Maintaining healthy natural nails is not as complicated as many may think. As with hair, nails are usually their healthiest in their natural state, requiring a bit of nail polish for protection and regular applications of hand cream as a moisturizer.

In fact, many argue that using natural nail strengtheners, which chemically crosslink the nail plate, is actually a bad idea. Although they do make nails more rigid, they also make them less flexible and thus more prone to breaking on impact. It is actually more important that nails are kept flexible and moisturized.

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.

Some facts about nails:

  • The skin and nails are constantly bathed by a tidal flow of oils and moisture.
  • Everything we see and touch except for light and electricity is a chemical.
  • Excessive hand washing or using household cleaning solutions without protection can rob our skin and nails of vital oil and moisture, resulting in split, peeling nails.
  • Water is a chemical, so are all nail related products.
  • Overexposure to any chemical can cause an allergic reaction.
  • The nail plate is comprised of many layers of cells that lose their inner material and become flat, hard and translucent.
  • Strength is a combination of hardness, and flexibility.
  • Nails that split and peel lack sufficient oil and moisture.
  • Nail diseases and disorders should be diagnosed by a physician and the prescribed medication taken or used as directed.
  • Frequent nail splitting can also indicate dehydration. In such cases drink more fluids and use an oil designed to penetrate the nail plate. Then follow up with a moisturizing cream.

Long nails and pointed nails are, by nature, weaker than “normally” shaped nails, and thus require special attention. In such cases, several coats of nail hardener will help minimize chipping and peeling of the nail enamel. The trick is to find something that protects AND moisturizes. Nail hardeners with nylon fibers are also very affective. By the way, regular use of nail polish can cause a yellowing discoloration of the nails. This is not considered damaging, but is useful to keep in mind if you prefer the “natural look” but use color occasionally.

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.

Milagro Nail Care System

The following is a list of nail tools and implements required when performing a manicure or pedicure, and an explanation of the proper use:

  • Terry Towels: To protect the work surface from chemicals and water, and to dry our hands between procedures and before enamel application.
  • Orangewood Sticks: For gently pushing back the cuticle, for cleaning under the free edge or for removing excess enamel.
  • Cotton or Gauze Pads: For removing enamel and/or excess oil from the nail plate surface.
  • Polish Remover: For removing nail enamel or polish from the nail plate surface. Polish remover comes in acetone or non-acetone (ethyl acetate) formulas. The general consensus is that acetone based removers can be safely used on natural nails while some prefer to use non-acetone based removers on artificial surfaces.
  • Files or Abrasives: Files come in all sizes and in many grits. The higher the number the smaller the grit, and the lower the number, the coarser the grit. It is never recommended to use a grit smaller than 240 on the natural nail plate or for shaping the free edge. Many over the counter ’emery boards’ have a grit of 80 which is too coarse for use on natural nails. Files made of metal are also too rough to safely use as the coarser the grit, the more easily the nail plate layers are shredded. Files that are called ‘3-way buffers’ have a grit higher than 3600. They are used to smooth the surface of the nail plate without scratches, and to impart a high gloss shine. Use the black side first to refine, then the white side to semi-shine, then finish with the gray side to super shine. Padded abrasives are easier to hold, maintain their grit for longer periods, and many of them can be sanitized.
  • Cuticle Nippers: Cuticle nippers come with different sizes of cutting surfaces: 1/4 jaw, 1/2 jaw and full jaw. What this means is that the more cutting surface there is, the easier it is to cut the skin with a single ‘nip’. It is better to use a nipper with a smaller cutting surface if one is not accustomed to using these implements. Remember, it is only the true cuticle that is removed during the manicuring process and not the live skin of the eponychium or lateral nail folds.
  • Nail or Toenail Nippers/Clippers/Scissors: Nail nippers are simply a larger size cuticle nipper which have been designed to remove excess nail length, and are usually used to cut the toenails. Nail scissors have a small, curved blade and are designed to remove length from the fingernails. Nail clippers come in small and large sizes with a curved cutting edge, and are designed to cut the fingernail and toenail. Always be sure you use the proper tool for the proper procedure.
  • Cuticle Pusher: A metal implement used to push the invisible, translucent true cuticle from the nail plate. When using this implement, never apply heavy, downward force to push back the cuticle as too much pressure applied in this area can damage the matrix.
  • Curette: An instrument designed to ‘scrape’ excess cuticle from the nail plate. Many technicians prefer using a curette as it is designed to remove the true cuticle from the nail plate vs. simply pushing it back. Proper use of this instrument to remove true cuticle negates the need for nippers.
  • Nail Brush: Used wet, and with warm soapy water for scrubbing the surface and underside of the nail plate to aid in complete removal of pathogenic organisms, dirt and debris.
  • Manicure/Finger Bowl: Usually a plastic container shaped to hold the fingers and hand in a comfortable position while soaking in a warm, soapy water bath.
  • Hot Oil Machine: A heating unit designed to warm lotion or oil in a paper or plastic ‘tub’. A hot oil manicure is always recommended for persons with extremely dry skin and nails.
  • Paraffin Machine: A machine that warms paraffin wax that is used during some manicure/pedicure procedures. Warm wax will benefit tired, sore, stressed hands while serving to deep condition and moisturize the skin. Some paraffin waxes contain additives of eucalyptus and other essential oils.
  • Pedicure Tub: A foot tub that holds and heats water for soaking the feet. Some pedicure tubs will massage the feet while they are soaking. It is not recommended that the feet of the elderly be immersed in very hot water or massaged using these machines. Seek the advise of the elderly persons physician before performing a pedicure procedure — especially one that may have a severe or debilitating health issue.

Below are some useful nail care tips:

  • Never clip nails to shorten them. Use an emery board to file nails down to size.
  • Apply a top coat almost daily to help protect the tips.
  • Use nail polish remover as infrequently as possible – especially those containing acetone. Most nail polish removers will dry nails out. Many specialists suggest using nail polish remover no more than once a week.
  • Apply a hand cream or lotion after washing hands since soaps tend to cause nails and skin to become very dry. Cuticles should remain moisturized with Vaseline or a moisturizer such as Moisturel or Aquaphor. (Tip: Apply moisturizer before going to sleep each night.)
  • Never peel or scrape off nail polish or use metal instruments on the nail surface to push back the cuticles. This can scrape off the protective cells of the nail surface.
  • Break the habit of nail biting – it is very destructive to both the nail and the cuticle and can lead to infections that can actually deform the nail.
  • An excellent time to do your manicure is after a shower, bath or the dishes. These activities will remove dirt from under the nails as well as soften dry nails.
  • The cuticle protects the nail root from bacteria. Instead of cutting the cuticle, push it back gently with a rosewood stick or rubber-tipped cuticle-pusher. However, should the cuticle be hard and dry and sticking up, slightly trimming it is justifiable, but never remove the whole thing. Strong cuticle growth can be controlled with a cuticle softener or cuticle remover liquid.
  • Keep your nails out of your mouth! Biting nails can damage the nail and the cuticle leading to a deformed nail shape or uneven nail growth. You can also transfer harmful organisms to the nail that lead to infection or even increase one’s chance of catching a cold or flu.

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