Scratch an itch. Strum a guitar. Peel an orange. Your fingernails come in handy all day long, but too much use -- or misuse -- can cause problems ranging from nasty fungal infections to brittle, broken nails.
Although plenty can go wrong with the nails, one of the most common complaints dermatologists hear is that fingernails are brittle, or easily broken. Fingernails can become brittle either because they are too dry, making them hard and easily cracked, or because they are too moist, which leaves them soft and prone to tearing.
Trauma, the doctors' term for injury, is another major problem for fingernails. The classic example: Whacking the fingernail with a hammer. If a bruise forms beneath the nail, a doctor may have to relieve the pressure that builds up.
Injuries also open the door to infections, especially fungal infections. Although these generally plague toenails more often than fingernails (for the same reason athlete's foot develops -- the hot, moist environment of shoes), fungal infections can strike the nails on the hands, with some unpleasant consequences. Infection may turn the nail plate chalky white, yellowish, brownish, or even green and make the nail fold look red and irritated. (If you suspect a nail infection, discuss it with your doctor.)
And finally, certain skin diseases, such as psoriasis, can show up in your nails.
See the next page for home remedies the experts recommend you try to keep your nails as healthy and attractive as possible.