When most people think of aging, they think of loose skin, brittle hair, and weak bones, but there’s one more thing to add to the list, and that involves your fingernails.
Over time, you may have noticed changes in the texture, thickness, strength, and even growth rate of your nails. According to experts, this is completely normal, and most people will experience age-related nail changes before the age of 40. Although these side effects of aging are unavoidable, there is a lot you can do to manage them.
We called on the experts to learn more about the different ways nails change as we age, plus tips on how to navigate them.
Nail texture and thickness
Do you notice ridges on your nails? This is medically called onychorrhexis and is similar to wrinkles on the nail.
“When parts of the nail growth plate (aka the nail matrix) become thinner and begin to atrophy, ridges result (parallel longitudinal depressions in the nail plate)” , said Dr. Dana SternAssistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.
A number of things can contribute to onychorrhexis, including nutritional deficiencies and hormonal changes, but age is another factor.
According Dr Michelle Henry, the founder of Skin and Aesthetic Surgery of Manhattan, our nails can also become brittle over time. This is largely due to the degradation of structural proteins in the keratin of our nails, which play a major role in the health of our nails and protect them from external aggressions.
“As we age, our bodies begin to produce less of the natural proteins found in nails, which can make nails more brittle, dry, and prone to breaking,” Henry noted. “These keratin proteins are also found in our hair follicles, which is why we may also see a change in our hair texture as we age.” Also, if you have a family history of brittle nails, a study found that your chance of developing brittle nails is greater.
Nail growth rate and yellowing
If you’ve removed your nail polish only to find that your natural nails are turning yellow, know that this is likely related to a slower growth rate.
“Nails grow an average of 3.47mm per month, which means the average fingernail takes six months to replace,” Stern said. “As our nail growth rates slow, the nails are exposed to many more environmental influences and these exposures, over time, can affect the color, overall appearance and strength of our nails.” Other common causes of yellowing include fungal infections and prolonged polish wear, Stern added.
But why exactly does the growth rate of nails slow down with age? Henry said this has to do with our bodies producing less keratin protein. “With less keratin produced, our nails naturally begin to lose their strength and structural integrity, which can lead to thinning and discoloration,” she said.
Other Nail Changes
One nail change often overlooked by people involves the cuticles. The cuticles act as the nail’s natural protective seal, and when ragged and dehydrated, they can separate and lift, resulting in nails and openings where organisms and water can enter the nail. nail unit, Stern said. This can not only lead to infection, but combined with other changes in the texture and thickness of the nails, can highlight these age-related changes. Ultimately, healthy cuticles can contribute to younger looking nails.
Finally, onycholysis, a condition in which the nail lifts off the underlying nail bed, is one of the most common age-related nail changes, according to Stern. “The slightest trauma, such as too vigorous cleaning under the nail with a tool, can cause the nail to lift off the nail bed,” Stern said. Over time and with age, your nails may also no longer adhere firmly to the nail beds.
How to deal with aging nails
There are several things you can do to manage age-related nail changes. For one, develop a routine for your cuticles to keep them hydrated and well-groomed. Stern recommended pushing them back gently with a washcloth after a shower or bath, as well as moisturizing them daily with oils or ointments (as opposed to creams, which tend not to absorb as effectively, did she said). If you have a toenail, resist the urge to bite or pull it off and instead use a clean cuticle nipper and clip it at the base. When it comes to using nail polish remover, look for acetone-free moisturizing formulas, likethe ketone can dehydrate and weaken the nail and surrounding area.
Also consider the nail file you use. Stern said to use a glass file instead of emery board, as these can cause microscopic tears in the tip of the nail, which can develop into splits and breaks. Glass files, on the other hand, create a perfectly smooth edge. And, be sure to replace dull nail clippers, as Stern said, old ones can lead to cracks and snags.
You also need to consider how much water hits your nails. “Nails are extremely water-absorbent (even more so than skin) – when water constantly flows in and out of the nail, it puts enormous pressure on the delicate nail cells, which can lead to weakening , softening and breaking,” Stern explained. . Not to mention, it can dehydrate your cuticles and cause them to lift and separate, which can lead to nails or openings where infections can more easily enter. A good solution ? Wear protective gloves when washing dishes, cleaning the house or gardening.
Finally, Stern said if you experience any sudden nail changes, see your board-certified dermatologist, as these can potentially be a sign of internal disease.