Seven Nail Health Tips from a Dermatologist

Kavitha Reddy on signs to watch for, tips to follow, and what to avoid.


Manicure photo via Shutterstock

Nails aren’t just part of your beauty regimen. They’re reflective of overall health, and symptoms such as dents and discoloration may be a sign of something greater—but that doesn’t mean you should panic or frantically Google every last change.

We asked Kavitha Reddy, director of dermatologic surgery at Boston Medical Center and director of the Boston University Cosmetic & Laser Center, what’s actually cause for concern, and how you can keep your nails healthy.

1. Know what to look for. Reddy says horizontal lines on the nail, called Beau’s lines, can be a sign of an acute or chronic disease, but it’s more likely that they are the result of stress. Small, yellow dots on the nails are often indicators of the autoimmune disease psoriasis, which typically manifests as itchy, scaly spots on the body. Seeing these dots would be reason to visit a dermatologist or doctor, Reddy says.

2. Pay attention to overall health. Exercise and a good diet keep your nails, as well as your body, in good shape, Reddy says. She recommends a consistent exercise routine and eating a balanced diet, particularly one high in B vitamins.

3. Don’t wash your hands too much. Reddy explains that washing your hands more often than necessary will dry out your skin and nails, resulting in breakages and ridges.

4. Choose your salon carefully. “Ideally, you’re not inhaling all the fumes as [the polish] is drying,” Reddy says. “You’re in a well-ventilated salon.” In other words, you may have to break up with your hole-in-the-wall spot.

5. Consider going gel-free. Gel manicures are a source of controversy in the beauty industry, with some experts saying they come with an increased risk of cancer from the UV lights used to dry nails. “There’s some debate whether that causes an increase in skin cancer or not, but we know that UV light isn’t good for you,” Reddy says.

6. Look for natural options. Brands such as Zoya, Honeybee Gardens, and RGB all offer toxin-free or vegan and cruelty-free polishes. There are also a number of natural beauty brands based in Boston.

7. Go easy on your cuticles. Reddy says to be careful with your cuticles, especially if you see redness or inflammation. Cuticles are a barrier to protect your nails and skin, so trimming them sharply, or at all, may damage your nails’ health.