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7 Health Clues That Your Nails Reveal

That white mark or mysterious dent may hint at other things going on in your body. Here are some points to consider.

By Hannah Morrill
Red cross made out of fingernailsMitchell Feinberg

What You See: Split Nail Tips

If your nails break easily, the culprit is probably overexposure to water and chemicals, both of which weaken nails.

The solution: Get the daily recommended intake of 30 micrograms of biotin, which helps to strengthen nails. (It’s available in many foods, like fish and eggs, or as a supplement.) A few adjustments to day-to-day habits can help, too. Pull on a pair of cotton-lined rubber gloves to do the dishes. Also avoid dehydrating alcohol-based hand sanitizers; instead, wash with soap and apply hand cream afterward for the extra moisture. During manicures, use a non-acetone polish remover and a strengthening base coat.

What You See: Rough White Patches

If parts of the nail plate look white and appear roughed up, they are probably keratin granulations that were caused by wearing polish for too long or using drying polish remover too often (say, more than three times a week). The chemicals in these products cause the nail plate to dry out and the keratin molecules within it to clump together into what looks like a chalky stain.

The solution: A one-month holiday from nail polish and polish remover will clear up the nail plate nicely. To prevent a reappearance, go bare for a few days between manicures.

What You See: Smooth Longitudinal Ridges

For people over 30, these ridges are normal, and they grow more pronounced with age. (Think wrinkles, but for nails.) But if the lines emerge suddenly, you may have onychorrhexis, a symptom of a range of inflammatory skin conditions, like psoriasis, alopecia (hair loss), and lichen planus (an itchy rash on the body).

The solution: See a dermatologist to treat the skin condition and, by extension, your nails systemically. To even out the appearance of your nails in the meantime, gently buff with a 240-grit file, says New York City manicurist Gina Viviano. But for thin, weak nails, leave the marks alone, or cover them up with a ridge-filling, nail-strengthening base coat before polishing.

What You See: A Thick, Yellow Toenail

If the patches cover most of the nail, you may have a fungal infection called onychomycosis, often caused by athlete’s foot contracted by going barefoot in damp public places.

The solution: Fortunately, this common condition, affecting about 10 percent of the population, is treatable with a dermatologist-prescribed topical or oral medication. The infection disappears in 12 to 18 months. Avoid a recurrence by wearing shower slippers in locker rooms and near pools.

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