out, they will disappear as the nail grows. You can prevent them from forming by keeping your nails well moisturized. Nail care products, like oils, help trap the water inside the nail, and this water is shock-absorbing.”

3. Trimming Skin around the Nail Is Necessary for Optimal Health: FICTION

“Never cut the skin around your nails,” says Falba. “This living tissue is called the eponychium (not the cuticle), and is the most important security seal of the nail unit. It prevents pathogenic agents from entering the bloodstream and acts like a barrier, so you really don’t want to suppress or damage it. The real cuticle: that’s completely dead skin, very thin and sticks to the nail plate. That can safely be removed.”

4. Certain Foods Keep Nails Healthy: FACT

According to Frank Busch of Cutex’s product development team, consuming the following fruits and vegetables are important for nail maintenance:
Carrots: A great source for vitamin H or Biotin, carrots are also high in vitamin C and potassium, making them a nail and skin superfood.
Cucumbers: They contain an enormous amount of vitamins, specifically vitamin C, which is great for nails.
Eggplants: They are high in vitamin C, magnesium and potassium.
Peaches: Peaches contain loads of potassium that maintain fluid levels in the body.
Strawberries: A great source of potassium and vitamin C, strawberries act as an iron enhancer, a nutrient essential for nail health.

5. Nail Splits and Cracks Can Be Fixed with the Right Products: FACT

“Purchase moisturizers containing collagen and keratin to strengthen cells in the nail plate,” says Busch. “These proteins will make the nail more resistant to splitting and cracking.”

6. Nails Grow Faster in Summer Than Winter: FACT

“Nails grow indeed 20 percent faster in summer than in winter, and the average growth rate of fingernails is about 1/10 inch per month,” reports Falba, “Your nails grow at a different rate on each finger: the longer the finger, the faster the rate. Your thumb nail grows slower than the one of your middle finger.”

7. During a Proper Manicure, Nails Should Be Soaked: FICTION

“Nail soaking is actually not necessary or beneficial to the fingernails,” says Zappacosta. “A good cuticle cream or oil will suffice in nail and cuticle care.”

8. The White Crescent Is an Indicator of Health: FICTION

“This whitish half-moon shape at the base of the nail is named the lunula,” says Falba. “You might not always see it—some people have hidden lunulae—but everyone has them, and its visibility or invisibility has nothing to do with your health. The reason why it’s whiter than the rest of the nail plate is because the keratin cells there are softer and more flexible. It’s also the thinnest part of the nail plate, so it has to be treated with great care.”

Hilary Sheinbaum is a travel, health, food and lifestyle writer.