University of Iowa Health Science Relations and
Marta VanBeek, MD, MPH
Assistant Professor of Dermatology
First Published: 1995
Last Revised: 2002
Peer Review Status: Internally Peer Reviewed
Those things at the tips of your fingers--you call them
fingernails--are made from the same structural building blocks as
horses' hooves, bird talons, bear claws, and rhinoceros' horns, as
well as hair and skin. No one is quite sure how these cells
differentiate to form structures as diverse as the elastic outer
layer of skin, the stiff scales of fish, or the softness of
As children, your fingernails and toenails grow an average of two
inches per year. But as you age, your nails grow more slowly. The
average adult fingernails grow about an inch in eight months.
The biggest enemies to healthy fingernails are overexposure to
soap and water says Marta VanBeek, MD UI Dermatology. "Your nails,
like your skin can dry out, so rub a thick skin moisturizer into your
nails to keep them healthy, or you might consider wearing protective
If you use polish, the pigment and dyes in the polish can
penetrate your nails so they take on a yellowish color. An occasional
break from using nail polish can restore nails to their natural
color.. In addition to nail polish, nicotine stain from smoking
causes fingernails to turn yellow. If you use nail polish, use nail
polish remover sparingly because the acetone can damage your
Nail care tips:
- Keep nails clean and dry.
- Don't bite your fingernails.
- Cut your nails straight across and rounded slightly at the
corners. Don't file them to a point. That makes them weaker.
- Use a fine textured file to keep nails shaped and free from
- Eat plenty of protein and biotin which can be found in meats,
fish, milk, and eggs.
- If you have an ingrown toenail, don't try to "dig it out"
yourself, especially if your nails are already infected or