Like skin, nails are made from keratin and protect our fingers and toes from wear and damage. They also help us pick up objects and allow us to scratch the little bastard’s eyes out when he cheats. Just kidding! Fingernails usually take 5 or 6 months to grow from base to tip (just under a millimetre a week). Toe nails take twice as long to grow which is why we don’t have to cut them so often (though some men seem to forget about them altogether).
Damage and indicators
Nails are susceptible to damage through injury, pressure or crushing (in a door, for example) but more usually through bacterial or fungal infections and general illnesses. Brittle or ridged nails, black splinter marks beneath the nail itself, blue and green discolouration may be signs of vitamin deficiency and generalised disease.
Nail biting is a nervous habit. A badly-bitten nail is more susceptible to infections, pain and bleeding. The usual treatment is to paint the nails with a clear solution which tastes horrible, but this has obvious limitations. Examining why you bite your nails can be helpful in devising a strategy to break the habit. Perhaps the best reason for quitting is being able to see a full set of neatly trimmed nails – it will only take a month to see significant improvements.
HIV and other STIs
Unbroken nails and skin, particularly where they join, provide an affective barrier against infections such as HIV and hepatitis C. Broken, torn, ragged, ripped, or bitten nails can provide a route for infection with an increased risk of transmission if the surrounding skin is also damaged. Given that many/ most of us use our fingers for sex in some way, where bodily fluids like semen and blood are often present, keeping your nails and skin in tip top condition is an essential part of your sexual health.
- Clean your nails carefully by prising out dirt beneath them. (A nail brush may be helpful).
- Soften your nails in warm water before cutting them.
- Don’t cut your nails too short.
- Cut your toenails straight across to stop them in-growing.
- Don’t bite your nails. It doesn’t just look tacky, it really shows you up when you’re holding a glass, shaking hands or he’s trying to suck your fingers romantically. (He may as well nibble them for you).
- To protect against nail infection, wear rubber gloves when your hands are being continually immersed in water.
- See a doctor if your nails become discoloured or brittle as this could be due to a fungal infection or vitamin deficiency (which are usually easily treated).
Feet and toenail tips
- If you shower (rather than bathe) don’t forget to clean your feet, toes and toenails everyday, making sure your dry them properly, particularly between the toes.
- If you are prone to bacterial or fungal infections there are a range of creams, powders and sprays from your chemist that can help combat this. Keep a separate foot towel (which you don’t use on your face).
- Change socks daily to prevent foot odour.
- Use a pumice stone to gently remove dead skin from the heels and balls of your feet.
- Discard shoes that are worn beyond repair, or no longer fit properly.
- Wear natural materials, such as cotton socks and leather shoes to reduce sweating. If you suffer from smelly feet, wear insoles made of activated charcoal, which absorbs sweat and odour particles.
- If you develop a foot problem, such as a callous, bunion or verruca, see your doctor or chiropodist.