Don't cut or manipulate cuticles. Whether you have your nails professionally groomed or do them yourself, the No. 1 recommendation is leave your cuticles alone. The cuticle is the natural barrier to fungus and bacteria -- and once you breach that, protection is lost. This will not only make cuticles look worse -- red, swollen, and ragged -- but may also land you a nasty infection that harms the nail bed and leads to permanent nail damage. And while cutting cuticles holds the most potential for harm, pushing them back too hard can cause problems as well.
Moisturize the nail bed and the cuticle. While there is little in the way of medical data showing that moisturizing the nail bed will help nails grow, it can make cuticles look better and help protect nails from breaking due to a lack of moisture. If your nails are prone to breakage, it could mean they need moisture -- and putting oil around the cuticle helps moisturize the entire nail, which will reduce the incidence of chipping, cracking, and splitting. Recommended: Nailtiques Cuticle Care Oil, OPI AvoPlex Nail & Cuticle Oil or SpaRitual Cuti-Cocktail.
Avoid acetone-based polish removers. The one product that all dermatologists agree you should avoid if you have brittle nails is acetone nail polish remover. It has been documented time and again that it strips the nails, causing them to become brittle.
Avoid rough emery boards. Those old-fashioned orange emery boards are too harsh for nails, causing small fissures and cracks that lead to breakage and tears. Instead, file nails with a smooth, fine file and don't saw back and forth. File in one direction only and do it slowly and evenly to reduce risk of breakage. Recommended for thin, weak and natural nails: Flowery Fresh Picked Files.
Change shampoos. While most women know when a shampoo doesn't agree with their hair, many don't realize it may not agree with their nails -- even if their hair looks great. This, say experts, is particularly true of detergent shampoos, or those for oily hair, which are designed to strip lipids and other natural oils from the scalp. If your nails are very dry and you are using any soap product that strips the oils, there is the potential to dry the nails.
The use of a liquid acrylic nail compound known as MMA (methyl methacrylate) has been banned in many states and has been the subject of an FDA hazard warning, due mostly to high allergic sensitivity and serious nail damage. However, because it is an inexpensive ingredient, some manufacturers are still using it, sometimes in the form of black market products. How can you tell for sure? According to the American Academy of Dermatology, if your nail products have a strong, noxious odor; if nail enhancements are difficult to file; or they don't soak off easily, they could contain MMA.
Watch your nails for signs of health problems. Most of the time, nail problems can be traced to environmental assaults -- exposure to harsh cleaning chemicals, use of drying nail products, or just general physical abuse, such as typing or excessive use of fingertips. That said, the American Academy of Dermatology advises that the condition of your nails can sometimes reflect a problem in your overall health. Here's what they say to look out for:
- White nails -- liver condition
- Half pink/half white nails -- kidney disease
- Yellowing and thickening of the nail, slowed growth rate -- lung disease
- Pale nail beds -- anemia
- Yellow-tinged nails with a slight blush at the base -- diabetes