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A Dozen Tips for More Beautiful Nails

Long, strong, healthy nails are possible -- if you don't fall prey to myths and old wives tales! Three experts tell you what you need to know.

9. Change shampoos.

While most women know when a shampoo doesn't agree with their hair, many don't realize it may not agree with their nails -- even if their hair looks great. This, say experts, is particularly true of detergent shampoos, or those for oily hair, which are designed to strip lipids and other natural oils from the scalp. "If your nails are very dry and you are using any soap product that strips the oils, there is the potential to dry the nails," says Stern.

10. Choose nail tips over full extensions.

All our experts told WebMD that, in general, nail extensions are bad news for nails, frequently leading to fungal or even bacterial infections -- and, says Stern, sometimes to permanent damage. If you must wear nail extensions, she says, opt for just tips. While they can still cause problems, the potential for damage is less since the surface area covered is smaller.

Important warning:

The use of a liquid acrylic nail compound known as MMA (methyl methacrylate) has been banned in many states and has been the subject of an FDA hazard warning, due mostly to high allergic sensitivity and serious nail damage. However, because it is an inexpensive ingredient, there are reports some salons are still using it, sometimes in the form of black market products. How can you tell for sure? According to the American Academy of Dermatology, if your nail products have a strong, noxious odor; if nail enhancements are difficult to file; or they don't soak off easily, they could contain MMA. Report any suspicions to your state health board.

11. Remember toenails count, too!

Everything that applies to your fingernails applies to your toenails, which experts say may be even more prone to problems due to careless pedicures. "Because feet are more often inside shoes -- a dark, moist environment -- fungus can grow more easily," says Ravits. If you get regular pedicures, experts say take your own instruments and never let the tech dig under the nail or around the cuticle. Moreover, Ravits says cutting toenails at an angle -- instead of straight across -- increases the risk of ingrown toenails, which can be painful and sometimes develop into an infection.

12. Watch your nails for signs of health problems.

Most of the time, nail problems can be traced to environmental assaults -- exposure to harsh cleaning chemicals, use of drying nail products, or just general physical abuse, such as typing or excessive use of fingertips.

That said, the American Academy of Dermatology advises that the condition of your nails can sometimes reflect a problem in your overall health. Here's what they say to look out for:

  • White nails -- liver condition
  • Half pink/half white nails -- kidney disease
  • Yellowing and thickening of the nail, slowed growth rate -- lung disease
  • Pale nail beds -- anemia
  • Yellow-tinged nails with a slight blush at the base -- diabetes

In 2005, a group of doctors in Ireland found that the earliest signs of the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis might be detected in the nails. In a study conducted at the University of Limerick, researchers discovered something called disulphide bond -- present in both nails and bones -- was lower in people with osteoporosis.

Of course, if you suspect health problems, discuss any findings or concerns with your doctor.

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