Your nails show your age. Here’s what to do about it.

When most people think of aging, they think of loose skin, brittle hair and fragile bones – but there’s one more thing to add to the list, and that involves your nails.

Over time, you may have noticed changes in the texture, thickness, strength and even growth rate of your nails. According to experts, this is perfectly normal and most people will experience age-related nail changes when they are 40. Despite the fact that these side effects of aging are unavoidable, there is a lot you can do to deal with them.

We contacted experts to learn about the different ways nails change as we get older, along with tips on how to navigate them.

Nail texture and thickness

Do you notice combs on your nails? This is medically referred to as onychorrhexis and is akin to wrinkles on the nail.

“When parts of the nail growth plate (also called the nail matrix) become thinner and begin to atrophy, the result is grooving (parallel longitudinal depressions in the nail plate),” said dr dana starassistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.

A number of things can contribute to onychorrhexis, including nutritional deficiencies and hormonal changes, but age is another factor.

Combs, known as onychorrhexis, tend to occur under your nails as you get older.

Giuseppe Elio Cammarata via Getty Images

Combs, known as onychorrhexis, tend to occur under your nails as you get older.

According to Dr. Michelle Henry, the founder of Skin and Aesthetic Surgery of Manhattan, our nails can also get crazy over time. This is largely due to the breakdown of the structural keratin proteins in our nails, which play a major role in our nail health and protect against external damage.

“As we get older, our bodies begin to produce less of the natural proteins found in the nails, which can lead to the nails becoming more brittle, dry and prone to breakage,” Henry noted. “These keratin proteins are also found in our hair follicles, and therefore we can also see a change in our hair texture as we get older.” What’s more, if you have a family history with crazy nails, a study found that your chance of developing brittle nails is greater.

Nail growth rate and yellowing

If you have only removed your nail polish to find that your natural nails are yellowing, know that it is most likely related to a slower growth rate.

“Fingernails grow an average of 3.47 mm per month, which means the average nail takes six months to replace,” Stern said. “As our nail growth is slower, the nails are exposed to significantly more environmental impact, and these exposures can over time affect the color and the overall appearance and strength of our nails.” Other common causes of yellowing include fungal infections and prolonged use of polish, Stern added.

But why is it exactly that nail growth decreases with age? Henry said it relates back to the fact that our bodies produce fewer keratin proteins. “When less keratin is produced, our nails naturally begin to lose their strength and structural integrity, which can lead to thinning and discoloration, ”she said.

Other nail changes

An often overlooked nail change that people undergo is related to cuticles. Cuticles act as the nail’s natural protective seal, and when torn and dehydrated, they can separate and lift, resulting in hangnails and openings where organisms and water can enter the nail unit, Stern said. This can not only lead to infection, but can combined with other changes in the texture and thickness of the nail highlight these age-related changes. Ultimately, healthy cuticles can contribute to more youthful nails.

Finally, onycholysis, a condition in which the nail rises from the underlying nail bed, is one of the most common age-related nail changes, according to Stern. “The slightest trauma, such as excessive cleaning under the nail with a tool, can result in the nail lifting off the nail bed,” Stern said. Over time and with age, your nails may also not stick to nail beds.

Something as seemingly harmless as washing up can cause swollen nails and lead to infection.

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Something as seemingly harmless as washing up can cause swollen nails and lead to infection.

How to deal with aging nails

There are several things you can do to deal with age-related nail changes. First, develop a routine for your cuticles to keep them hydrated and well-maintained. Stern recommended gently pushing them back with a washcloth after a shower or bath, as well as hydrating them daily with oils or ointments (as opposed to creams, which tend not to absorb as effectively, she said). If you experience a hangnail, resist the urge to bite or pull it off and instead use a clean cuticle bar and cut it at the bottom. When it comes to using nail polish remover, look for moisturizing, acetone-free formulas, such as aCetone can dehydrate and weaken the nail and the surrounding area.

Also consider the nail file you are using. Stern said he should use a glass file instead of a cardboard emery plate, as these can cause microscopic tears at the nail tip, which can turn into cracks and breaks. Glass files, on the other hand, create a perfectly smooth edge. And be sure to replace dull nail clippers, as Stern said old ones can lead to tears and nicks.

You should also consider the amount of water that hits your nails. “Nails absorb water extremely (even more than skin) – when the water is constantly moving in and out of the nail, it puts a huge strain on the delicate nail cells, which can result in weakening, softening and breakage,” Stern explained. Not to mention, this can dehydrate your cuticles and cause them to lift and separate, which can lead to hanging nails or openings where infections can more easily penetrate. A good solution? Wear protective gloves when washing dishes, cleaning the house or gardening.

Finally, Stern said if you are experiencing sudden nail changes, see your board-certified dermatologist as these could potentially be signs of internal disease.

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