Friday, January 28, 2011

The problem at hand

I have a serious subject to discuss with you, my friends. Fingernails. Not fingernails as fashion accessory. Fingernails as tools and aggravation.


For years I have had problem fingernails. They split in a variety of ways. Layers would peel off, sort of like laminate separating. Then little horizontal splits would start at the corners so that as the fingernail grew out, there would be a little snaggy place that would catch and further split the nail. I tried a lot of things. I tried super glue (really) with limited success. I tried mixing unflavored gelatin in juice and drinking it—a touted treatment for creating harder nails. That doesn't work. I tried all kinds of products made to apply to one's nails to harden and strengthen them and nothing helped. This was not a vanity issue. It was painful and aggravating.

Then about 10 years ago something happened that took my nail problems to a new level. We were in a car accident. I was driving and we were hit by another car. The air bags deployed and slammed into my hands and arms. I was bruised and sore and both of my thumbnails were split vertically down the center. Ouch. The really distressing part was that as the nails grew out they just continued to split vertically. I bought products that covered the split nails with fibrous paper and glue. I covered that with nail polish. I had been using nail polish for years believing that it made my nails stronger. Finally I started really researching split nail problems online.There are a gazillion theories and remedies, but most of the medical sites I found attributed the problems to a combination of two things—dryness and fingernail polish remover. I quit using polish and therefore the remover, cut my nails very short and started using hand creams and lotions more regularly. They were better, but still dry and brittle. I decided I needed a more aggressive moisturizer and tried a lot of things, including olive oil and special nail creams. I finally remembered a little tin of Bag Balm that I had purchased in a quilt shop, oddly enough, advertised for dry skin even though the product is intended for moisturizing cows' udders. It was the only thing that really seemed to help. I could tell that they were less dry and brittle immediately and over several months the vertical splits finally stopped and when the nails finally grew beyond the splits, they were gone and have never come back.

I apply it liberally to each nail before I go to bed at night. It is very greasy and gooey and it doesn't smell very nice either. You might suppose that it would be messy and get on my clothes and bedding, but it seems to absorb very quickly. If I keep to this ritual my nails stay strong and free from splitting and peeling. This week I have noticed that my nails are brittle and breaking and a little shreddy as I file them, but not split. I need to be more diligent in this cold, dry weather.

I am happy to have worked this out, but I still wonder if there is something else that would work as well. I have friends with similar nail woes who have given up and have acrylic nails. Ugh. Yuck. That is not for me, but if you know of other effective ways of maintaining strong, healthy fingernails I'd love to hear it.

Now I have shared with you my number one beauty secret—stinky, greasy cow unguent. Pretty glamorous, eh?

33 comments:

  1. I also suffer with thin, weak nails, which are far worse in the winter as they become very brittle too. Thank you for that very interesting information - I will check out where I can get some of this stuff! Ros

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  2. You may have solved a lifelong problem for me. I have to get some of this immediately. My nails have been thin and prone to peeling since I can remember. My latest idea is plain shea butter but it doesn't absorb well so I don't use it consistently.
    quiltfever.wordpress.com

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  3. I've always had this problem, and you have worked out the same solutions I have. I'd just add the importance of always wearing gloves even for a few minutes in the cold. I've never tried Bag Balm, but have used various cuticle creams, one by Revlon, and now one by Sally Hansen called Healthy Cuticles. Perhaps less nasty than Bag Balm Bag Balm has always been the miracle cure for anything though, so why mess with success.

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  4. I'm going to give this a try. My nails do exactly the same thing and I've tried the same things from the gelatin to all the various commercial products to get my nails to grow well.

    Teri

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  5. I will definitely be giving this product a try as I have problem nails as well.

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  6. I have a problem with fingers and feet crackling from dry skin. Very painful. Also the nails to a lesser extent than you describe.

    My favorite is "No Crack Cream" which I get from Restoration Hardware. It comes in a variety of yummy scents--meyer lemon, grapefruit/ginger, etc. All pretty mild and nice. It is a heavy cream but not greasy. Does absorb well and quickly. It really has changed my life. Available in small jars or a huge one for $16 that lasts me a couple of years or more.

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  7. My goodness. I thought "where did she get a picture of my hand!?". I've had similar problems and only recently found the solution. STOP wearing nail polish! It's the lanolin that does the strengthening and healing. Massaging it in every night base to tip until the nail is warm. Ask anyone who handles raw wool regularly. and of course, wearing gloves for any wet art or cleaning venture.

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  8. wow, you have just described my nails, and toenails too. Only when i was pregnant, they were so beautiful and strong, but that's not a long-term solution haha. I will hunt down this bag balm you told us about - thank you!

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  9. you could try a combo of the cream and prenatal vitamins. Yes, even if you aren't preggers.

    My husband's nails split in winter and we are trying this: he is wearing latex gloves when counting out the cash drawers at work (nasty) and applying Burt's Bee's outdoor salve at night with cotton gloves over his hands. The latex glove part seems to be having the most effect.

    I have one bad toe nail and one fingernail that splits no matter what I do. I trim my nails short and mostly ignore them. I had gel nails for over 10 years and finally had them removed when my finger nails actually fell off. Not the happiest time in my life.

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  10. I have had pretty good success with plain old petroleum jelly. Vaseline or store brand, doesn't seem to matter. Rub it into my nails before I go to bed, and during the day if I think about it or they seem especially dry. I haven't tried bag balm, but I think I will. My local Costco pharmacy sells it, as do most tack & feed stores if you live near one.

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  11. My problem is similar. My nails are thin and flexible but they split continuously. The one product I have used that worked well was Barielle which is a product that was used on horses hooves and then marketed to the finger nail audience. It was expensive but last a long time. I have not been able to get it for sometime and so I think I will have to try bag balm. My mother and dad both used it for various things.

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  12. Terry living in the high desert and being a nurse my nails have to be protected. I have used Bag balm but like the "bee" stuff because it comes in a cuter container! lol

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  13. My fingernails split in exactly the same way - vertically. One cannot trim or file this problem away, and it is totally exasperating as I seem to catch on everything. I talked with my dermatologist about it and she suggested taking a vitamin called biotin, which I did for a year, with no improvement. I don't wear polish, and never have much, but I do suffer from excema, which I wonder if it is related. I am suffering more this winter, again, and will get some bag balm asap! Thanks for bringing this up, Terry!

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  14. I wonder if aquaphor (spelling?) would work? It's kind of a creamy petroleum jelly. I'm going to start trying this if I can remember to do it.

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  15. I've had a vertical split in one nail for at least 5 years. Thanks to you and all your readers for some ideas. I think it helps to get enough calcium, which is not a bad idea anyway.

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  16. I have the same nail problem and I wear gloves on the farm all the time. I found what has worked for me is 100% pure lanolin. It is similar to bag balm in odor and such- but it works! In a pinch I have used leather conditioner from my tack room, it worked well. I use the leather conditioner in/on my gloves and my hands too. But once a day I put on the lanolin and that stopped the splits.

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  17. Anonymous8:39 AM

    The ends of my fingers split -- painfully. My daughter-in-law gave me bag balm to use last month and for the first time in years my fingers are whole. I had tried everything previously.

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  18. I used to have a problem with my nails, but since I have been taking vitamin D they are in much better shape.

    Found this when I googled:
    Calcium is required for healthy and strong nails. Low intake of calcium or Vitamin D will lead to brittle and dry nails.

    Deficiency of Vitamin D tends to decrease the absorption of calcium in the body and eventually affects nail health.

    To fight the problem of weak and splitting nails, try to incorporate lots of fruits and raw vegetables in your diet. Consume enriched food sources like broccoli, fish, onions, milk, dairy products and whole grains. Good water intake can also help improve nail disorders.

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  19. I have walked the same trail with my nails. In addition to bag balm I find that goatmilk lotion helps (www.henscratchquilting.com). And, though nobody believes me, daily brushing my nails all over with a medium stiff nail brush - very hard to find - seems to make my nails hard.

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  20. I didn’t notice your nails – my eye was caught by your ring. I have a more complicated version of a puzzle ring. A friend of mine brought it to me from Guatemala. She said it was a Guatemalan wedding ring. She said it was to prevent straying in marriages because if the bride took it off she would be unable to put it back together.

    I found a website -- http://www.crystalrealm.com/st_main.html?p_catid=20 – with lots of different puzzle rings.

    I can’t help you with your nail problem; my nails are as hard as nails. I don’t think it has much to do with diet or vitamins. I was born with strong nails.

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  21. Hello, ladies - I don't want to offend anyone, but I never had a problem with my nails until I reached an older age. I am now 77 and I have given up on them. They seem to grow twice as fast, as do my toenails.(Is there anything less romantic to talk about than toenails?) But after giving up on my nails, the only thing that helps is to keep them cut very, very short. There are still snags that catch on things, but that is a reminder to cut them shorter again. I feel that fingers - not the nails - are the attractive part of a woman's hands. I watch hands of the actresses on tv, and those with long beautiful fingers look the prettiest.

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  22. Anonymous4:52 PM

    for 10 years I have taken a ZINC pill each night before bed. My nails have grown very strong and do not ever chip or peal. I believe it to be magical and super simple. Also hand cream for the dry weather but ZINC is the best.

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  23. Oh, I have had this weak nail problem for years and years too. I have always had thin, weak nails (despite taking calcium and Vitamin D and drinking a lot of milk). I've always thought it got worse the more I handled fabric and paper in my art work, as if they dry things out even more. That's what led me to acrylic nails. I know, it's weird and I resisted for a long time... but they have changed my life. I think there are other nail things (gel treatments, silk wraps etc) that can be applied that are perhaps more natural. But the best thing about these nails is that I no longer have those painful places on my fingers from nails breaking or splitting or tearing too far down. So the acylic layer has worked great for me, even though I know it's weird.

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  24. I don't get split nails but I do sometimes suffer from weak, peeling nails. Like you, I've tried many products but I swear by a combination of Mavala Nail Hardener and Eulactol cuticle and nail cream. Whenever my nails are getting raggy, this combo always works for me.

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  25. For all of my 65 years , I have had splitty nails. I have been taking a liquid calcium and magnesium from Vitamin World--LO AND BEHOLD I have beautiful nails.
    It is worth a try. Janet, Friday Harbor Wa

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  26. Bag balm can be found in almost any store in the baby department where they sell creams for diaper rash! I used it on my daughter when she was a baby and it works like a charm. Never did think to use it on my hands though. I'm going to mention this to my mother who often deals with cracking and painful hands!

    So is it safe to say your hands will be soft was a baby's bum? :-)

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  27. I LOVE Bag Balm. I use it on my psoriasis. It's not a cure, but it helps minimize the plaques. We've always had Bag Balm in the house. My grandma used it for everything -- it was the base ingredient for all of her amazing healing poutices. I've found it at quilt stores, but I get the best price on it at ag co-ops.

    Denise
    http://needlework.craftgossip.com

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  28. Anonymous5:08 PM

    Aquaphor is a wonderful salve similar to Bag Balm. It also doesn't have the smell. When my husband was undergoing radiation for throat cancer, it did wonderful things for his skin and I tried it for my hands and nails and loved it. It's put out by the same people who make Eucerin.

    Jean S.

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  29. My fingernails and cuticles are a real mess without Bag Balm or its equivalent. It's UDDERly amazing at healing problem hands.

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  30. Make room for one more quilter in the group! Thin, peeling, splitting and deeply ridged nails have been my "norm" for as long as I can remember. Bag Balm is a life-saver, and I think that the vigorous massage when applying it does as much good. Rub the base of the nail until it 'pinks up' (as a nurse once said) and you have increased the circulation to the nail.
    And yes, handling of paper really does dry out your hands and nails.

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  31. I use Bag Balm on my feet to clear up dry heels, but what I like best for my fingernails is Burt's Bees cuticle and nail cream, which has a luscious lemon scent. I rub it in every night and it smells so nice.

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  32. Anonymous6:09 AM

    My friend has the same problem with her nails, and she started taking vitamin D (Dr Oz recommended dose) and she said her nails are nicer than they have ever been.

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  33. I will recommend Biotin and vitamin D
    i am a hairdresser with my hands in water all day and this works wonders for me.

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