By Fiona McKim published
For most of us retaining a perfect, unchipped manicure is the dream nail scenario, but actually what lies underneath that polish is far more important. To put your mind at ease, the vast majority of small nail abnormalities are just that - small - due to minor injuries or common skin complaints. But, there's a reason dermatologists often ask patients to remove their polish before an examination. Your nails can hold clues to the health not only of your hands but your entire body. Intrigued? Get the acetone out and give your nails a once-over to discover what they might be trying to tell you today.
Ridges aren't always a cause for concern, if they run vertically from the base of your nail to the top, they're just an irksome but harmless part of ageing (cuticle oil can help) However, horizontal ridges that run from one side to another show that something has interrupted protein synthesis like an injury, which you'll probably remember, nutrition issues, chemotherapy or stress.
Some of us just have flakier nails than others, but if they appear very brittle or are crumbling away this could be a sign of a fungal nail infection (especially if your toenails are flaking too) or an under or overactive thyroid. Harsh detergents and washing up liquids are also a common nail crumbler so wear those marigolds when you can!
3. Dark tips
If your nails are half white, turning brown near this tips this can indicate a kidney problem. This is thought to be due to chemical changes related to kidney issues causing melanin to be released into the nail bed and a jump in the number of blood vessels under the nail. If you do spot 'half and half' brown and white nails, a once over from your GP to determine the cause is a good idea.
If your nails curve inwards, or have large or small dents this can be a sign of quite a few skin complaints like psoriasis, eczema or alopecia. It's likely you'll already be aware if you live with any of these conditions, but do get any dents checked out as in rare cases they can also indicate reactive arthritis.
Yellow nails aren't pretty, but they aren't necessarily tricky to tackle either. Most commonly this can be caused by a fungal infection or overuse of nail polish - in which case give them a week off once a month. More serious conditions yellow nails can indicate include jandice, tuberculosis and thyroid inflammation.
If you spot tiny dark red or brown streaks under your nail these are probably tiny broken blood vessels called splinter haemorrhages. If they're only on one nail it's probably just a little injury caused by knocking your nail, if you spot them on several nails get it checked out as it could be a symptom of psoriasis or in rare cases lupus or a heart valve infection.
7. Dark stripes
However, if you notice dark, or black stripes along the length of one of your nails, there could be somthing far more sinister going on. One women, Jean Skinner, posted on Facebook recently to warn that black stripes on your nails could potentially be a sign of skin cancer.
The nail technician pointed to a recent experience with a client, who noticed such a mark on her nail, but thought nothing of it. However, it turned out that the mark was a subtle symptom of melanoma, a type of skin cancer.
The NHS warns "Dark stripes shouldn't be ignored because it can sometimes be a form of skin cancer that affects the nail bed, called subungual melanoma. It's important that your doctor checks it to rule out melanoma.
"Subungual melanoma usually only affects one nail. It will also cause the stripe to change in appearance - for example, it may become wider or darker over time and the pigmentation may also affect the surrounding skin (the nail fold)."
As woman&home's Beauty Channel Editor, Fiona Mckim has tried more beauty products than she’s had hot dinners and nothing makes her happier than raving about a brilliant find on womanandhome.com or her instagram grid (@fionamckim if you like hair experiments and cute shih-tzus)
Fiona joined woman&home as Assistant Beauty Editor in 2013, working under industry legend Jo GB, who taught her everything she needed to know (clue: learn about ingredients and employ extreme cynicism).
In a previous life, Fiona studied journalism back home in bonnie Scotland and honed her skills as a features writer at publications including Junior and Prima Baby, with a brief and terrifying stint on the showbiz pages of a tabloid newspaper in between. She's a skincare fanatic who can’t resist adding an extra step to her routine, adores fragrance, has fun with makeup and never turns down the chance to test a new hair tool. Basically, she loves it all.
When not slathering herself in self tan or peering at a tiny ingredients list on a moisturiser, you’ll probably find Fiona enjoying something to do with food - cooking it, eating it, cajoling her friends into trekking across London to try a hyped pop-up in a dirty car park.
Come to think of it, the hot dinners and beauty products are probably about even.
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