How to have better nails

Woman painting her nails

Like glossy hair and a great handbag, manicured nails are one of those grooming details that instantly make you look chic and pulled together. Whether you prefer yours short and neat or long and foxy, the key to keeping your nails healthy is regular care with the right products, and sorting out little niggles before they become problems.

The science bit
Nails are made up of keratin, the same protein as in the skin's outer layer. The hardened or keratinised part of the nail is formed in the nail matrix, which is in the half-moon shaped area at the base of the nail and extends under the skin almost as far as the first joint.
The fingernails grow about an eighth of an inch a month, quicker than toenails and faster in warm weather. If you are right-handed the nails on your right hand will grow faster than those on your left, and vice versa. Here's what else you need to know.

What causes white flecks and ridges on my nails?
Both are mostly caused by trauma to the nail matrix, for example banging your nail accidentally or trapping it in drawers, picking at the nails, inflammation and so on. They should grow out in a few months. White marks can also be a result of a fungal infection, which you should see your GP about, while ridges can appear after an illness or simply be a sign of ageing.

Why do nails flake and break and what can I do about it?
Nails that split, tear and peel frequently can be hereditary or dietary – often caused by a lack of protein in the diet. More commonly though they are the result of exposure to detergents, washing with harsh soaps and a lack of regular care. Massaging in hand creams and nail oils on a daily basis helps, but because the nails are thin and weak, using a nail thickening or strengthening product is key.

Why does nail polish sometimes turn yellow in summer and what can I do to prevent this?
Strong UV light can react with clear polishes or topcoats to give a yellow tint. If you find this a problem, as well as manicuring your nails more frequently you could try a topcoat with anti-yellowing UV inhibitors. As for staining the nails, it's usually dark colours that are the culprits and a base coat offers protection.

Which is better: a metal file or an emery board?
Most experts advise using an emery board, as metal can traumatise the layers of the nail, leading to splitting.

Is it ok to cut cuticles?
Rather than cutting them, which increases the risk of getting an infection in your nails, it's best to keep moisturising them and pushing them back gently after a bath or shower.

How damaging are fake nails?
Many nail-enhancing procedures involve filing away some of the top layer of the nail, which weakens it. However, false nails are the answer to many women's prayers, so, if you are going to have them, find a skilled and experienced nail technician - the best often don't come cheap and once your nails have been done, go back to the same salon for top-up care. Never pull or bite your false nails off yourself, or you'll ruin the nail plate underneath and be back to square one.

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