Fingernails and toenails are made up of layers of a protein called keratin. They grow from the area at the base of the nail under the cuticle and should be smooth with a uniform colour. Sometimes they may develop ridges that run from the cuticle to the tip of the nail (which are normal) and sometimes they may develop white lines or spots due to injury, but these are nothing to worry about and will grow out.
To keep your nails as healthy as possible:
- Keep your nails dry and clean to prevent bacteria growing under your nails. Wear rubber gloves when washing-up, cleaning or using harsh chemicals.
- Practice good nail hygiene – use a sharp nail scissors or clippers, trim your nails straight across, then round the tips in a gentle curve.
- When you use hand lotion or foot moisturiser, rub it into your nails and cuticles.
- Don’t bite your fingernails or pick at your cuticles as this can damage the nail bed. Even a minor cut alongside your nail can cause an infection.
- Don’t pull off hangnails (small strips of skin that separate from the cuticle); carefully clip them off instead.
- Don’t ignore problems with your nails, such as swelling or pain, a change in your nail shape or colour, or a nail separating from surrounding skin. If a nail problem doesn’t go away on its own after a couple of weeks, see your GP.
- Limit your use of nail polish remover and try to use an acetone-free remover.
- Include foods full of the right nutrients for healthy nails in your diet. Foods particularly good for healthy nails include bananas, cauliflower, eggs, lentils and peanuts (which contain biotin); eggs, oily fish, linseed and walnuts (which contain omega-3); meat, dairy foods, fish, wholegrains and nuts (for protein); and cashew nuts, fortified breakfast cereals, beef and chickpeas (for zinc).