• Health & Wellness

    Mayo Clinic Q and A: Keeping your fingernails in tip-top shape

a white woman in a red top with red nail polish holding her across her chest near her heart

DEAR MAYO CLINIC: I have noticed recently that my nails have an unusual color and shape, and I don’t understand why. Although I do enjoy gardening, I don't have a job where I use my hands more than normal. I want my nails to be sturdy and healthy-looking. Can you provide some insight on how to achieve this and tips for properly taking care of my nails?

ANSWER: For anyone concerned with nail health, the first step is to take a close look at your fingernails. Are they strong and healthy-looking? Or do you see ridges, dents or areas of unusual color or shape? Many less-than-desirable nail conditions can be avoided through proper fingernail care. However, others can indicate an underlying condition that may need attention.

It’s important to understand what’s normal and what’s not. Your fingernails are composed of laminated layers of a protein called keratin that grow from the area at the base of the nail under your cuticle. Healthy fingernails are smooth, without pits or grooves. They're uniform in color and consistency, and free of spots or discoloration.

Sometimes fingernails develop harmless vertical ridges that run from the cuticle to the tip of the nail. Vertical ridges tend to become more prominent with age. Fingernails also can develop white lines or spots due to injury, but these eventually grow out with the nail.

Not all nail conditions are normal, however. Consult your primary health care provider or a dermatologist if you notice:

  • Changes in nail color, such as discoloration of the entire nail or a dark streak under the nail.
  • Changes in nail shape, such as curled nails.
  • Thinning or thickening of the nails.
  • Separation of the nail from the surrounding skin.
  • Bleeding around the nails.
  • Swelling or pain around the nails.

To keep your fingernails looking their best, here are some easy tips to follow:

  • Keep your fingernails dry and clean.
    Doing this prevents bacteria from growing under your fingernails. Repeated or prolonged contact with water can contribute to split fingernails. Wear cotton-lined rubber gloves when washing dishes, cleaning or using harsh chemicals.
  • Practice good nail hygiene.
    Always use sharp manicure scissors or clippers when taking care of your nails. It’s important to trim your nails straight across, then round the tips in a gentle curve.
  • Use moisturizer daily.
    When applying hand lotion, rub the lotion into your fingernails and cuticles, too, for optimal care.
  • Apply a protective layer.
    This is a step in a healthy nail routine that people oftentimes don’t know about or overlook. Applying a nail hardener might help strengthen nails and cuticles.
  • Ask your health care provider about biotin.
    Some research suggests that the nutritional supplement biotin might help strengthen weak or brittle fingernails. Contact your health care provider if you have any questions or concerns about if this right for you.

Taking care of your fingernails can be easy and attainable. If you start to notice anything abnormal, reach out to your primary health care provider or a dermatologist for more information. — Compiled by Mayo Clinic staff


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