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How to Treat Common Nail Issues

How to Treat Common Nail Issues


We use our hands endlessly throughout the day, and our nails take more of a brunt than most people realize. Nail polish and fake nail extensions also play a big role in the health and appearance of our nails. Whether the concern is yellow stains on your nails after taking off your nail polish, or actual dents in your nails after you picked off your gel polish, we’ve got solutions from the pros. Here, dermatologists and nail experts weigh in on seven common nail health issues and how to treat them.

Featured Experts:

Problem #1: My Nails Won’t Grow

“Nails might not grow for a variety of reasons, such as medical conditions, stress, diet, aging, or damage to the nail from false nail systems or injury,” says Mymy Holland, nail pro for BeautyGARDE. “I always recommend seeing your primary care doctor if you suspect a medical-related reason.” 

“We know nail growth slows with age, but other reasons could be a diet lacking certain nutrients, like biotin,” says Mazz Hanna, CEO of Nailing Hollywood and founder of Mazz Hanna skin care. “Picking at your nails can cause damage, too, which may stunt their growth.” Also, if you are a habitual nail polish wearer and never really give your nails a chance to breathe, that could contribute. Lastly, Holland recommends avoiding the use of harsh nail glues and acetone-based nail polish remover, which can dry out the nails. “A nail dry bed can hinder the growth process,” she says.

Solution: How to Make Your Nails Grow Faster

Though there isn’t much medical evidence showing dietary supplements are effective for nail growth, Hanna considers them a key part of having healthy nails. “I stir Vital Proteins Collagen Powder ($22) into my coffee every day,” she says. “Biotin and prenatal vitamins are also great for supporting nail growth.” Incorporating biotin-rich foods like eggs, almonds and spinach may also help.

An at-home nail-care regimen can make a world of difference in the health of your nails. There are also many natural nail-care clinics popping up. These are more focused on the health of the natural nails versus faux extensions and trendy designs. “Care for your cuticles by pushing them back and keeping them—and your nails—hydrated,” says Holland. “I like BeautyGarde Guardian Cuticle Oil. I also recommend consistently filing your nails to reduce the chance of tears and snags.” A glass nail file can be gentler on the nails than a cardboard one.

Another pro tip: New York dermatologist and nail specialist Dana Stern, MD says nutrients and oxygen are delivered to the nails by the bloodstream, so cardio activity or hand massage will optimize circulation. The first-of-its-kind StimuNail device ($60) supports blood flow with gentle heat, vibrating massage and red LED therapy for healthy nail growth.

Problem #2: My Nails Are Yellow After Taking Off My Nail Polish

If you’ve ever removed your nail polish only to see ugly yellow stains on your nails, that’s not uncommon. According to Hanna, the nail plate can become slightly discolored after wearing nail polish, which typically occurs with darker colors, but can also happen with lighter ones. “This can be due to a few different factors, but this is the main one: Nitrocellulose is a common ingredient in most nail polish, and the presence of moisture causes it to degrade. This forms nitric acid, a strong oxidizer that reacts with the nails and turns them yellow,” she explains. Holland says yellow stains may also be the result of a fungal infection that requires medical treatment.

Solution: How to Get Rid of Yellow Stains on Your Nails

Wear a good base coat, which will act as a protective shield between your nails and the pigments in the polish. “If you want a more natural, clear look, use a product with an optical brightener in it like Perfect Formula Pink Gel Coat ($30), which will filter out yellow tones,” says Shari Gottesman, founder of Perfect Formula.

If you suspect that wearing nail polish may be causing the yellow stains, Holland says to take the rough side of a nail buffer and gently buff from left to right until you see the spots start to fade. “Use the soft side of the buffer a handful of times. Apply lemon juice on your nails, wait a couple minutes, and then rinse. Apply nail products after completely dry. Continue the process until discoloration has faded. If you have severe yellowing, take a week-long polish break. Every day during that time, mix one part hydrogen peroxide with three parts baking soda on a cotton pad. Allow it to sit on your nails for five minutes before washing off and hydrating.” 

Problem #3: My Nails Are Weak and Brittle

For many people, growth isn’t the issue, but rather they may have trouble sustaining their length because their nails are thin and weak. The same dietary imbalances, daily damage and general aging process mentioned above play a role, as well as exposure to excess water and certain chemicals in dishwashing detergents and cleaning supplies. Dr. Stern says, “The nails are 1,000 times more absorbent of water than the skin, and water absorption puts a tremendous strain on nail cells, leading to brittleness and breakage.

Solution: How to Strengthen Your Nails

“We treat nail restoration in the same way we approach damaged skin,” says Dermelect Cosmeceuticals founder Amos Lavian. “We developed our 12-free Phyto Strong Nail Duo ($29) to resurface, fortify and moisturize the nails.” Dr. Stern recommends wearing gloves when working with chemical products during daily chores, which can negatively impact the nails. “Keeping your nails shorter is good practice as well, as it prevents more water from being absorbed into the nail plate.”

Problem #4: I Have White Spots on My Nails. Does That Mean I’m Nutrient-Deficient?

White spots on the fingernails can come and go, and there are several causes. “They usually occur after minor trauma to the nail, like overly aggressive cuticle manipulation or nail biting. You can think of it almost like a bruise,” Dr. Stern explains. “These spots are especially common in kids because they tend to be more active and their nail plates are thinner and less protective. This is why it was perpetuated that the spots are due to a calcium deficiency and millions of children have been erroneously told that they need to drink more milk!”

Keep in mind that white spots will grow out eventually: Adult fingernails take about six months to replace themselves; children’s nails grow faster. On the toenails, Dr. Stern says a different type of white spot known as a keratin granulation is a rough white patch that develops after prolonged nail polish wear.

Problem #5: I Have Ridges on My Nails

Think of vertical ridges on the nails like wrinkles on the skin: Both are influenced by diet, aging and genetics. “When parts of the nail become thin or atrophy, the result is ridging,” says Dr. Chen. “The medical term for it is onychorrhexis.” However, in some rare cases, ridges can be associated with an inflammatory condition such as lichen planus, in which the onset tends to be more rapid and there is also thinning of the nail. “Horizontal ridges, on the other hand, are called Beau’s lines, and they can be a sign of a more concerning illness,” adds Dr. Chen.

Solution: How to Get Rid of Ridges on Your Nails

You may not be able to eliminate them entirely, but a ridge-filling base coat can help. It works to even out of the surface of the nail, creating a smoother appearance and/or canvas for nail polish. One coat of Olive & June Ridge Filler ($14) delivers a combination of vitamin E and hydrated silica. Together, they help fill in any gaps on the nail plate and keep it healthy and nourished.

Problem #6: I Let Them Cut My Cuticles at the Nail Salon, and Now I’m Worried

We’ve all been there: The salon nail tech asks if you want your cuticles trimmed during a manicure and you usually default to “no,” but do you really know why? “The cuticles are the nail’s natural protective seal,” says Bay Harbor Islands, FL dermatologist Lucy L. Chen, MD. “I don’t recommend cutting them because it can cause skin trauma and introduce microorganisms like bacteria and yeast into the skin. This can lead to an infection called paronychia, in which the nail becomes red, swollen and painful. In some cases, it may need antibiotic treatment.”

How to Take Care of Your Cuticles

To avoid dry cuticles, Dr. Chen suggests using cuticle oil to keep them hydrated. “Not only does it keep cuticles healthy, but it can lead to longer, healthier nails altogether,” Hanna adds. “My Mazz Hanna Cuticle Oil ($29) was formulated with nourishing organic oils to help heal damaged cuticles and stimulate nail growth.”

Problem #7: I Have Dents in My Nails

Dents and pits can happen for a variety of reasons, says Holland. “Some dents, pits and grooves can just naturally occur with age, diet and lifestyle. Severe dents or pits can be a result of damage to the nail plate. This can come from picking off a false nail system, such as gel, dip powder, acrylic, or press-ons. If you choose to wear any of these, it is very important to remove them properly.”

If you can’t help but pick at your nails and it results in dents and damage, Holland says to take a break from false nail systems and give your nails time to heal. “Use the rough side of a buffer from left to right until you feel it smooth out,” she advises. “Follow with the soft side a handful of times. Repeat twice per week. Also apply a nail strengthener to help speed up the growth process.”


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