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Nail tales

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BEYOND BEAUTY Women should periodically refrain from using nail polish to prevent infection
BEYOND BEAUTY Women should periodically refrain from using nail polish to prevent infection

While there are products and services to beautify nails, they come with health hazards as well

You don't have to look far - at the hands (and feet) of women in all walks of life, at the displays in every pharmacy, at the nail salons that have proliferated around the country - to realise that nails are in. It is astonishing how some women with elaborately painted daggers extending from their fingertips manage to type, dial cellphones, even sign their names. One wonders what joint deformities await them decades hence, what with them using their fingers in such unnatural positions. But many don't have to wait years to discover untoward consequences of this recent cosmetic rage. They are experiencing allergic reactions to the chemicals in nail products, separation of the nails from their fleshy beds and a variety of other problems. Other women are discovering a different set of nail problems involving both fingers and toes, an eventual result of wearing ill-fitting shoes, improper nail hygiene, chronic disease or simply decades of wear and tear and the inevitable changes that accompany aging. In the September issue of Women's Health in Primary Care, two New York dermatologists, Herbert P. Goodheart of Mount Sinai Hospital and Hendrik Uyttendaele of Columbia University Medical Centre, reviewed the various procedures involved in current nail cosmetic practices and their hazards. They began with what is often the first step in a manicure: removing the cuticle, sometimes after applying a softener with strong alkalis that break down the keratin in this protective skin. Cuticle removal should be discouraged because it can lead to inflammation and infections of the surrounding tissue and nail root and cause permanent nail deformities, the doctors advised. They also warned against the use of a wooden pick under the nails when getting a "French manicure," which can contribute to fungal infections and loss of the nail. Cosmetic nail products are replete with toxic and allergenic chemicals, including toluene, phthalates, camphor and formaldehyde. Many of these components can cause allergic reactions, and not just involving the nails. Nail hardeners with fibre, used to treat brittle nails, are another source of allergic reactions, as is the acrylic glue used to attach many nail wraps and tips and the plastic artificial nails used to elongate natural nails. The experts point out that "natural nails are often the healthiest choice and need the least maintenance." But they also recognise that getting enthusiasts to abandon nail cosmetics is a lost cause. They suggest these steps: To reduce the risk of infection, women who get professional manicures should buy their own "manicure pack" containing a set of manicure instruments that they bring to the nail salon. Cuticles should not be removed - at most, gently trimmed - and acrylics should be used with great care. Women should periodically refrain from using nail polish and other nail cosmetics to promote overall nail health and to permit occasional inspection of the natural nail for abnormalities. Because trimming or filing natural nails into an "egg-shape" to make the fingers look longer increases the risk of separation from the nail bed, a grooming method similar to that used for toenails - flat tips with long corners - is more sensible and less likely to result in broken nails. (THE NEW YORK TIMES)

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