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Healthy Fingernails: Clues About Your Health

Fingernail color and texture can reflect a wide range of medical conditions.

By Sherry Rauh

Reviewed by Matthew Hoffman, MD

WebMD Feature

Take a good look at your fingernails and you may notice subtle variations in the texture or color -- a touch of white here, a rosy tinge there, perhaps some rippling or bumps in the surface. These imperfections may not look like much to you, but it's more important than you might think to maintain healthy fingernails. That's because to the trained eye, nails can provide valuable clues about your overall health.

Tips for Strong, Healthy Fingernails

To maintain healthy fingernails, avoid infections, and improve nail appearance, try the following tips:

  • Keep your nails clean and dry.
  • Avoid nail-biting or picking.
  • Apply moisturizer to your nails and cuticles every day. Creams with urea, phospholipids, or lactic acid can help prevent cracking.
  • File your nails in one direction and round the tip slightly, rather than filing to a point.
  • Don't remove the cuticles or clean too deeply under your nails, which can lead to infection.
  • Don't dig out ingrown toenails. See a dermatologist if they become bothersome.
  • Avoid nail polish removers that contain acetone or formaldehyde.
  • Bring your own instruments if you get frequent manicures.
  • If you have artificial nails, check regularly for green discoloration (a sign of bacterial infection).
  • Eat a balanced diet and take vitamins containing biotin.

Finally, to maintain your healthy fingernails over time, ask your doctor to take a look at them during your next checkup.

"Just like the eyes are the window to the soul, so are the nails," says Tamara Lior, MD, a dermatologist with Cleveland Clinic Florida. Lior says she once convinced a patient to have his lungs checked after noticing a bluish tint to his nails, a sign that he wasn't getting enough oxygen. Sure enough, he had fluid in his lungs.

Warning signs for many other conditions, from hepatitis to heart disease, may also appear when previously healthy fingernails undergo changes, according to Joshua Fox, MD, director of Advanced Dermatology and spokesman for the American Academy of Dermatology. "Changes in the nails can be a sign of a local disease like a fungus infection or a sign of a systemic disease like lupus or anemia," Fox tells WebMD.

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