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Nail Enemies - Misusing Your Nails

I can't think of anyone who actually wants to ruin their nails. Yet in an attempt to keep our nails looking groomed, many of us go overboard. We gouge dirt from under the plate, stab at cuticles with a sharp implement (or worse, cut cuticles away), file nails down to the quick, or pull at ugly hansnails. In short, our good intentions can actually damage our nails.

You may pine for perfect-looking nails, or perhaps you couldn't care less how your nails appear. Either way, listen up: The less you do to nails - and the gentler you do it - the prettier they will look, the healthier they will be, and the better able they will be to protect your fingers and toes.

Don't manicure or pedicure your nails more than once a week. Throw away anything with a sharp point - this includes metal nail files and metal cuticle pushers. Instead of digging at the dirt under your nails, use soap and a nail brush to keep nails clean. Do not file your nails so short that you expose the area where the nail bed and nail plate come together.

You mustn't be tempted to pull at hangnails, because if you do you risk removing long strips of healthy skin. Not only are these raw areas painful, they are unsightly and vulnerable to infection. A better way to remove hangnails is to clip them away with a pair of fingernail clippers.

Misusing your nails

Nails can do so many things: open soda cans, pry off stickers, twist in small screws, dig into an orange's peel. Of course, those of you who want strong, unbroken nails wouldn't use your nails for any of these tasks. You know that - as convenient as they are - nails should not be used as a household tool. Doing so traumatizes nail's keratin, causing small or large fissures that lead to breaking and splitting. Fortunately, you needn't spend your days wearing kid gloves. For strong nails, simply try adopting the following habits:

Dial the telephone with the end of a pen or pencil.

Instead of using your nails to pry things open or scrape things off, reach for a butter knife, bottle opener, or a small screwdriver.

Use a letter opener, not your fingernail, to open envelopes and packages.

"Start" an orange or banana by cutting into its peel with a knife.

Nails and water

Ask your favorite nail technician what nail enemy number one is, and there's a good chance she'll say "water." Before I explain why water is the bad guy, let me offer this anatomy lesson: to create a strong barrier, nail cells must fit tightly together. Without this tight fit, nails grow weak and are easily bent, torn, chipped, split, peeled, or broken.

At the same time, the keratin that forms nail cells behaves a bit like a sponge; when exposed to water, the keratin soaks up the liquid, swelling to several times its size. It is this swelling that disrupts the tight fit of nail cells. Try to keep your contact with water to a minimum - you should even consider taking shorter baths and showers!

It is estimated that 15 percent of Americans bite their fingernails. If you're among them, consider one of the "no-bite" products available from dermatologists and pharmacies. These terrible tasting liquids are painted on the nails. Try to nibble and you're left with a bad taste in your mouth.

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