When the term “dermatology” comes up, most people think of doctors who specialize in helping patients with skin problems. However, hair and nail issues are also treated by dermatologists. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) published a helpful article for patients this year outlining ways to maintain healthy nails and treat common nail conditions. Here are some highlights:
Fragile Nails Should be Pampered
Fingernails are designed to protect delicate fingertips. However, nails don’t do this job well when they split, peel, crack, or chip. Brittleness in nails can have both internal and external causes. Even something as simple as prolonged, frequent exposure to water can weaken nails. Old age, hormonal imbalances, low iron levels, chemical exposure, and other factors can also play a role in making nails brittle. This doesn’t just affect the cosmetic appearance of fingernails. If a nail chips too far, it can expose the tender nail bed. This is very painful and healing can take quite a while since the nail must grow back out to cover the exposed area.
The AAD suggests avoiding harsh detergents, prolonged soaking in water, and alcohol based hand sanitizers. Hand washing should, of course, be practiced to maintain good hygiene. However, it should be done using gentle hand soap and hands should be thoroughly dried afterward. Thick, oil-based creams and ointments should be applied frequently to keep moisture in the nails so that they flex instead of cracking under pressure.
A diet with sufficient amounts of high-quality protein is also beneficial for promoting healthy nails. A dermatologist may be able to recommend other dietary changes including the use of supplements to boost nail (and hair) health. Any changes in diet will take some time to show up in the nails, so this is not a quick fix.
Persistent Fungal Infections
Another reason to see a dermatologist about nail problems is because some highly treatable conditions may linger indefinitely until the correct medication is administered. This is the case with funguses that start growing under the fingernails or toenails. Here, even the most powerful over-the-counter anti-fungal creams do little good. They simply aren’t designed to penetrate to where the fungal infection is occurring. So, an oral medication may be prescribed to get rid of the fungus once and for all. Again, because nails grow slowly, the healing process can take many months. This is one more reason not to delay seeking professional help for a persistent nail problem.