15 common nail conditions & how to deal with them
By Callie Iley | 30 July 2023 | Expert Advice, Feature, Products & Treatments
Do you know what to do when you’re faced with a natural nail concern? Scratch shares expert advice and product recommendations for 15 common nail issues…
Addressing the issue
The natural nail is the foundation of any great nail enhancement, so knowing how to approach common issues if and when they present themselves is key.
“The condition of the natural nail can be affected by a variety of factors, such as nutritional deficiencies, exposure to harsh chemicals, ageing, medical conditions, trauma, improper nail care, fungal infections and hormonal changes,” says owner & director of PersoNAILity, Jenni Draper.
“It’s important to take your client on a nailcare journey and educate them on appropriate homecare, while addressing any underlying health issues. In doing this, you and the client together can help to maintain the health and strength of their natural nails.”
“It’s important to appropriately recognise and inform the client of a potential issue, and how it might affect the longevity of the nail service, if it’s deemed appropriate to perform one. Clients always appreciate a thorough consultation,” explains Claudia Sear, owner of Claudia Sear – Luxury Eco Nails, Maresfield. “If the client understands their nail health, realistic expectations are set and the opportunity to retail additional services and products is opened up.”
Your right to refuse
As nail techs, it’s important to recognise the issue to decide whether or not to proceed with the service and when to refer to a medical practitioner, as you can recognise medical nail conditions but cannot diagnose or treat them.
“Don’t be afraid to refuse treatment if you’re concerned about the natural nail health of the client,” advises natural nail technician, Emily Jones. “The client will trust your judgement and be thankful in the long run.
“I’ve had two separate issues with regular clients this year where I’ve refused treatment with their consent, and I think this is something that needs to be normalised in the industry. Covering up an issue with gel polish isn’t going to make the problem go away!”
Key causes of common natural nail issues:
- Medical conditions and illnesses
- Medication or medical treatment
- Poor nail care in prep or removal
- Poor aftercare
- Hormones (e.g. menopause, pregnancy)
- Exposure to water
- Exposure to chemicals
Clients with diabetes can be treated to nail services the same as any other client, but it’s important to be aware of the increased risk of infection due to the weakened immune system. Diabetes can be the cause of ridges in the nails of clients with diabetes.
Nail Knowledge warns against the use of sharp tools such as scissors and E-files due to the potential effects they can have on the client’s health. Be light with pressure and be aware of the temperature of the water during pedicures.
2. Bendy & brittle
Are your clients complaining of nails that constantly split, peel or break? Bendy and brittle nails have a range of causes, with Nail Knowledge noting dehydration, nutrient deficiencies, harsh chemicals, water, medical conditions or hormones, ageing and lifestyle habits as key factors.
Emily Jones highlights a strengthening overlay as one of her go-to solutions for bendy and brittle natural nails. “There are so many base coats and overlays suitable for bendy and brittle nails. The options allow me to tailor my treatments accordingly to clients and give the right amount of strength to those who need it.”
Onycholysis, or nail separation, is caused by the nail bed responding to irritation from an allergen or damage from the hyponychium being broken, as reported by Nail Knowledge.
A dermatologist must carry out an allergy test to determine the cause of onycholysis. The nail should be kept short with all coatings removed and be oiled regularly.
Pseudomonas, also known as ‘greenies’, often occur due to water being trapped between the natural nail and enhancement, but can also be due to poor sanitation.
According to Nail Knowledge, greenies should not be worked over to ensure the infection doesn’t spread – “recent research has shown that secondary infections can occur due to the exposure of proteins within the nail plate. Therefore, reapplication of coatings should be avoided.” Carefully remove any coatings on the nail and leave it bare until the infection has grown out.
5. Discoloured nails
Yellowing or discolouration of the natural nails can happen due to a range of external factors such as smoking, fake tan or overlays, but is more likely to occur on damaged nails. Avoid stained nails by using a protective base coat.
Delamination, or peeling nails, is an extremely common natural nail concern, which can have a range of causes from hormones, poor product removal and exposure to cleaning products.
“I often work with clients who do a lot of handwashing, cleaning and laundry, so I see many cases of delamination at first appointments,” Claudia Sear shares.
“The most common problem I see at my nail desk is delamination,” agrees OPI nail boss, Emma Brock. “Dryness or even a minor trauma on the distal edge of the nail plate can cause the bonds between the layers to break.
“If a client presented delaminated nails, keep the nails short and opt for a rounded shape. Encourage the client to moisturise hands and oil cuticles regularly and wear gloves when cleaning, as chemicals and water can weaken nails over time.”
7. Nail biting & skin picking
Trauma to the nail and its surrounding skin caused by nail biting and skin picking can be hard to address due to the repetitive nature of the habit. According to Nail Knowledge, nail biting can affect the free edge, hyponychium, nail beds, nail folds and cuticles.
Overlays, nail sculpting and nail art can be effective methods to reduce nail biting. Skin picking is generally seen in clients suffering from stress or mental health conditions, often requiring mental health support away from the nail desk alongside acrylic or gel overlays and nail sculpting.
8. Ingrown toenails
According to Nail Knowledge, onychogryphosis, or ingrown toenails, is a condition where the nail grows into the nail fold, causing inflammation and pain. It often presents due to genetics, shoes, sports, hygiene or due to certain illnesses.
Refer clients with ingrown toenails to their medical practitioner, as the condition requires treatment from a GP.
Presenting as both vertical and horizontal lines, ridges in the nails can be a sign of an existing medical condition, age, or trauma. It’s important to first identify the cause of the grooves.
According to Nail Knowledge, grooves in the nail should never be buffed away as this can thin the nail plate. Instead, opt for a ridge-filling base coat, or use coatings like gel polish to mask minor grooves.
“I’ve introduced IBX into my services and it’s a game-changer,” shares Claudia Sear. “The Repair product works like double-sided sticky tape to hold flaking layers together.
“The Strengthen product works inside the layers of the nail plate, crosslinking to itself. This adds amazing strength and prevents further layers from separating.”
Often seen alongside peeling, splitting nails are most often caused by hormones or trauma to the nail or hormones.
11. Over filed nails
Often happening gradually over time, over filed nails present as sore, red nails with white patches. If a client presents with over filed nails, keep the nails short with no enhancements, do not continue to file the nails further, perform light cuticle work only and remind the client to apply oil regularly.
“A regular client went elsewhere for enhancements as she wanted extensions for an event, a service which I don’t offer,” remembers Emily Jones.
“At her next appointment, her nails were so sore and tender due to over filing and incorrect removal, so I refused treatment for three months. She is on her third appointment since then, and her natural nails have never been as long and healthy.”
Removals gone wrong
“The most common nail concern that I see with clients is damaged nails from removing artificial nails incorrectly,” says Jenni Draper.
“This can be from gel nails being removed badly, enhancements nails being pulled off or artificial nails going too long in between appointments. They normally present with ‘rips’ along the nail plate or ridges on the nail bed too.”
12. Damaged toenails
Damaged toenails can present as bruising, or even no nail altogether, caused by trauma to the nail. Depending on the damage being presented, a range of solutions can be presented to the client.
13. Hooked nails
Hooked nails are when the natural nail bends down, creating a claw-like appearance and presenting more issues as the nail grows longer. It’s a common issue following from trauma to the finger, such as surgery.
Overlays can support the nail. The nails can be rebalanced and reconstructed with products such as L&P acrylic, gel and acrygel to add better structure and shape with enhancements.
14. Nails affected by cancer treatment
Chemotherapy can cause many changes to the nails. Regular manicures can help delay undesirable effects and manage nail conditions that appear throughout treatment alongside the advice of medical professionals.
According to a spokesperson at Mavala, the 10 most common nail troubles during cancer therapies includes:
- Breaking and splitting nails
- Thickened nails
- Changes in pigmentation (e.g. hyperpigmentation, staining)
- Bacterial infections
- Fungal infections
- Subungual haemorrhages
- Inflammation or swelling
Ensure to check with the client’s team of medical professionals before proceeding with any treatments.
The Jennifer Young postgraduate diploma in hand, nail and foot treatment is a certified qualification designed to give spa therapists, beauty practitioners and healthcare workers the understanding, knowledge and confidence to provide treatments to clients going through the different stages of cancer. Find out more here.
15. Dryness & flakiness
“I’ve seen a lot of dry nails in the salon,” shares Gelish master educator, Rhiannon Gilfillan. “A big factor has been the ongoing ritual of sanitising hands, due to the high alcohol content which is a dehydrator for the nails.”
“I use the Morgan Taylor Bare Luxury range to treat dry nails, with the scrub to help detox and cleanse the hands and nails followed by the massage butter with nourishing oils and plant extracts.”
“I follow this with Foundation Flex in shade Light Nude. With vitamin A and biotin, this product will nourish as well as flex with the nail to ensure longer-lasting protection against continuous washing.”