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December 2017
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How do nails age? Emily M. Altman, MD Dermatologist NJ

“Why nails age” is relatively simple.  They age as we age.  Nails are exposed to the same environmental stressors and the same mechanisms that cause the rest of the body to age.  They can dry out and become more brittle.  They grow slower and may become thickened, dull or yellowed.

The most common and prominent change in nail aging is longitudinal ridging, but splitting at the ends is also very common.  Longitudinal ridging is most likely due to some imperfections in the functioning of the nail matrix (the growth center of the nail) as we get older.

It is important to say here that if your nails start changing, you need to consult your board-certified dermatologist, as other factors, such as internal diseases or infections, may play a role in nail changes and should not be attributed simply to aging.

This is particularly true of pigmented longitudinal bands in the nail, however does apply to all nail changes.

Dryness and lackluster appearance of the nails may also be due to using harsh chemicals, such as cleaning products without protecting your hands.  Filing nails can lead to splitting and thinning of the nail plate, as can using your nails for tools when taking out paperclips, etc.

Pushing back or cutting away the cuticle when getting manicures can open the door to infections such as Staphylococcus or Candida, common organisms in causing infections in the nail and surrounding skin.

Also, important to mention here that there are myths about how to make nails stronger such as drinking gelatin or taking calcium.  Here are links to two blogs, granted not scientific, but they do get to the point of these two myths.

Is Gelatin Really Good For My Nails? | The History Behind Knox Gelatin

Does Calcium Strengthen Nails?

Finally, treating your nails with kindness, not using them for instruments, not filing them or cutting/pushing back the cuticle, protecting them from harsh chemicals by using gloves when doing household chores, and moisturizing them with a cream/lotion that contains ammonium lactate, an alpha hydroxy acid, will go a long way to help improve the aging changes in the nails However, there isn’t much we can do about horizontal ridging.  It shows up somewhere in your 30′s and stays.

Longitudinal nail ridging – common and often part of the normal nail aging changes

Longitudinal Nail Ridging

Another common finding in nails is horizontal splitting, which may happen due to nail dryness or filing of the nails

Medication induced nails change, horizontal ridging called Beau’lines due to interruption of the normal functioning of the nail matrix. Other factors can cause Beau’s lines.

Beau’s lines

Acute paronychia due to a bacterial infection.  Chronic paronychia (inflammation of the skin surrounding the nail) is commonly caused by Candida, a yeast

Acute paronychia

Pigmented bands in the nail – Melanonychia striata.  If a new pigmented band develops in a nail or if an existing band changes shape, color, size, it must be seen by a dermatologist immediately.

Pigmented bands – Melanonychia striata

Onychomycosis, nail infection with fungal organisms, can happen at any age although poor circulation and diabetes are often contributing factors in fungal nail infections of the toes, as are pedicures.

Onychomycosis-fungal infection of the nail

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