Discover more from thePause Newsletter with Sheryl Kraft
Are Your Fingernails Showing Your Age?
Here’s a nail-biter for you: One more thing to deal with at menopause is dry, brittle nails. Is it possible to ever have good nails again?
It’s not enough to deal with THE LIST of 34.
ICYMI: 34 is the number of common symptoms of menopause reported by many women.
You probably know many of them.
But did you know that brittle, peeling nails are included in this list?
The usual culprit – ding, ding! – is estrogen (or lack thereof).
What’s Behind the Nail Problem
Experts explain that one of the many things estrogen does is promote water retention and plump, well-nourished skin. When estrogen levels plummet, so do some of those ever-important molecules that contribute to well-moisturized skin. In short, your body loses its ability to regulate fluids as efficiently as it did pre-menopause.
That same reasoning relates to your nails, which, like skin, need to be well-hydrated to retain their strength.
On the other hand (#pun fun), since menopause is a natural part of aging, we can also blame aging in the tale of the breaking/peeling/flaking fingernails, due to the breakdown and reduction in the production of keratin. Keratin is a structural protein that plays a big part in healthy, strong and resilient nails (and hair) and helps protect them from outside damage. With declining levels of keratin our nails naturally lose their strength and structural integrity.
The fallout from aging nails
· Slower growth. The average fingernail grows about 3.5 mm a month; meaning that it takes your fingernail about six months to fully replace itself. But with aging, nail growth slows, meaning your nail might be exposed to more damage for a longer period of time.
· Dry and brittle. As a result, nails become dull, weak and likely to split, flake, crack and peel. Weak nails can also develop vertical ridges; dry nails can lead to dry cuticles.
· Color changes. Once translucent, nails become yellowed and opaque.
· Texture changes. Sometimes, nails develop vertical ridges. Although you may not like the way they look, don’t worry, these are harmless, according to the Mayo Clinic.
What to do, what to do?
I decided to research nail problems for a few reasons. First, a while back, a reader asked me to cover the subject. (If there’s anything you’d like me to write about, just ask by sending an email to: email@example.com.)
Second, researching and hence writing this is a great way to satisfy my hunger for an answer to my own awful nails. I’m a former salon gel-nail junkie. Sure, my nails always looked great, but I’d heard gels and acrylics can harm your nail plate and cuticles because of the removal process, so I decided to give up my gels about a year ago. And boy, was I dismayed at the condition of my nails when I took the gels off! Weak, cracked and just plain awful. But I was determined to let my nails breathe, heal, and grow on their own. Even though most of the damage to my nails has grown out, so far my attempts and optimism at au naturel nails have been dismal failures. My nails continue to disappoint. I’m hoping one of these solutions works better for another person who might be in the same boat.
1. Consider biotin. This is one of the B vitamins; since this vitamin B is water-soluble, it doesn’t get stored by the body. You can get biotin in foods like sardines, cooked eggs and legumes, or by taking a B vitamin or supplement. Some people swear that their nails improved with biotin supplements (although you should always consult with your healthcare professional before taking it). So far for me it’s been a big fat zero.
2. Protect your hands from water as much as possible. That means limiting your exposure to water by wearing gloves when washing dishes. Also, try to keep your hands from soaking too much (for instance, keep them out of the water when taking a bath). Although our nails need moisture, too much exposure to water will weaken them.
3. Keep your diet healthy and varied. Make sure to include nail-healthy foods like edamame, eggs, cashews and others.
4. Be careful with products. There are so many nail products on the market that promise to strengthen your nails. But what one person swears by, you may curse. My experience has been extremely mixed with these; unfortunately, I have accumulated a huge pile of failed products in my nail treatment graveyard.
Be especially mindful of nail polishes or treatments that contain harsh chemicals that can weaken nails, and steer clear of nail polish removers with acetone. Harvard Health has some helpful info here.
5. Go polish-free. Too much polish for too long can weaken nails. Let your nails take a breather once in a while (but remember your acetone-free remover!)
6. Short(er) is best. When you think about it, we are constantly using our hands – and hence, our nails. Keeping nails short helps protect against breakage or snagging and decreases the temptation to use your nails as “tools” to do things like open soda cans and peel off labels.
7. Moisturize. Remember, too much water is drying (and nails absorb water even faster than skin does). And since we’re washing our hands more than ever since COVID struck (not to mention using hand sanitizer), we’re dehydrating our nails with each attempt at cleanliness. Remember to replenish lost moisture with a dab of cream, concentrating on your nail and cuticle area.
8. Be careful with your cuticles. Our cuticles are there to protect nails from bacteria and infection. Experts advise not to cut cuticles; instead, gently push them back. The only part that should be removed, they advise, is the scaly dead (cuticle) skin that might grow onto the nail plate itself. This can be accomplished with a cuticle remover.
For a Pause
1. One of my favorite hand creams is this moisturizer from L’Occitane. Stow it in your purse for those times when your hands feel especially dry and crave moisture. It absorbs quickly and doesn’t leave you feeling all greasy.
2. If you’re looking for a non-acetone polish remover, here’s one easy way to go, with individually wrapped packets from Cutex.
3. I’ve read that you’re better off filing your nails with a glass, rather than a traditional sandy-textured, file, since glass can help protect from snagging. May be worth a swipe.
4. Did you know your nails can be a picture of your health – and can reveal heart, lung and liver diseases? For this and more nail info, take a peek here.
One More Thing…
When Dolly Parton and Patti LaBelle sing together, they don’t need any instruments to accompany them…they just use their nails!
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Until next time, stay well. Stay healthy. Stay safe.