Eye to the nails: they are the mirror of our health

White, dull, stained, jagged, fragile: nails are the mirror of our health, a symbol of beauty, a weapon of seduction, and if they look strange, it is better to investigate. Martina Zanni, dermatologist at the Nuovo S. Ursola Polyclinic, talks about it.
“Nail diseases are widespread and more and more people are turning to the dermatologist to find a solution to their alterations – explains the dermatologist – The majority of patients who go to the specialist for a nail problem think they have mycosis – a fungus – of one or more fingers or toes and it often happens that they are already doing, or have done in the past, different types of local treatments (typically “do it yourself”) or by mouth, without however benefiting or solving only partially and temporarily the problem. This is because in reality nail diseases are numerous and only partially linked to a fungal infection ».

How do you recognize a healthy nail?

Healthy nails have a pinkish color and a semi-hard texture; the surface is smooth, shiny and semi-transparent. They consist of two parts: the root and the body (also called the nail plate). The root (the only “living” part of the nail), called the matrix, is not visible because it is located under the skin and is the structure that has the function of forming the body of the nail. Immediately after the root there is the lunula (the small white semicircle that can be seen at the base of the nail and which corresponds to the final part of the matrix), present in all nails, but not always visible. The nail plate is instead the visible part, formed by horny scales made up of a very compact type of keratin (the same substance that hair is made of); being transparent it assumes the pink color of the underlying tissue (called the nail bed) rich in blood vessels. Physiological nail growth is slow; the turnover takes place on average in 6 months for those of the hands and a year and a half for those of the feet ».

Does the state of the nails “talk” about our health?

«The modifications of the nails due to the color, shape and consistency can be the signal of various kinds of ailments such as dietary deficiencies, the intake of certain drugs, traumas, diseases of the organism or of the skin and not just infections. Going into the merits of all nail diseases would take pages. But the most frequent problems can be briefly analyzed ».

The nails have white dots. Could it be lack of calcium?

“No, the scientific name of the disease is leukonychia punctata and is due to microtraumatism of the nail matrix.”

Why do the nails become streaked?

“This alteration is due to a physiological aging of the nail which is no longer smooth and has longitudinal ridges”.

The toenail went black all of a sudden. Do you have to worry?

“An acute nail pigmentation is probably due to a hematoma (collection of blood) due to trauma. In any case, any alteration in the color of the nail must be evaluated by the dermatologist “.

The nails of the big toes have yellow spots. What is it due to?

“It is probably a fungal infection (in medical term onychomycosis) and can be ascertained by a dermatologist specialist with an examination on a fragment of a nail.”

The nails are brittle. Will it be a nutritional deficiency?

“The causes of brittle nails are many and the deficiency of some nutritional elements (such as iron, zinc, vitamin H, B6, E, cystine) can only be part of the problem. Dermatological diseases, diseases of the organism, aging, repeated contact with water and detergents without the use of gloves, chronic traumas (related to one’s profession, aggressive manicures, etc.) are among the many causes of this disorder. The world of nails is really complex and is not limited to a few pathologies. It is therefore very important, in case of any nail alteration, to go to the dermatologist, in order to make a correct diagnosis and avoid long and above all useless therapy.

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