reviewed 7/26/2018

Nail health: Myth or fact?

How well do you know your nails? Whether you spend hours a week or minutes a month caring for them, you might not have all the facts straight. See if you can nail the truth in this quiz.

Myth or fact: Your nails can give clues about your health.

Fact. Thick or discolored nails may signal certain health problems, including anemia, diabetes, heart and lung conditions, and liver and kidney diseases. Brittle nails are a normal sign of aging&mdashbut they can also be caused by disease. If you have any changes in your nails, talk to a doctor.

Myth or fact: White spots on your nails mean you told a lie.

Myth. Truth be told, such spots also appear—and eventually grow out—on a nail that's been injured. The white discoloration is called leukonychia and can show up as lines or spots or cover the whole nail. However, leukonychia may also accompany health problems like pneumonia, kidney failure, heart disease and arsenic poisoning.

Myth or fact: Skin cancer can grow under your nails.

Fact. Though it's rare, a dark streak that doesn't gradually improve or that gets bigger over time could be a sign of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.

Myth or fact: Trimming your cuticles is good for them.

Myth. Your cuticles are a barrier that helps prevent infection. So it's best if you don't trim them all. But if you just can't resist pushing them back, do it gently after a shower or bath.

Myth or fact: Soaking your fingernails in gelatin makes them stronger.

Myth. Your best bet for strong nails is a healthy diet that provides plenty of protein and vitamin B7—aka biotin. Foods that contain both include eggs, fish and meat as well as almonds and walnuts.

Myth or fact: Nail biting is a harmless habit.

Myth. Biting your fingernails can create open sores—which could leave you vulnerable to an infection. And all that nail nibbling—called onycophagy—could also lead to a gum infection.

If you think you have a nail problem, talk to a dermatologist, who can help pinpoint the source behind it.

Get familiar with nail disorders

Sources: American Academy of Dermatology; National Institutes of Health

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