Like pulling together the right wardrobe, having that perfect hairdo and enjoying terrific glowing skin, getting your nails done is an integral part of making yourself look your best for that upcoming wedding or Bar Mitzvah.

"Often, because of such upcoming events, I hear women tell me they wanted to look so glamorous, they even had acrylic nails put on before the big event. And then all heck broke loose," says Michael Horn, M.D., chief of the division of dermatology at Abington Memorial Hospital. "Before long, the nails got inflamed and infections set in."

Of course, that doesn't happen all that often. Still, even though the majority of nail-care establishments are okay — or else the industry couldn't survive — Horn says there are still things to look out for, just in case.

To save yourself any problems and still look your best, Horn advises taking care whether working on your own nails or choosing a salon before beginning any work. Great attention should be taken in managing the cuticles, use nail hardeners sparingly and avoid acetone-based polish removers.

"Whether you have your nails done professionally or do them yourself, one of the main recommendations is to leave your cuticles alone," says Horn, adding that the cuticle is nature's barrier to fungus and bacteria.

"And once you break that barrier, protection is lost, and the cuticle not only tends to look worse, but may also hand you a nasty infection and even cause permanent damage. In addition to cutting them, pushing them back may cause undue problems."

Additionally, moisturizing the cuticle may help the cuticle and protect nails from breaking due to lack of moisture. And, if you decide to use artificial nails, the actual manipulation that's needed to put them on may cause problems. Dermatologists also agree that Acetone-based polish removers should be avoided if you have brittle nails.

There are also allergic reactions to products that can spread to other parts of the body, especially if you rub your eyes with your fingers after using those products, thereby unintentionally transferring some of the chemicals.

"Curiously," Horn adds, "when we see inflamed eyelids, it may be reactions to coloring or preservatives used in some harsh chemicals. Just take a look at the back of a nail-polish bottle and see for yourself the amazing amount of chemicals used."

When opting to have the work done professionally, one way to reduce potential problems that sometimes occur is to bring your own tools with you. If not, then make sure the salon technicians are licensed to do the right job, as well as making sure they only use quality nail products.

"Obviously, you want the place to be clean, and you wouldn't go into a place that looks dirty. But some subtle details should provide hints as to whether you made the right choice, such as making sure all tables are clean, and any cloths that are used are always disinfected between clients," explains Horn.

Infections can happen during toenail care as well and can be prevented if some prudent care is taken, adds Carl Ginsberg, DPM, a podiatrist in private practice in Wyncote. "One of the most common problems that can develop in your toes is fungus, especially among the elderly because their immune system is more compromised than in younger people. Also, their circulation isn't as good, so we may find more fungal infections."

So, just as with your fingernails, proper care and safety precautions should be uppermost in people's minds. For example, Ginsberg continues, regardless of age, many women have developed skin infections after getting pedicures in salons.

"Bacteria can be absorbed through tiny cuts or abrasion on your skin, leading to sores and other problems. And if the tubs are not thoroughly cleaned between clients, it's like sitting in the same bath water as everyone else before you."

To prevent problems with toenails, Ginsberg says, you should wear comfortable shoes, clean socks and avoid walking around unprotected in an unclean environment. And always remember that nail tools used by different people may transmit infections like nail fungi, staph bacteria and viruses. 



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