This past year has been a taxing time for us all, and it's fair to say that we've all been a little stressed at one point or another. While we can easily recognize the emotional signs of stress, the physical signs are not always as obvious. We know that thinning hair and increased acne can be caused by the hormones released when we're stressed, but now we have a new issue to deal with: Our nails are being damaged, too.
When you're feeling stressed, the last thing you want to be told is to "just relax," so we spoke to a board-certified dermatologist and a medical pedicurist to find out how else you can help improve the health of your nails.
What are the visible signs of stressed nails?
"When we are stressed, our nails tend to look weak, brittle, and dull. Weakened and thin nails are prone to breaking, and stress can also cause slow nail growth," explains Marcela Correa, founder of Medi Pedi NYC.
Many people also develop a tic when they are feeling stressed, such as biting their nails or pulling at their cuticles. Not only will this leave the skin around the nails red and sore, it can also cause the nails to become thin or deformed. "Nails typically take about four weeks to grow just one millimeter. The constant biting will stop you from seeing significant growth over time," Correa adds.
Why do we need to stop biting our nails?
Biting your nails can have negative long-term effects. "Having your fingers in your mouth increases the risk of a cold or infection by spreading germs from your hands to your mouth. Constantly pulling and tearing at the skin around your nail beds can also create portals of entry for your nails to become infected," explains Dendy Engelman, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Shafer Clinic in New York City.
However, it's not just the bacteria we have to look out for. "For those who bite down very deeply, it can affect nail growth and cause nail dystrophy," she says. Dystrophy is the distortion of the nail plate from excessive trauma, a common condition that usually heals on its own if the nail is left alone.
Why do nails react to stress?
Dr. Engelman says that our nails respond to physical and emotional stress in the same way our skin and hair do, explaining that the additional hormones and chemicals released—such as cortisol—can cause our body to react in many different ways.
When we are stressed, we go into 'fight or flight' mode, which causes our body to go into a state of temporary overdrive. "Our nails need nutrients like biotin, zinc, and iron to maintain their health and strength. When this mode happens, it becomes nearly impossible to allow our gut to absorb the nutrients it needs," Correa explains.
Should we stop getting manicures when our nails are showing signs of stress?
Most definitely, says Correa. "Manicures and pedicures focus a lot on filing, cutting, and buffing the nails, which can lead to more breakage, especially when soaking your nails for a long period." Instead, she suggests trying gentle DIY manis at home, avoiding filing, and only cutting nails when needed.
Dr. Engelman agrees; however, the last thing she recommends is ignoring damaged nails. Instead, we should keep our nail beds and cuticles healthy whilst also supporting the skin in the surrounding area. "Skin on hands is thin and fragile. With repeated exposure to the environment and a lack of attention to hand care, this can upset the skin barrier function on hands," she tells us.
What products can help repair stressed-out nails?
Dr. Engelman suggests Isdin's SI Nail Serum for strengthening nails, eliminating breakage, and aiding nail growth. The serum contains silanediol salicylate, which has skin regeneration and soothing properties.
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Additionally, Correa recommends an easy DIY treatment: mix extra virgin olive oil with chopped garlic to make a paste, then use once a week. "Garlic contains selenium, which promotes nail growth and strength, as well as vitamin E for moisture," she explains. Plus, she says that the smell and taste of garlic can also help turn you off from biting your nails.