How to keep your nails healthy

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Washing your hair and body and brushing your teeth are part of most everyday routines. But there might be something missing from your daily healthcare regimen: your finger and toenails. Fingernails and toenails, also known as nail plates, are composed of keratin. It’s important to care for your nails just as you would for your skin and hair.

Reducing bruising, yellowing and split nails can be as simple as implementing a few more steps into your daily routine.

Tips for keeping your nails healthy

Follow a healthy, balanced diet. Avoid crash and fad diets. Extra biotin supplements have been found to be beneficial for hair and nail strength and growth.

Hydration is key. Be sure to drink eight glasses of water a day for overall health. Adding extra moisture to your nails, especially the cuticles, will help your nails remain hydrated. Simple products like Aquaphor and Vaniply are great moisturizers for cuticles. When nails become dry and brittle, they’re more likely to crack and split. Keeping nails moisturized is key in maintaining nail strength.

Avoid trauma to hands and feet, nails and cuticles. Wear gloves when working with your hands, such as when gardening and dishwashing.

Leave your cuticles alone. Don't trim, file, cut or push them back because that trauma to the cuticles can affect nail growth. When using a nail file, file in one direction rather than back and forth. If you go to a nail salon for a manicure, ask that they leave the cuticles alone. Wearing shoes that fit properly, without pressure on the toes, will help your toenails stay healthy.

Avoid cleaning under your nails, particularly with sharp tools. Placing objects underneath the nail to remove dirt ends up lifting the nail plate off the nail bed and exposing this subungual space to air. Once this area is exposed, bacteria and fungus can set up shop and lead to ongoing nail infections.

Along with hydration, avoid exposure to harsh chemicals, such as cleaning products with bleach. Hand sanitizer is a fast way to clean your hands but will dry out your nails with repeated daily use. Even gel polishes, acrylic nails and nail polish removers with acetone can weaken your nails and make nails more prone to breakage.

Keep your nails trimmed. When your nails are kept at a manageable length, they’re less likely to break.

Susan Massick is a dermatologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.