Ways to Keep Hands and Feet Healthy

You probably have a daily regimen for keeping your face clean and moisturized. But what about your hard-working hands and feet?“Hands are the most frequently used body part,” says Oscar Hevia, MD, of Hevia Cosmetic Dermatology in Miami. “They can become dry and ashy really fast.” And feet take a beating from bearing your body weight all day.During winter months, hands and feet are both more likely to look dull, red or cracked. But don’t just throw on mittens and boots to hide them until spring. Caring for them now can have long-lasting health benefits.Here’s how to put your best foot – and hand – forward.1. Scan nails for dark spots.Small white spots on your nails (leukonychia) are usually nothing to worry about. They often arise from an injury to the base of the nail, such as picking at or biting it.

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But if the spot or band is black, brown or purple, don’t assume it’s a bruise. It could mean melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer. How do you tell the difference?Melanomas are usually different shades of brown or black, although any color is possible, and the discoloration extends to the cuticle. Bruises are often blue with a reddish hue and involve the nail only, says Mona Gohara, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine.Check nails regularly for dark spots. If you always wear dark polish, inspect fingers and toes for marks between manicures. To be safe, always get a discolored nail checked by a dermatologist.“Because people aren’t aware you can get skin cancer in this area, melanomas of the nails are often detected at an advanced stage,” Dr. Gohara says.

2. Keep nails growing strong.Nails are dead, so how do they grow? New cells develop deep under cuticles and push out older, dead cells. That forms those flat, hard surfaces we love to pamper and polish.Their growth rate varies by person, says Paul Kechijian, MD, a nail specialist in Great Neck, New York. But it can change based on hormones (pregnant women’s nails grow like crazy), temperature (they’ll grow faster in summer than winter) and aging (which slows it down).If you’re always waiting for yours to grow out, try the B-complex vitamin biotin. This supplement – found at health-food stores – has been shown to help with nail growth, says Elizabeth Tanzi, MD, co-director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery in Washington, D.C.3. Make the most of a mani-pedi.All the polish in the world can’t make ridged, scraggly tips look pretty.For that, you’ll need nail products.

If your nails have developed vertical ridges (more common as we age), you can make them less noticeable with a ridge filler, available at drugstores, beauty supply shops and mass retailers.Buffing also smoothes the surface. Rub gently so you don’t thin the nail too much, which increases weakness.A non-acetone nail-polish remover will keep nails from drying out, and filing nails in one direction, rather than sawing back and forth, prevents splitting. The most important tip for healthy nails: Don’t share files and other nail tools, since germs and fungus can travel on them, causing serious infections. If you get your nails done at the salon, bring your own file, orange stick, clipper and cuticle nipper. 4. Don’t overlook cuticles.Cuticles may seem insignificant when they’re healthy, but small tears, usually from hangnails or dryness, leave the area vulnerable to infections that may cause painful swelling.Hydrating that delicate area with a cuticle cream or hand moisturizer helps create a protective barrier against bacteria, fungus and yeast.

A water-based moisturizer works best for day, since it will sink in quickly and not leave hands greasy. At night, opt for an oil-based version, Dr. Hevia suggests. Look for hydrating ingredients such as dimethicone, petrolatum and glycerin. To help the moisturizer penetrate – and keep it off your sheets – apply a thick layer on feet and hands right before getting into bed. Then, slip on cotton socks and gloves, which let skin breathe.If you don’t have cotton gloves, slip socks on hands too.6. Wear the right shoe size.Cramming feet into too-small or pointy shoes isn’t only uncomfortable, it can make your toenail grow into the surrounding skin. That can lead to the dreaded ingrown nail, which causes pain, swelling and infection. It’s an inflammatory reaction that occurs because your skin sees the nail as a foreign body.Too-long toenails can also cause problems. If they constantly hit the front of the shoe, you can have bruising under the nail, Dr. Tanzi explains.

These bruises, in turn, cause a break in the seal between the nail and toe underneath, allowing bacteria and fungus to get in and cause infections. Avoid both types of pain by keeping toenails neatly trimmed straight across.7. Don’t go barefoot in public.Keep your shoes on while at public places (swimming pools, locker rooms, shoe stores, etc.) to avoid nail fungal infections.These account for about half of all nail disorders, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.“These warm, damp environments are a breeding ground for fungi and viruses,” explains Phoebe Rich, MD, director of the Nail Disorder Clinic at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. Fungus travels from floors to feet, where it gets inside through small cuts or separations between the nail and nail bed.

If you have a nail fungal infection, it can spread from one nail to another, and the skin. If left untreated, an infection can cause permanent nail damage or lead to serious infections in other parts of your body, according to the Mayo Clinic.Warning signs to watch for: A nail that’s thickening, yellowing, crumbling or lifting from its bed (as if it’s about to fall off). If you suspect you have an infection, see a dermatologist. Over-the-counter remedies aren’t as effective as prescription medication.To lessen the risk of fungal infections, wash and dry feet thoroughly after showering, and wear shoes when you can – including flip-flops in gym showers. If your feet sweat a lot, change socks often.For more expert information, visit our Skin Health Center.

What Do Your Nails Say About You?If your eyes are the windows to your soul, your nails are the windows to your health. Often, your nails can tell your doctor about a specific medical condition. The stores are full of nail-care products that help maintain healthy nails.

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