Q: I have noticed some of my older clients have white marks close to the free edges of their nails. None of these clients has separation of the nail from the nail bed. Am I doing something to cause these marks?

Leukonychia (white marks on the nails) is almost always due to trauma or injury. Pushing back the cuticles too hard, for example, will result in white marks appearing on the nail plate surface about two months after it is done. This is due to nail matrix (growth center) damage, but fortunately the damage is only temporary because after the matrix heals, a normal nail plate is produced and the nail with white marks grows out.

There are also instances where nail glue used in conjunction with wraps or tips may result in white marks as well. Here, simply discontinuing the application will gradually provide a cure as the new nail grows in and replaces the old.

Q: I have ridges and splitting on the ends of my nails. It’s as if my nails are shredding along the edges. Is something lacking in my system?

A: It sounds like brittle nail syndrome, which occurs when the nail plate is unable to maintain moisture and becomes dehydrated. It occurs most frequently in individuals who already have a tendency for dry skin. This is because the syndrome is like having “dry skin of the nails.” There are many causes for this syndrome. In an otherwise healthy individual this can be treated by applying moisturizers to the nails on a regular basis and by taking oral biotin supplements, a minor B vitamin, daily. In addition, people with this disorder should avoid nail products containing formaldehyde or acetone.

Occasionally, the syndrome can be caused by medical problems. These include an underactive thyroid, low iron or zinc levels in the blood, or, if a sudden onset of this condition occurs in an elderly person, it might indicate a systemic disorder. All of these cases require a doctor’s evaluation.

Excess use of soap and water with strong chemicals or detergents can also be the cause of brittleness. If so, minimize exposure by wearing gloves and by not immersing hands for long periods.

If there are only ridges in the nails going from the cuticle outward, then this may simply be due to the aging process. There is no way to prevent ridges associated with aging, but lightly buffing the nails no more than once every 10 days should eliminate them.

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