Fingernail Information
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Fingernails are formed under the cuticle and grow out toward the fingertip. Thus any injury to the cuticle can affect the nail. It takes about six months for a nail to grow from cuticle to tip, but nail growth varies from person to person and finger to finger. Thumb and pinky nails grow more slowly than those on the middle and index finger. Male nails grow a little faster than female nails. Fast-growing nails are an indication that you are well-nourished, but no single food promotes nail growth.
Taking vitamins or minerals or increasing protein intake will not strengthen nails. Nor will consuming gelatin, contrary to myth and advertising.
Nail ridges and spots are seldom anything to worry about. Many people have white lines or spots on one or more nails. Vertical ridges or striations are often hereditary and may become more prominent with age. Horizontal ridges are usually the result of small injuries or overzealous manicuring. Most dark-skinned persons have pigmented bands on their nails. Occasionally, however, ridges and other nail abnormalities are a sign of a serious illness.
Splitting nails are usually just another version of dry skin. Fragile nails are sometimes caused by thyroid disorders, anorexia, anemia, or severely deficient diets. But most often they are just a nuisance.
Dryness is an enemy of fingernails. Hot water and soap can dry them; so can gardening or household chores. Keeping nails wet for long periods makes them brittle when dry. Winter is hard on nails, so gloves and a moisturizer are a good idea.
Another enemy is nail products. Cuticle removers contain harsh chemicals that can make your nails drier; so do nail polish and polish remover. Chemicals in nail wraps or “sculptured” nails can damage nails and the nail base. The fewer compounds you apply to your nails, the better.
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    Brittle nails are a common reason why patients consult a dermatologist. The incidence of brittle nails in the European and North American population is approximately 20%, and women suffer from nail brittleness twice as often as men (1).
    There is no concise definition of what constitutes a brittle nail, and there are no characteristic histological findings to help the clinician make this diagnosis. The dermatologist needs to make the diagnosis of brittle nails based on the patient's history and certain non-pathognomonic clinical features. The presenting complaints of patients with brittle nails are often their inability to grow long nails and a description of their nails as soft, dry, weak, or easily breakable. More objective clinical features seen in brittle nails are onychoschizia (transverse splitting), onychorrhexis (longitudinal splitting), and nail plate surface degranulation (2). Brittle nails have been divided into several types including an isolated split at the free edge, lamellar splitting of the free edge, transverse splitting of the lateral edge, and multiple crenellated splitting that resembles the battlements of a castle (3).
    Most commonly, a clear-cut etiology for brittle nails cannot be found and hence most cases are labeled as "idiopathic brittleness of the nails." Dehydration due to external influences such as water, detergents, or dehydrating chemicals is often a contributing or causative factor (4). These agents decrease the normal water content of the nail plate, which then results in breakage of the intercellular corneocyte bridges, leading to a fragile and brittle nail plate. Similarly, evaporation of water in the nail plate due to high and low temperatures can result in identical changes (5). Quantitative and qualitative changes in nail keratins may also be induced by chemical and physical insults. Hapalonychia (thinning of the nail plate) due to decrease of the nail matrix length may predispose towards the development of brittle nails. Nails also become more brittle with age. This may be due to the decreased nail growth rates observed in elderly individuals and thus an inherent increased exposure time of the nail plate to environmental factors. Likewise, as skin is drier in the elderly, so too are the nails. A genetic component in the etiology of brittle nails is suggested by the fact that approximately half of patients will report a family member with similar complaints.

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