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September 7, 2011

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Fungus lurks behind those pretty nails

BRIGHTLY colored fingernails with curious patterns and artificial nails are extremely popular but doctors warn that implements must be sterile to avoid infection and fungus.

And women shouldn't overdo it: nails shouldn't be covered all the time. They should be left natural for a week or two at a time and allowed to "breathe." Nails that are constantly covered by artificial nails are liable to retain moisture and are susceptible to fungus.

Too much cuticle-cutting, filing, lacquering and using solvents to remove nail polish can damage nails.

Nail salons must be scrupulously hygienic and implements must be sterilized. When in doubt, look elsewhere, or take your own sterilized implements to the nail technician.

Thin and fragile nails are common for women whose nails are always polished or covered by artificial nails, according to a Dr Zhao Jingjun, chief physician of dermatological department of Tongji Hospital. Covering nails for a long time interferes with normal growth, he says.

It's common to see young women changing nail colors - there's nothing wrong but they should consider the health risks."

The biggest problem is lack of hygiene and proper sterilizing equipment in nail salons. Many just have simple desks, clippers, files, polish, solvent, cotton and towels. In some places, the implements are rubbed with alcohol wives, that's all.

"The germs or fungus from the last customer can easily be transmitted this way," says Dr Zhao, citing ringworm, leuconychia (ringworm of the nails), fungus and soft-tissue infection around the nails. These can easily spread when there is a wound or when the skin is broken by a cuticle cutter.

Most manicurists cut away the cuticle, the thicker skin at the base of the nail, to leave a clean outline, however, the cuticle plays an important role in protecting the nails and tissues.

"Without the cuticle, germs and fungus can invade more easily through the slit between the nail and flesh, and probably cause inflammation, with redness, swelling, pain and infection of some kind," says Dr Zhao.

It's recommended to take your own implements and avoid cuticle cutting altogether - just soften and push the cuticle into the nail regularly.

Some manicurists also file the natural nails thin to accommodate artificial nails, which is risky, according to Dr Li Xiuli, chief of dermatology at Shanghai No.10 People's Hospital.

Nails naturally have an enamel on their surface to protect them from acid or alkaline - similar to the enamel on teeth. Without the protective layer, the nails are exposed to caustic materials as well as germs and fungus.

People who have ringworm on their feet should definitely not have the surface of their toenails filed down.

Use only quality-brand products. Some manicure products, like polishes, removers and gel nail ingredients, may contain toxins such as benzol, formaldehyde and heavy metals like lead and mercury. Some of these can invade through the respiratory system and skin and lead to poisoning. Extensive use can cause poisoning.

Keep all nail products away from children, Dr Li advises.


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