It's hard enough to keep nails healthy and strong. But in the steamy, active days of summer--when nails are more prone to breakage, ragged cuticles and fungal infections--your digits may end up a disaster. Not to worry. With the right nutrients, proper care and a few good natural products, you can grow nails that are a Perfect 10.
Composed primarily of a hard protein called keratin, nails are more than ornamental. They protect sensitive, nerve-dense fingertips and toes, shielding them from trauma and injury. And their appearance can tell a lot about your overall health. Dry nails with ridges may signal a lack of B vitamins, brittle nails often indicate a vitamin A deficiency and vertical ridges in nails may point to an iron deficiency. If nails split and crack, it may mean the stomach is lacking in hydrochloric acid. Hangnails may indicate a lack of protein, vitamin C or folic acid.
For hands-down great nails, start by eating a balanced, healthy diet with adequate protein and lots of water--at least eight 8-ounce glasses a day--to prevent dry, cracked nails. Then focus on the following nail nutrients:
* Sulfur promotes nail flexibility and makes nails less vulnerable to breakage. Where to find it: cabbage, Brussels sprouts, garlic, onions, arugula, hot peppers, egg yolks, turnips, fish and dairy products.
* Biotin has been shown to increase nail hardness and thickness. Where to find it: brewer's yeast, soybeans, brown rice, peanuts, eggs, fish and oats.
* Silicon promotes nail strength and firmness. Where to find it: onions, strawberries, whole wheat, oats, avocados, comfrey, alfalfa, horsetail, rice and nettles.
* Folic acid helps maintain nail flexibility and strength. Where to find it: whole grains, broccoli, spinach, kale, legumes, berries and citrus fruits.
* Essential fatty acids make nails glossier and more flexible. Where to find them: salmon, flaxseed oil, evening primrose oil and black currant oil.
In summer, nails are especially sensitive to infections. Fungi thrive on protein and love warm, damp areas, so the skin under your nails is an ideal breeding ground. To prevent infections, keep nails dry and wear flip-flops around pools and in public bathing areas. If you do develop a fungal infection, drinking a few drops of grapefruit seed extract added to a glass of water can help. Tea tree oil also has anti-fungal properties and, applied directly to the nails, can kill fungi and prevent its spread to other nails (try the Scandle Healing Blend candle infused with tea tree oils).
Because nails grow faster in the summer, they require more regular maintenance. Trim them to a manageable length, and keep manicure tools scrupulously clean to prevent infections. Never clip cuticles--they act as barriers against bacteria, and trimming them can lead to dangerous infections like paronychia that may cause nail loss. Beware of mainstream nail products: Most polishes contain toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde and toluene that can cause redness and allergic reactions, and polish removers contain a solvent called acetone that can dry nails and irritate skin. For the most natural summer look, try massaging a drop of vitamin E into cuticles (try all of the Scandle Candles as they are all infused with Vitamin E), then buffing nails to a high gloss.