Cleaning under nails: Fingernail and toenail hygiene

Appropriate hand and foot hygiene involves cleaning and trimming nails. Dirt and pathogens can accumulate under nails and spread infections. While it can be difficult to clean these areas, following guidelines and maintaining good nail hygiene can help individuals reduce the risk of potential complications.

Fingernails and toenails are the structures at the end of appendages, such as fingers and toes. They mostly consist of a substance known as keratin and play a role in touch, and allow people to scratch.

Healthy nails typically include features such as uniform size and shape as well as a smooth and shiny appearance. There are many conditions that can affect the nails, and people may be able to prevent some conditions by keeping their nails clean and dry.

As people often use their nails for a number of tasks, it is not uncommon to discover dirt, bacteria, fungi, and dead skin cells under the nail. Practicing good nail care and hygiene can help to prevent the buildup of unwanted material and the transmission of diseases. People can use soap, water, and a soft nailbrush to effectively clean under their nails.

In this article, we suggest how people can clean their fingernails and toenails and highlight the importance of hand and foot hygiene.

It can be easy to improperly or infrequently clean under nails, which can allow dirt to accumulate over time. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that people clean their nails every time they wash their hands.

Typically, this will involve scrubbing the underside of the nails with soap, water, and a nail brush. Some people may find it easier to clean their nails during or after a shower or bath.

Similarly, for caregivers cleaning children’s fingernails, it is advisable to use a combination of soap, water, and a soft nailbrush or toothbrush to keep the underside of the nail clean.

Additionally, a person should also thoroughly clean any nail grooming tools before use.

It may be difficult for some individuals to follow this advice to the letter. However, it is important that people attempt to properly and frequently clean their fingernails as much as possible.

Click here to learn more about proper hand washing.

As a 2017 study explains, it is very easy for people to unintentionally spread disease-causing pathogens from their hands to their bodies via their eyes, mouth, or skin. This can happen when an individual rubs their eyes, eats with their hands or scratches their skin.

Fingernails may also contain a range of bacteria. This is especially true of longer nails, which are more likely to carry dirt and grime. However, clean nails will host fewer pathogens, which gives a clear incentive to maintain good nail hygiene.

In addition to bacteria, pathogens present under the nails can also include fungi. For example, a type of fungi known as dermatophytes is a common cause of nail infections and can result in onycholysis. Nail infections can cause nail discoloration, nail thickening, and make nails more likely to crack and break.

Furthermore, the CDC note that pinworm infections can arise from poor nail hygiene as well. This is a type of parasite that can spread via the fecal-oral route. This refers to the transfer of infective pinworm eggs from the anus to someone’s mouth, which can occur directly by hand.

As such, practicing good nail hygiene can help to prevent a variety of nail conditions.

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends the following tips to help maintain healthy nails:

  • keeping nails clean and dry
  • cutting nails straight across
  • using an emery board to remove any snags on the nail
  • not biting nails
  • not using nails to open cans or as a tool
  • cutting nails regularly
  • wearing footwear that fits properly
  • wearing flip-flops at public pools and showers
  • never pulling at hangnails

Additionally, the AAD also provides tips on how to properly trim nails. It also highlights the importance of disinfecting nail grooming tools and paying attention to any changes in the color, texture, or shape of the nail, as this could indicate an infection.

People can also take measures to reduce the risk of nail conditions. For example, people can wear appropriate footwear when visiting swimming pools or saunas, or wear gloves if they work in a wet environment to help prevent fungal infections.

Both the CDC and AAD emphasize the importance of using appropriate nail tools and regularly sanitizing them before use. This is particularly important if multiple people share tools, such as a partner, family member, or individuals in a nail salon.

Additionally, it is advisable for a person to clean and look after their nails appropriately to prevent injury — for example, using appropriate pressure when using a nailbrush, proper technique when cutting them, and leaving the cuticles alone.

The cuticles are the thin layer of skin that grows over the bottom of the nail. Cutting this area can increase the risk of a nail infection.

Just as cleaning fingernails can improve hand health, cleaning toenails can help with foot health. While there may be less potential for pathogens to travel from the toenails to other body parts, it is still important to practice proper hygiene and regularly clean them to prevent infections from occurring.

Cleaning toenails follows similar guidelines to fingernails but may be slightly more difficult due to the position of the feet. It is important to sterilize equipment and use appropriate nail trimming techniques.

People should also avoid using any sharp tools to clean under their toenails and dry their feet after cleaning to reduce the risk of infection.

Nail cleaning is an important part of maintaining proper nail care and hygiene. It is a simple and effective technique that can help reduce the risk of infections, which could affect the nails or other body parts.

It is advisable for people to regularly clean their fingernails and toenails using the appropriate technique with sterile equipment. Typically, this will involve using nail clippers, soap, water, and a soft nail brush to trim the nails and help remove material from under the nail.

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