The lifestyle tips on this page have been researched help to produce and maintain healthy nails. The first step for healthy nails is to diagnose and treat local conditions which could cause defects in nail growth or allow bacteria or viruses to invade the tissues under or around the nails.
Health issues which may affect nails
- A general episode of infection
- Episode of malnutrition
Local damage to the nail beds
- Direct physical damage
- Chemical damage (e.g. detergents)
- Over manicuring
- Local fungal infection
- Local bacterial infection
General and local lifestyle tips to help nail health
Fingernail or toenail abnormalities can tell you a lot about your health. Besides chemotherapy, various medical conditions can affect the nails. These include fungal and bacterial infections, psoriasis, and even thyroid disease. If you have an unexplained significant change in the health of your nails, you should visit your GP. Otherwise, the following tips may help.
Manicure and clean: Clip any excess nails that might catch on things and tear the nails even more deeply, but don’t over trim or pick at the nail beds as this can cause more damage. Clear debris from under the nails and around the nail beds which may contain fungus and bacteria.
Avoid irritants: Identify the irritants that may lead to deterioration in nail health and take appropriate measures aimed at limiting exposure (e.g. a new pair of washing up gloves in the kitchen). Nail varnish remover can irritate nails, so try to avoid excess use.
Trauma and cold: Take care when using hammers and wear protective gloves when doing manual work! Use a good pair of gloves when skiing or other situations where the tips of the fingers get particularly cold.
Moisturise: Nails can be damaged when they are dry, as the keratin bonds in the nails break down, causing splits and cracks. Moisturising on a regular basis is very important, particularly after situations which lead to the nails becoming dry, such as after a bath, shower or swim and especially after using nail polish removers. In terms of which balm to use, only one has been tested in a double-blind randomised controlled study. The balm in question proved to be particularly effective at reducing damage for those receiving chemotherapy but is also available to any individual interested in naturally improving their nail health – read more
Diet: Nail stem cells are rapidly dividing and, in theory, would be susceptible to carcinogens in the diet and environment, the level of inflammation in the body, as well as phytochemical, vitamin and essential amino acid deficiencies, all of which are required for healthy keratin formation.
Vitamins and proteins: Adequate intake of foods rich in B vitamins such as grains and dark green vegetables is highly recommended. Healthy protein-rich foods include eggs, lentils, beans and other pulses.
Plant and fish oils: Omega 3, found in oily fish and grass-fed meat, is recognised as having anti-inflammatory properties, although taking extra amounts has not been shown to help nails in clinical trials. Nevertheless, many people in the UK are deficient in omega 3 and increasing oily fish intake to at least three times a week is still recommended.
For specific advice during chemotherapy see the nails and chemotherapy page