Like a great new haircut or a terrific skin care regimen, healthy, well-manicured nails are an integral part of a neat, pulled-together appearance - one that can work as an asset in both the social and the business world.
Unfortunately, experts say both men and women fall prey to myths and old wives' tales about how to care for nails. Another pitfall: many of us rely on the guidance of salons, some of which may not be doling out the best advice -- or treatments.
To help set the record straight -- and get you on the road to beautiful nails -- three top dermatologists offer these 12 tips for achieving healthy, well groomed, elegant nails.
1. Don't cut or manipulate cuticles.
Whether you have your nails professionally groomed or do them yourself, the No. 1 recommendation is leave your cuticles alone, says Dana Stern, MD, a dermatologist at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.
"The cuticle is the natural barrier to fungus and bacteria -- and once you breach that, protection is lost," she says. This will not only make cuticles look worse -- red, swollen, and ragged -- but may also land you a nasty infection that harms the nail bed and leads to permanent nail damage. And while cutting cuticles holds the most potential for harm, pushing them back can cause problems as well.
2. Use nail hardeners sparingly -- or not at all.
"The take-home message here is that a lot of them do more damage than good," says Stern. She reminds us that these products are not studied clinically, so most claims are not backed up by science. Unless nails are exceptionally weak and fragile, she says, most people don't benefit from a nail hardener.
Healthy nails are flexible nails, she says, so to keep yours from breaking, avoid anything that makes them more brittle.
3. Moisturize the nail bed and the cuticle.
While there is little in the way of medical data showing that moisturizing the nail bed will help nails grow, it can make cuticles look better and help protect nails from breaking due to a lack of moisture. "If your nails are prone to breakage, it could mean they need moisture -- and putting oil around the cuticle helps moisturize the entire nail, which will reduce the incidence of chipping, cracking, and splitting," says Margaret Ravits, MD, a dermatologist at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey.