How to keep your fingernails healthy and strong

Here's what you need to know to keep your fingernails in tiptop shape.

Take a close look at your nails. 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 care, but some actually indicate an illness that requires attention.
Fingernails: What to look for

Anatomy of a healthy fingernail

Vertical nail ridges

Your nails — composed of laminated layers of a protein called keratin — grow from the area at the base of the nail under your cuticle. As new cells grow, older cells become hard and compacted and are eventually pushed out toward your fingertips.

Healthy nails are smooth, without ridges or grooves. They're uniform in color and consistency and free of spots or discoloration. Nails can develop harmless conditions, such as vertical ridges that run from the cuticle to the tip of the nail. Vertical ridges become more prominent with age. Nails can also develop white lines or spots due to injury, but these eventually grow out with the nail.

Not all nail conditions are normal, however. Some are signs of diseases that require medical attention. See your doctor if you notice these changes in your nails:
  • Yellow discoloration
  • Separation of your nail from the nail bed (onycholysis)
  • Indentations that run across your nails (Beau's lines)
  • Nail pitting
  • Opaque or white nails
  • Curled nails

Home Treatment for Nail Care

Keep your nails and hands well moisturized. Moisturizers containing collagen and vitamin E are especially good for the nails. They are most effective if put on after soaking your nails in warm water and patting dry.

File your nails in one direction only, not back and forth.
a Keep toenails clipped straight across, not curved or pointed, to avoid ingrown toenails. Also, do not clip toenails too short or clip them in at the sides.

Use a fine-textured emery board, not a metal nail file. Metal files are hard on the nails.

Moisturize and gently push back your cuticles. Do not cut them. a Do not manicure your nails too frequently or apply nail products too often.

If you have sensitive skin and nails, look for fragrance-free and formaldehyde-free polishes and non-acetone polish removers.

If you wear polish, let your nails go "bare" for a few days each month to let the air get to them.

Use protective cotton-lined vinyl gloves to wash dishes, work with cleansers, or work in the garden.

Never bite your nails. Do not use them as prying tools.