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What’s Growing Under Your Nail Tips?

By Debra Jaliman, MDSeptember 21, 2011
From the WebMD Archives

So you want to have beautiful hands? Then I have a good tip for you: don’t use nail tips.

Fake nails, also known as nail tips, can wreak havoc on real nails. Applying nail tips for a special occasion is one thing, but most people don’t realize how easy is to get a nasty and hard-to-treat fungal infection of their nails if they use nail tips regularly. The problem is that there’s always a gap between the real nail and the acrylic nail tip, a dark, moist environment that’s ideal for fungal growth. Think about it: every time you wash your hands, water collects under the nail tip. You may think you’re drying your hands thoroughly, but there’s no way you can get to the moisture between your nail and the nail tip. Let me also note here that very long nail tips collect bacteria that are easily transferable to food.

Most nail infections are caused by a tineal fungus (the same one that’s found in athlete’s foot) or by a candida yeast. They are not usually life-threatening, obviously, but they are surprisingly difficult to eradicate completely. The nail infection can appear to heal beautifully with treatment, only to lie dormant and then reappear after a few months. The only topical treatment is the synthetic anti-fungal ciclopirox (the active ingredient in Loprox and Penlac), but it is not that effective and most of the time does not give a complete cure. Nail infections usually require oral anti-fungals; these are powerful medications which may adversely affect the liver. Depending on the regime of anti-fungals you are on, you may need a monthly blood test to check liver enzymes. If you’ve had hepatitis, treating your fungus infection may be really difficult, because you may not be able to take oral anti-fungals. Occurring less often, but just as unsightly, are staphylococcus bacterial infections, where fingertips are red and swollen and pus can be seen oozing out from under the nail tip. No staph infection should ever be taken lightly; make an immediate appointment with a dermatologist and be prepared to take antibiotics. In the worst case scenario, infections can lead to permanent scarring of the nail, a condition called dystrophic nails. Once you have dystrophic nails, there is absolutely nothing that can be done, either to repair them or to cover them up.

Nail tips have other problems, too. I have seen patients who came in with fingers the size of breakfast sausages, thanks to an allergic reaction to the adhesive used to glue the tips. By the way, having no allergic reaction the first, second or third time you use nail tips is no guarantee whatsoever that you will not react the fourth.

Considering the time and expense involved in treating nail infections, the risk of allergic reaction, and the very real risk of permanently damaging your nails, nail tips are just not worth it.

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