Care of the nails

The nails are scaled down versions of claws which were once very necessary for survival. They are created by uniting the epithelial or surface cells, integrated with a protein called keratin. The nail grows from the nail bed, which is a very vascular part of modified skin. The half-moon is paler in colour because it is less vascular but is nevertheless an important growing part of the nail. It takes approximately 3-4 months for a nail to grow from its base to the loose distal border in the finger, and about 6-8 months in a toe nail.

The nail is derived from a modified type of skin surface or epithelium and therefore any compounds that can benefit the skin can benefit the nails and their strength. Keratin is derived from amino acids, so any deficiency in protein intake is also liable to cause skin problems. Although the function of the nails has diminished as we have developed over the ages, their use as an ornament in women is well-respected by the cosmetic industry and indeed a well-manicured finger has its attractions and can reflect a subconscious attitude of the owner for neatness or tidiness. Bitten or chewed nails may show a nervous disposition and dirty nails may be a comment on personal hygiene . Health is certainly reflected by deformities, ridges, the nails being brittle and the colour of the nail bed.

Nails grow forwards on a flat plane unless the nail bed has been damaged or infected. Keeping the nails trimmed to the level of the end of the fingers offers protection to a very sensitive part of the body and protects against injury. Compression of toes can cause the soft pulp around the nails to overgrow or cut into the nail, which will be painful and lead to infection. When cutting nails it is best to create a small V-shape in the middle section to encourage growth forwards rather than sideways.

There is no health risk or disadvantage in using nail varnish or strengthener provided that the nail bed and its surround are not infected.

Abnormal nails

An abnormality in shape, colour or texture of the nail can all be indicative of underlying disease or deficiency.

Biting the nails

Biting the nails is not a problem, although it usually includes nibbling at the surrounding skin and cuticle. This needs to be stopped if it is painful or predisposing to infections. Nail biting does suggest an underlying anxiety or nervous disposition, which will benefit from a relaxation or meditation technique. Hypnotherapy and counselling may also be required.

Deformed nails

Deformed nails usually occur because of damage to the nail bed through injury.

Discolouration of the nails

Discolouration of the nail itself usually occurs because of fungal infection, which tends to make the nail yellow. Rarely, toxins in the system will be eliminated in the nails and create a change in colour. Litde black specks are indicative of a condition known as bacterial endocarditis and represent small clots. This is a serious condition and needs to be dealt with by a physician immediately. White patches are indicative of deficiencies in calcium, zinc or vitamin A. These are not uncommon in growth spurts in children but in adults usually represent dietary deficiency or drug-induced calcium loss.

Changes in the colour of the epithelium underneath the nail can show anaemia if pale, jaundice if yellow and the rare condition of excess iron ingestion if brown. A bruised nail will appear purplish or black.

Fungal infection

Fungus has a propensity to settle in nail beds, causing deformity by either killing off the growth area or causing a faster rate of growth leading to thickened nails .

Ingrowing toe nail

This painful condition is caused by the edges of the toe nail growing downwards and thereby cutting into the soft pulp of the toe. It is most commonly found in the big toe and is predominantly created by injury or persistent compression through tight-fitting footwear.

An ingrowing toe nail that is uncared for will minimally inflame but may also create an area of infection that, if left untreated, could jeopardize the toe nail or possibly allow gangrene to set in.



Ensure from an early age that loose-fitting shoes are worn and that as much time as possible is spent barefoot. Remember that tight-fitting socks can be just as compressing.

See Feet, care of.

Any injury involving a toe nail should be reviewed by a podiatrist or chiropodist.

Ensure that the toe nails are kept cut short. Do not cut back too far the area of the nail that is cutting into the toe because this may, paradoxically, encourage further growth at a faster rate. It is better to cut a small V-shaped wedge in the middle of the toe nail.

Soak some cotton wool and compress in an Arnica or Calendula lotion and wedge gently under the nail.

Apply an Arnica or Calendula cream around the inflamed area.

Review your preferred homeopathic manual, paying specific interest to Arnica, Hypericum and Calendula.

Any persisting problem, or one that is inflamed or infected despite the above treatments, should be seen by a podiatrist or GP, who may remove part or all of the nail under a local anaesthetic.

Infection around the nail

Medically termed paronychia or whitlows, this is colloquially known as Mother’s Blessing and is a painful red or pus-filled infection occurring at the side of the nails and extending underneath on occasions. These infections are painful, usually because of the pressure build up, and treatment is recommended at an early stage as described in the recommendations below.

Ridging of the nails

This can represent deficiencies in the vitamins A, B complex and D, calcium, zinc and essential fatty acids.


When cutting the nails, create a small V-shape in the middle to encourage forward growth.

Avoid tight footwear, which will encourage the nail surround to be cut by the edges of the nail.

Discolouration of the nail without an obvious cause should be presented to a GP for diagnosis.

Brittle, ridged or cracking nails are usually indicative of deficiency or heavy metal toxicity and a suitable blood and hair analysis should isolate the specific compound, which should then be replenished. You can try supplementation of the nutrients mentioned above but, because any of them may be the problem and an improvement may not be seen for 3-4 months , this is an expensive method of correcting the fault.

A bruised finger may be painful because of the pressure built up under the inflexible nail. Place the digit in iced water in an attempt to take down the swelling. Application of an Arnica-based cream may be beneficial. It may be necessary for a doctor to pierce the nail to release the blood underneath. If a doctor is not available, place a sewing needle in boiling water for a few minutes, remove it and hold the needle over an open flame . Whilst the needle is still hot, apply gentle pressure through the nail, making sure that the needle does not penetrate into the very sensitive epithelium below. Ensure that the nail is thoroughly cleaned, preferably with alcohol, before inserting the needle. The homeopathic remedy Arnica 6 should be taken every hour for three doses and then every 3hr until better.

Paronychia or whitlows should be immersed in hot and then iced water alternately for about 5min. An Arnica- or Calendula-based cream can be applied and the homeopathic remedy Hepar sulphuris calcarium 6 should be taken every hour. A persistence should be seen by a complementary medical practitioner.

Any injury to the nail or fingers will benefit from the homeopathic remedy Hypericum 6, either taken every hour or alternating with the remedies mentioned above.

Nail biting may benefit by applying an unpleasant tasting substance around the nails or may be stopped by hypnosis.

Ridging may represent deficiencies that should be assessed by a complementary practitioner.