This might come as a surprise, but nails aren’t just cosmetic: they serve a function and they say a lot about your general health. Whether you think of the cuticle as the thin layer that sticks to the nail, or the skin surrounding the nail, peeling can be caused by a number of factors, and it is important both to address the cause of the peeling as well as to maintain health with hand moisturizer and healing oils. In this post, we’ll be talking about the ways your nails can reflect your health and how to keep ragged cuticles at bay. Because honestly, who wants to see a lovely manicure ruined by unsightly and unhealthy cuticles?
What Your Nails Say About Your Health
We’ve all seen the jewelry and hand cream ads, and we know what beautiful, healthy nails are supposed to look like. Pink, uniform, strong and smooth, with clearly defined edges is the ideal. That said, our hands take a lot of abuse. Winter weather and frequent hand washing can dry them. A bad nail biting or cuticle picking habit can prove to be not so pretty, and even painful. According to an article from clevelandclinic.org, nail appearance could have a lot to do with your general health:
“Your nails are a very good reflection of your health. Many things can occur in the nails that can signify systemic or skin problems,” says dermatologist Christine Poblete-Lopez, MD.
But what do unhealthy nails look like? Here are some signs of unhealthy nails, which potentially could be indicators of a more systemic health problem:
- Ridges: If they are vertical, or longitudinal, these ridges could be harmless, or the natural result of injury. If they are horizontal, they could indicate a more serious health problem (see Beau’s lines below).
- Discoloration: Nails can become discolored due to infection or fungus, or skin diseases such as psoriasis. Nail discoloration can also be caused by certain medications, including chemotherapy drugs. For example, discoloration can be due to green nail syndrome, a disease of the nail caused by frequent immersion of the hands in water. Yellow nail syndrome (characterized by overly hard, thick, curling, yellow nails) is related to chronic respiratory disorders as well as lymphedema. White nails are often associated with cirrhosis. Color changes are also associated with renal failure, hyperthyroidism and malnutrition.
- Nail clubbing: Clubbing is indicated by a change in the diameter of the nail, and can be referred to as watch glass nails or drumstick fingers. While clubbing can prove harmless, it could also be a sign of lung cancer, cirrhosis or congenital heart disease.
- Horizontal lines/Beau’s lines: These horizontal lines occur when the nail growth is halted, a result of a number of different things, some of which are caused by external factors, and others which could be a sign of a systemic disorder or disease:
“(Beau’s Lines) usually develop when nail plate growth, which begins in the nail matrix (located under the cuticle), is temporarily disrupted. This can occur with direct injury to the nail matrix; an inflammatory condition such as psoriasis; infection around the nail plate; repetitive picking at the nails or cuticles; or even a manicure. Systemic causes include nutritional deficiencies, illnesses accompanied by high fever, metabolic conditions, certain drugs (especially chemotherapy agents), and diminished blood flow to the fingers (from Raynaud’s phenomenon, for example).”
–Harvard Women’s Health Watch, Harvard Medical School
- Pitting: Nail pitting, indicated by little pock mark indentations on the nail plate, is caused by psoriasis or vitamin deficiency in most cases.
- Peeling cuticles: Can be caused by vitamin deficiencies, nail biting, harsh winter weather, exposure to chemical cleaning agents, excessive hand washing, and even a manicure can lead the cuticle to lift from the nail bed. Cuticles actually have a purpose, as they are meant to act as a barrier to diseases and germs. Peeling cuticles can lead to infection. There is actually no need to trim your cuticles if they are healthy.
Maintaining Healthy Cuticles
To maintain healthy cuticles, be sure to eat a diet rich in vitamins and minerals (eating lots of dark, leafy greens and fresh fruits and vegetables is key), wear gloves when doing the dishes or using chemical house cleaning products, try to limit your use of hand sanitizer (like anything else, use in moderation) and use a moisturizer and cuticle oil on your hands at night. Using a cuticle oil will keep the cuticles soft (hardened, dry cuticles lift from the nail bed, causing them to peel). One effective option is SciaEssentials’ Delta-5TM oil, a naturally anti-inflammatory formula that soothes and protects the skin and nails, preventing peeling cuticles and improving overall nail health.
Delta-5 is made with sciadonic oil, a conifer plant-derived fatty acid, and was identified and developed by nutritionist and biochemist Dr. Alvin Berger. It is an organic, safe and effective way to treat skin inflammation and dryness. It also has anti-aging properties, fights free radical damage, and can improve skin texture and tone in as little as 24 hours.