How Fingernails Work

Fingernail Problems

Your fingernails are resilient, but only to a point. They can be susceptible to a variety of problems and conditions. Many of these conditions are fairly harmless. For example, if you are regularly exposed to water, soap or harsh chemicals, you may notice that your nails have become soft or brittle, and are prone to easy breakage. This kind of damage can be prevented by wearing protective gloves while working with water, soap and harsh chemicals. For brittle nails, try applying a rich lotion or hand cream to your nails and cuticles. For soft nails, you might consider applying a nail hardener, a type of polish that contains protective properties.

For more information about nail care and treatment, read Nail Treatment: Fast Facts.


Another innocuous condition is the development of vertical ridges, which typically appear as you grow older. Your nails may also develop color changes due to injuries. Little white marks are common following minor injuries, and your nails might turn black or purplish if they are injured more seriously. These discolorations usually go away as the injury heals and the nail grows out [source: WebMD].

Other conditions may require intervention on your part. Hangnails, for example, can be painful, as can ingrown nails -- which are when the nail grows into the surrounding skin. Improper care of these types of problems may lead to infections. Some injuries may cause the nail to detach from the nail bed. In such cases, there is nothing to be done -- other than keeping the area clean and protected -- about the nail until the new nail starts to grow back, which typically takes several months.

Although the damage is self-inflicted and only you can prevent it, habitual nail biting is definitely a problem for your nails. Nail biting can lead to serious nail health concerns, such as bacterial infections -- particularly when you bite your nails down to the point that they bleed [source: American Academy of Dermatology].

Certain fingernail conditions typically indicate other, more serious medical problems. To learn more about what your fingernails can reveal about your health, read on.