Askanesthetician's Blog

An esthetician explores skincare issues and concerns

Ingredient Spotlight: Witch Hazel October 28, 2012

Filed under: Ingredients — askanesthetician @ 7:00 am
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Allure places it in its ingredient hall of fame, Paula Begoun says to avoid using products that contain it.  So what who should you believe?  What does witch hazel do for your skin?

Let’s begin with some facts about witch hazel:  it’s a very commonly used cosmetic ingredient that comes from the bark and leaves of the hamamelis virginiana plant.  I learned the following from the book The New Ideal in Skin Health (pages 318-319):

Topically used to treat cutaneous inflammation, swelling, itching, injury, hemorrhoids, insect bites and stings, minor burns and irritations.  Active elements include bitters, essential oils, gallic acid, and tannins.

Types of Products:  Skin fresheners, astringents, local anesthetic, vein cosmeceuticals

Functions:  Anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, astringent, elastin synthesis stimulant

Adverse Effects:  The alcohol content contained in witch hazel can be a skin irritant

Clinical Studies:

a.  One clinical study shows Witch Hazel to be less effective in reducing UV-induced erythema than 1% hydrocortisone.

b.  It was shown to reduce inflammation and pruritis in 36 atopic dermatitis patients.

Why does Allure love witch hazel so much?  In the Daily Beauty blog post entitled Ingredient Hall of Fame: Witch Hazel they explain

For centuries, witch hazel has been known for its soothing and cleansing properties, but right now, one of our Web editors is going completely nuts over the stuff. While searching for an alternative to her over-drying cleanser, she tried a witch hazel-infused one, and it did the trick, degreasing her skin, without drying or stripping it.

“Witch hazel is a natural astringent,” says Kenneth Beer, a cosmetic dermatologist in West Palm Beach. “It removes surface debris and oil, and has a long history of safety and efficacy.” Hmm. No wonder why it’s in tons of popular face cleansers, treatments, and atomizers.  …

Bottom line: Witch hazel is the Madonna of skincare ingredients—it takes many forms and has been around forever.

But before you rush out to buy some witch hazel keep a few things in mind.  My Consumer’s Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients has the following to say about witch hazel (I have the 6th edition of the book, page 546):

One of the most widely used cosmetic ingredients, it is a skin freshener, local anesthetic, and astringent made from the leaves and/or twigs of Hammamelis virginiana.  Collected in the autumn.  Witch hazel has an ethanol content of 70 to 80 percent and a tannin content of 2 to 9 percent.  Witch hazel water, which is what you buy at the store, contains 15 percent ethanol.

[So then the question really becomes – what does ethanol do to your skin?  Well that readers is a whole other debate that I really can’t get into here in this post (or would want to).  Cutting to the chase – ethanol is an alcohol and there are varying opinions about how alcohols (we aren’t talking about alcohol that you drink, by the way) impact the skin.  I would suggest reading the following blog posts from Future Derm for more information about ethanol and about alcohol in skincare products:  Why Alcohol in Skin Care is Safe, Despite What Paula Begoun Says and Is Ethanol in Skin Care Products Safe?)]

Just how is witch hazel transformed into an ingredient that can be used in cosmetic products.  The Beauty Brains explain in their post How Does Witch Hazel Work?:

In its natural form witch hazel is a shrub that can grow to be 10 feet tall, or more. It has oval leaves and slender petals. In autumn,  the plant is harvested by cutting the branches to the ground and chipping the wood and leaves into little bite size pieces. This mulch is then transferred to large stainless-steel vats where it is steam distilled for thirty-six hours. After “stewing” the extracted mixture is condensed and filtered and ethanol is added as a preservative. (Depending on the exact processing, the witch hazel may contain more or less tannins. The mixture of plant parts also controls the tannin content – bark contains 31 times more tannin than the leaves.) The resulting liquid is bottled and sold to drug stores as “witch hazel.”

Paula Begoun’s objections to products containing witch hazel rests on the fact that you don’t know what you are getting in your product and because of possible skin irritation.  She explains:

Commonly used plant extract that can have potent antioxidant properties (Sources: Phytotherapy Research, June 2002, pages 364–367; and Journal of Dermatological Science, July 1995, pages 25–34) and some anti-irritant properties (Source: Skin Pharmacology and Applied Skin Physiology, March-April 2002, pages 125–132). However, witch hazel’s high tannin content (and tannin is a potent antioxidant), can also be irritating when used repeatedly on skin because it constricts blood flow. The bark of the witch hazel plant has higher tannin content than the leaves. Steam distillation for producing witch hazel water removes the tannins, but the plant’s astringent qualities are what most believe give it benefit. Alcohol is added during the distillation process, the amount typically being 14–15%. Witch hazel water is distilled from all parts of the plant, so in that sense you never know what you’re getting, though the alcohol content remains (Source: http://www.naturaldatabase.com; http://www.drugs.com). Depending on the form of witch hazel, you’re either exposing skin to an irritating amount of alcohol (which causes free radical damage and collagen breakdown), tannins, or both. Moreover, witch hazel contains the fragrance chemical eugenol, which is another source of irritation.

Personally I remember drying my face out with the use of a witch hazel astringent when I was a teenager with acne.  Now I know that the added ingredients in the product caused my skin to feel dry and tight not the witch hazel itself.  As a stand alone ingredient witch hazel has many skincare benefits.  When buying a product containing witch hazel look to see what the witch hazel is mixed with to make sure that you are getting the real benefits of this ingredient and not suffering side effects from the other ingredients in the product.

Further Reading:

Besides for the articles mentioned above I also suggest reading:  Spotlight On:  Witch HazelFuture Derm

 

 

Image from http://theabsoluteglamour.com

 

Ingredient Spotlight: Meadowfoam February 13, 2012

Recently I kept noticing the ingredient meadowfoam popping up in different skincare and beauty products such as GloTherapeutics The Cherry Balm and as a key ingredient in the Epionce skincare line.  When I see or hear about the same ingredient or product in a short period of time I figure it should be worth investigating.

What Is Meadowfoam?

 

Meadowfoam is a plant in the Limnanthacae floral family that grows in the moist coastal areas of northern California and British Columbia.  It was developed as an agricultural crop in the 1950s.  The seeds and seed oil of meadowfoam are used in beauty products such as shampoos, soaps, lipsticks, lip balms, suntan lotions, make-up, creams, hand lotions, and other lubricants.  The seeds are 20 to 30% oil and rich in fatty acids.  Meadowfoam oil is also one of the most stable vegetable oils since it is primarily composed of long chains of fatty acids. 

 

How Meadowfoam Helps The Skin

 

Meadowfoam is both an emollient and a conditioning agent in skincare and beauty products.  For example in shampoos meadowfoam can add shine and moisture to hair.  When added to lipsticks and lip balms it moisturizes.  Additionally, meadowfoam is anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant.  Lastly, meadowfoam can help slow down the aging process and bring back skin elasticity.

 

Bottom Line:  Meadowfoam is a great ingredient to seek out in order to both moisturize and protect your skin, hair, and lips.

 

Sources:

  

 

Pore Strips – Ok to Use? November 3, 2011

Filed under: Acne,Skincare products — askanesthetician @ 5:49 am
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Pore strips are irresistible if you have blackheads on your nose.  Simply apply to your nose, press, and remove.  Viola!  Your blackheads are gone.  But is this really the best solution for removing blackheads?

According to FutureDerm pore strips are among 4 common beauty products to stop using Now:

The pore strip was my original skin sin: I applied it to my face, thinking I would have clear pores. One box of pore strips later, and I have been succumbed to a lifetime of needing to clean out my pores.

The reason?  Pore strips contain a hairspray-like substance on one side. It sticks to the material within your pores, but when you rip the strip off, it stretches the pore. Over time, this leads to enlarged pores, in which material collects, leaving you with a nose filled with blackheads

Paula Begoun has even harsher words for pore strips (pages 256-257 in The Beauty Bible, 2nd edition):

 Pore strips in all their varying incarnations are meant to remove blackheads.  You place a piece of cloth with a sticky substance on it over your face, as you might do with a Band-Aid, wait a bit for it to dry, and then rip it off.  Along with some amount of skin, blackheads are supposed to stick to it and come right out of your nose.  There is nothing miraculous about these products, nor do they work all that well.  The main ingredient on these strips is a hairspray-type ingredient.  If the instructions are followed closely you can see some benefit in removing the very surface of a blackhead.  In fact, you may at first be very impressed with what comes off your nose.

Unfortunately, that leaves the majority of the problem deep in the pores.  What has me most concerned about pore strips is they are accompanied by a strong warning not to use them over any area other than the intended area (nose, chin, or forehead) and not to use them over inflamed, swollen, sunburned, or excessively dry skin.  It also states that if the strip is too painful to remove, you should wet it and then carefully remove it.  What a warning!

On the flip side listen to what Dr. Jessica Wu has to say about pore strips in her book Feed Your Face (page 71):

 Go Ahead, Try It

Biore Deep Cleansing Pore Strips, the popular “blackhead removers” that look a bit like nose bandages, do work.  When you pull off the strip, you’re removing the top layers of dead skin cells as well as oxidized (“black”) oil.  They won’t prevent blackheads because they have nothing to do with your skin’s oil production, but they can temporarily make your pores look smaller.

So whose advice should you follow?  Personally I would recommend staying clear of pore strips.  They are a temporary fix at best so it is better to invest in a salicylic acid product or a retinoid for a long-term solution.  For more tips on how to get rid of blackheads see my post (aptly titled) How to Get Rid of Blackheads.

Further Reading:

 

 

Mineral Make-up: The Best Make-up Out There? August 8, 2011

Is mineral make-up the best make-up out there or is mineral make-up just a lot of hype?  In my opinion, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

The Case Against Mineral Make-up

In the August, 2011 issue of Allure five cosmetic chemists were interviewed for their opinions on which beauty products they admire, which products they think are overrated, beauty dilemmas they would like to solve, and what they think will be the next big beauty breakthrough.  Ni’Kita Wilson, vice president of research and innovation at Englewood Lab, listed mineral make-up as the beauty product she thought was the most overrated.  According to Wilson:

It seems strange to me to label colored cosmetics as ‘mineral’ when really they all contain minerals.  It makes it seem as if the product is made entirely of minerals, when many actually have the same mineral content as traditional makeup.

Paula Begoun has the following to say against mineral make-up:

When all is said and done, after you’ve cut through the hype, misleading information, and lies, mineral makeup is truly nothing more then powder (though now most companies are calling every product they make “mineral” regardless of what it is). It is not revolutionary, safe, or unique in any way. By any name, technically speaking, mineral makeup is simply a type of powder foundation. If you apply a light layer it serves as a finishing powder. Apply a little more and it works more like a layer of foundation providing light to medium (and, depending on the product, nearly full) coverage. In essence, mineral makeup is merely loose or pressed powder created from a blend of “powdery” substances. The hype behind it being different or special for skin is just that: hype.

Another thing to watch out for is the claim or misunderstanding that mineral make-up is “natural” and thus better for your skin.  Be sure to check out the make-up’s ingredients before falling for that claim.  As Paula Begoun explains:

Ironically the original lines to launch “mineral” makeup were about as natural as polyester. Companies like Youngblood, Bare Escentuals,and Jane Iredale used bismuth oxychloride as the main “mineral” ingredient, yet bismuth oxychloride is not found in nature! Bismuth oxychloride is manufactured by combining bismuth, a by-product of lead and copper metal refining (dregs of smelting if you will) mixed with chloride (a compound from chlorine), and water. Its use in cosmetics is due to its distinct shimmery, pearlescent appearance and its fine white powder texture that adheres well to skin. That doesn’t make it bad for skin, it just makes the marketing claims utterly false and ludicrous.

On the downside, bismuth oxychloride is heavier than talc and can look cakey on skin. For some people, the bismuth and chloride combination can be irritating. All the claims revolving around how mineral makeups are better for skin or are somehow equivalent to skin care is nothing more than clever marketing.

Ironically, mineral make-up got its start as a natural alternative to conventional cosmetics.  According to the WebMD article, What’s Up with Mineral Makeup?, the use of natural ingredients to create cosmetics is an ancient tradition – think Egyptian kohl or prehistoric warrior decked out in body paint.  The modern development of mineral make-up came in the 1970s:

So who first successfully marketed the concept? One pioneer was Diane Ranger, the cosmetic chemist who founded Bare Escentuals in 1976 and later started Colorescience Pro, another mineral line. She developed her first mineral cosmetics because she felt there was a need and market for natural ingredients and a natural look and feel.

“In 1976, cosmetics firms were required to list ingredients on their products for the first time, and I was shocked at what we were putting on our skin,” says Ranger, who had grown up wearing heavy, traditional makeup.

Then I went through my ‘hippy girl’ phase and discarded makeup along with my bra,” she says.

So while the initial desire was to create a natural and safe alternative to traditional make-up the present collection of mineral products can be anything but.  As mineral make-up took off every cosmetic company, large and small, high-end or drugstore, added mineral products to their inventory.  This phenomenon is a product of marketing and consumer demand as opposed to an endorsement of mineral make-up as a superior cosmetic product.

Is There Something Special in Mineral Make-up?

According to the WebMD article mentioned above:

To make your makeup, minerals such as iron oxides, talc, zinc oxide, and titanium dioxide are micronized, or ground and milled, into increasingly tiny particles. “Different products micronize to different levels,” says Ranger. “A product micronized to six times leaves minerals larger so they go on the skin with light to medium coverage. Products micronized 12 times create fine-size particles that sit closer together and offer more coverage.”

Are pulverized pebbles all that are in your mineral makeup, really? The true difference from conventional makeup is what’s not in mineral makeup.

“It generally does not contain the emollient oils and waxes, fragrance, and preservative ingredients found in conventional formulations,” Hammer says. “Mineral products are usually preservative-free, and since they have very low odor, they are often also fragrance-free,” he says, noting that preservatives and fragrance are frequently what cause irritation.

To ensure you’re buying a quality mineral makeup product, he says, read the label. You are probably getting more than just ground-up rocks if the label reads “mineral-enriched” or if the formulation is liquid or mousse; these products may contain ingredients such as paraben preservatives or dimethicone added for a smooth texture. Nonpowders might also contain moisturizers, antioxidant vitamins, or other ingredients that your skin can use, so it’s up to you to weigh the benefits against your needs.

Mineral Make-up Pros

So what are the pros about mineral make-up?  In my opinion there are quite a few:

  1. Mineral make-up powders give sheer coverage that is buidable and blendable.  You do not feel as if you are wearing a lot of make-up and you don’t look like you are either.  The powders can give you skin perfecting coverage.
  2. Mineral make-up powders will not clog your pores so they are a good option for those who have acne or who are acne-prone.  Apparently there is a belief that mineral make-up can clear up acne and this is false, but it certainly will not contribute to acne.
  3. Mineral make-up has a high concentration of zinc oxide and titanium oxide which means it is anti-inflammatory and good for sensitive skin.  Though both of these ingredients are anti-sun ingredients, aka they are physical sunscreen ingredients, if your mineral make-up does not have an actual spf rating do not assume that your make-up will give you sun protection.  Mineral make-up can contribute to sun protection, but if it does not have a spf rating be sure to apply a sunscreen first before applying your make-up.  (I always advocate having a separate sunscreen and not relying on your make-up to give you sun protection)
  4. Mineral make-up naturally has antioxidants in it so that means you are getting protection from free radicals with every make-up application.  Our skin only benefits from the topical use of antioxidants so that is an added bonus when you use mineral make-up.
  5. Minerals are inert so true mineral make-up cannot hold bacteria which means your mineral pressed powder can be safe to use for years after you first open the package.  Keep in mind though if an outside substance like water mixes with your make-up bacteria most certainly has gotten into your make-up.

Mineral Make-up Tip:

All powder foundations can sink into wrinkles and fine lines so if you like using a mineral make-up be sure to apply a primer first so that won’t happen.

Conclusion

While there is plenty to like about mineral make-up be sure not to be caught up in the hype that comes along with this make-up.  If your favorite brand of make-up happens to be mineral make-up then keep using it.  If you have acne, rosacea, or have sensitive skin and have not tried mineral make-up consider giving it a try.

Sources and Further Reading:

 

No Excuses: Everyone Can Easily Care For Their Skin July 14, 2011

Estheticians hear a lot of things while we are taking care of our clients.  One thing we always ask clients the first time they come to us for a facial, or sometimes every time they come to us for a treatment, is what is their home skincare regime – products, steps, etc.  I cannot tell you how many times a client tells me that they don’t wash their face everyday or do little to nothing to their skin at home.  Not caring for your skin twice a day at home is such a missed opportunity.  Everyone should care for their skin twice a day – no excuses.  A home skincare regime doesn’t need to be confusing or complicated.  It doesn’t need to take up a lot of your time either.  Everyone needs to use just a few products a day – once again – no excuses!

I was pleased when I came across the following Prevention article – 5 Worst Skin Mistakes – which clearly explains why so many typical excuses people use to explain why they don’t care for their skin are just wrong.  Believe me – I’ve heard all these excuses too many times to count.  I like the article so much, and its online version is very concise, that I’ll copy it all here:

1.  I’m too tired to cleanse  “It’s been a long day, and the last thing I want to do is wash my face.”

Excuse Buster: The 2 minutes it takes to cleanse before bed helps ensure a fresh-faced look for years. “Sleeping with dirt, oil, and makeup on causes acne and enlarged pores,” says Audrey Kunin, MD, an associate clinical instructor of dermatology at the University of Kansas School of Medicine. To easily remove debris, keep no-rinse face wipes in your nightstand.

Try: Boots No7 Quick Thinking 4-in-1 Wipes ($7; Target) or Pond’s Clean Sweep Age Defying Wet Cleansing Towelettes ($6.50; CVS).

2.  SPF is for summer  “I don’t need sunscreen, it’s winter!”

Excuse Buster: Exposure to UVA rays, the primary culprit behind aging, happens all year long. And because they can penetrate glass, you’re susceptible even when you’re indoors, says Fredric Brandt, MD, a New York- and Miami-based dermatologist. The number one way to guard against this and keep skin looking youthful: Every day, use a sunscreen or moisturizer with an SPF 30 that’s labeled broad-spectrum. For the best protection, choose one that contains either avobenzone, Helioplex, Mexoryl, titanium dioxide, or zinc oxide.

3.  Products are too pricey   “Taking care of my skin costs too much.”

Excuse Buster: To save, shop at drugstores. Studies show that mass products are as effective as (and sometimes more than!) more expensive lines. “Look for active ingredients, not fancy labels,” says David E. Bank, MD, an associate professor of dermatology at Columbia University/Presbyterian Hospital. The most effective anti-agers include retinoids, AHAs, peptides, vitamin C, and hydrators such as hyaluronic acid.

4.  My efforts are futile  ” I’ve tried almost everything, and nothing seems to work.”

Excuse Buster: It can take at least 8 weeks to see the results of many ingredients, so give products time to deliver their benefits.

5.  My skin is too sensitive  “Exfoliating makes my face red and irritated.”

Excuse Buster: Getting rid of dead cells helps soften wrinkles and brighten skin, but aggressive scrubs can lead to redness and irritation. To slough safely, choose a chemical exfoliator, such as glycolic acid, or gentle cleansing beads. Avoid scrubs with an uneven texture, such as walnut shells. Exfoliate just once or twice a week; if you’re using an OTC or Rx retinoid or AHA, it alone provides sufficient skin sloughing.

 

One great point from the article is the fact that you need patience in order to see results from a new skincare routine.  Though the article states that it takes 8 weeks to see results, I typically tell my clients to wait 3 months before giving up on their new routine.  This is especially true when it comes to treating acne and hyperpigmentation.  There are absolutely no overnight cures for either of these skincare problems (and I hate the fact that so many beauty ads promise that there are!).  So don’t give up on your products unless you have really given them a chance.

Finding both the right products for your skin and establishing the right daily skincare routine for you might take some trial and error, but it certainly doesn’t have to take a lot of your time or money.

At the very least make sure you have the following products at home:

  • the correct cleanser for your skin type 
  • a treatment serum if you need one.  That could mean an anti-acne treatment or a serum that helps with hyperpigmentation
  • an exfoliant to use at least once a week.  This also doesn’t have to complicated.  You exfoliant could be a scrub or mask you simply apply during your shower twice a week.  Or even easier – a serum or lotion you apply before bed.
  • A moisturizer if you need one
  • A sunscreen – this is not negotiable!  Everyone, and I mean everyone, needs sunscreen year round.

And if you really want to break it down even further – wash your face twice a day and use sunscreen in the morning (and don’t forget to reapply throughout the day).  Now – everyone can perform those two steps, right?

Believe it or not, though I definitely do not do this myself, I do like the recommendation above that if you are really tired at night (or let’s face it – lazy) to use wipes to remove your make-up and cleanse your face.  I even have a client that uses baby wipes at night.  Baby wipes are super gentle so I have no objection to their use on your face.  One of the worst things you can do for your skin is to go to sleep with your make-up on and without washing your face.  Even if you don’t wear make-up just think of all the dirt and grime from pollution that has built-up on your face during the day.  Ugh!  You definitely want to get all of that off.

As for not spending a lot of money on skincare products – it is definitely true that you can find effective skincare products at your local drugstore.  In order to make sure you are buying the best products be sure to do a little research before blindly buying (use my blog as a guide, for instance  🙂 ).  Be sure not to be swayed too much by ads in glossy magazines.  Those ads get away with as much as they can legally – their claims are far from accurate.

 

Further Reading:

If you still have questions about product choice or steps in creating a home skincare regime please use some of my older posts as guides –

And here is a link Paula Begoun’s advice on how to put together a skincare routine.  Begoun heavily pushes her own products along with her recommendations and though her products are good I wish her advice would come without the sales pitch.  I also think that her skincare routine could definitely be abridged if you felt like it.  Once again – use Begoun’s advice as a guide not a be all and end all.  (Please see my post Paula Begoun – Friend or Foe to the Skincare Consumer for my take on Begoun, her advice, and products)

 

Fab New Cheap Lip Products May 16, 2011

After reading a glowing review from Paula Begoun* of N.Y.C.’s Smooch Proof 16HR Lip Stain I decided that I just had to try this product.    So far I’ve bought this lip product is two different colors – smooch proof and champagne stain.  The champagne stain color is very close to my natural lip color so I find that I use it almost every day to enhance my natural lip color and give it a little more punch.  The smooch proof color goes on a more intense pink/red shade.  You can play around with the intensity of the color by how hard you press on your lips as you apply it.  Wielding the lip stain like a pen produces a darker color, but you can also glide the product across your lips and then smudge it with your fingers.  Consider applying sheer gloss on top.  The color does fade as the day goes on, contrary to the claims by the manufacturer, and as you eat and drink, but you are still left with some color on your lips at the end of the day which is pretty incredible for a $5 product.  I have to say that I am very impressed with this $5 product and am glad I tried it.

My other new fave lip product is Mint Balm from Glominerals.  This is a very hydrating lip balm that also has spf 15 (yea!!) and feels minty and cool on your lips.  You can use it under or over your favorite lip product.  Now it costs $12.50 and, of course, you may wonder why I am calling this a cheap lip product.  I definitely think it is cheap for the amount of product you get for $12.50.  The tube is HUGE!  Even if you use this product multiple times during the day I can’t imagine that you use it up in less than 8 or 9 months.  Everyone needs a lip product with spf in it; I recommend trying Mint Balm.

*  By the way, Paula Begoun’s Beautypedia, which used to cost money to access, is now free.  You can easily read all her reviews now.

 

Nail Health May 11, 2011

I can’t remember the last time I got a manicure though recently I did try those Sally Hansen real nail polish strips which say they last 10 days.  Mine lasted about 4 days which made me sad since they did look cool when they were on (I tried the bright flower pattern), and when I went to remove the strips I literally had to scrape/file the nail polish off my nails with a nail file.  Regular nail polish did not remove the strips at all even though that is what the manufacturer said would work.  It was so time-consuming to remove the strips, and my nails were left looking horrible – all beat up and scratched up.  Such a disappointment.  So there went my experiment with those nail polish strips.  I’ve also learned from lots of trial and error that it is best to get professional pedicures during the summer instead of trying to paint my own nails.  The professional pedicures always look better and last longer than any DIY pedicure.  Anyhow, I started thinking more about nails since I scheduled my first pedicure of the season for this week.   My problems with getting the right manicure and pedicure are nothing compared to having real nail problems.  So how does our health affect our nails?  And what is the best way to take care of our nails?

What Our Nails Tell Us About Our Health

It fascinated me to learn how much our nails can reveal about our overall health.  Before I give some explains I think it is important to point out that the growth cycle of a nail is six months.  And what exactly make up our nails?  In her book The Beauty Bible Paula Begoun explains (pages 376-377 , 2nd edition):

 Physiologically speaking, the nail is simply a protective covering composed of dead cells filled with a thick protein called keratin, quite similar in essence to the hair.  Although the part of the nail you can see is dead, the matrix (the part of the nail under the skin) is very much alive.  The white crescent area of the nail is called the lunula and is part of the matrix.  The nail grows out from the matrix and as the growth of new cells build up and dies it is pushed forward and out toward the surface.  The cuticle is the protective layer of skin between the outside environment and the matrix.  Keeping the cuticle intact is perhaps the single most important element in preserving the health of the nail.

It turns out that a lot about your nails is genetically predetermined so you cannot alter the why your nails naturally grow just as you cannot alter how your hair grows.

Ok so what can our nails reveal about our health?  Concave, spoon shaped nails, or koilonychia, can show that you have an iron deficiency.  Those white horizontal line that you sometimes have on some nails but not others?  That is called a Beau’s line and shows that the nail actually stopped growing during a period of physical or emotional stress.  Even a case of the flu can cause those lines to form.  Even the shape of your nails can be informative about a health issue.  Some people have nails’ whose tips are curved and slightly bulbous.  This occurs in people who don’t have enough oxygen reaching the tips of their fingertips because they smoke or have congestive heart failure.  This is actually almost like having a scar.  If the person stops smoking or is able to improve their heart condition their nail shape will change.  If your nails are discolored, for instance blue-gray, that could mean that you suffer from a collagen vascular disease or are having a negative reaction to medication.

 Brittle and peeling nails are chiefly caused by wetting and drying your hands and nails.  Chronic exposure to harsh detergents, water, toluene and formaldehyde in nail polish, and harsh nail polish remover solvents can stress our nails once again making them brittle.  Genes and diet definitely play a role in nail health as do medical conditions (as illustrated above).  And of course many people add to their nail problems by biting and picking at their nails when they are stressed, anxious, or bored.

According to an article in the Fall-Winter 2010 issue of New Beauty – pages 46-48 (New Beauty used to put issues of their magazine online but no longer do which is too bad in my opinion):

    • If your nails have white spots then you may have a vitamin or mineral deficiency
    • If your nails are brittle and separate easily from the nail bed, you may have a thyroid condition
    • If your nails are thin and concave, then you may have an iron deficiency
    • If your nails are overly thick or flakey you may have a fungal growth
    • When nails have a yellow case to them, it can be from a variety of causes, and a common culprit is dark nail polish. …  But, if you don’t regularly wear dark shades and your nails are yellow, it may be the sign of a health condition.  Discolored nails can hint toward fungal infections, psoriasis, diabetes or liver, kidney or lung conditions that require medical attention.

Suffice it to say, if your nails don’t look right go see a doctor immediately to have them checked since your nails could be revealing a larger and more serious health issue.

What Can or Cannot Help Your Nails

Can using a product on top of your nails help them grow or make them stronger?  Sadly no.  You cannot change the way your nail grows by applying a topical product.  In order to see a real change in the health or appearance of your nails you need to either treat a health problem or perhaps tweak your diet.  Remember that no matter what a manufacturer claims neither topical applications of fluoride or calcium will improve your nail health.

According to Dr. Amy Wechsler in her book The Mind-Beauty Connection (page 159):

Contrary to popular belief, our nails do not contain much calcium, so supplementation, while good for our bodies, may not help our nails.  In fact, vitamin and mineral deficiencies are rare causes of nail problems.  More often than not, brittle nails are caused by excessive exposure to harsh soaps, irritants, polish remover, and the wetting and drying of nails (all typical of a busy, kitchen-maven mom).  Brittle nails can also be seen with medical conditions like psoriasis, fungal infections, and thyroid problems.  Age also factors in, and the older you are the more likely your nails will become brittle.

That said, one little nutrient that may help give your nails a boost is biotin.  Found abundantly in foods like cauliflower, peanuts, and lentils, biotin is absorbed into the core of the nail, where it may encourage a better, thicker, nail to grow and prevent splitting and cracking.  In one study, people who consumed 2.5 milligrams of biotin daily had marked increases in nail thickness after six months.  To get this much biotin, ask your doctor about taking it in supplement form.

Nail Care 101

  • Moisturize the cuticle area
  • Wear gloves when washing dishes and doing house work
  • Apply hand cream frequently and especially after you wash your hands
  • Use a sunscreen on your hands – better yet get a hand cream with spf in it.  My current go to hand cream with spf is Boots No7 Protect and Perfect Hand Cream Spf 15 which you can get at Target or online
  • Don’t soak your nails for long period of time
  • Don’t use your nails as tools to open things such as letters or anything else
  • Avoid nail polish with toluene and formaldehyde and nail polis remover with acetone
  • Don’t bite or pick your nails

Sources and Further Reading:

 

 
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