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Are our nails a danger to our health?

Experts say fingernails can be a breeding ground for bacteria and viruses

Nail biters beware—experts are stating that nails can harbour bacteria and viruses, which can then be transferred to the mouth. Long or fake nails in particular have been called out as being potentially unsuitable, as they can harbour germs and bacteria that are difficult to clean.
Dr Niket Sonpal, New York-based Internist and Gastroenterologist and Adjunct Professor at Touro College told InStyle US: "Long nails are not entirely ideal during an outbreak simply for the reason that they take longer to clean. People are not mindful that they have to allocate more time than usual to wash the underside of the nails, and they harbour more germs and bacteria."
Further, Purvi Parikh, an allergy and infectious disease specialist at New York University’s Langone Medical Center told The Cut that “all kinds of bacteria, viruses, dirt, and debris can collect under the nails, and this can then be transferred into your mouth when you bite your nails, particularly if you aren't washing or sanitising your hands properly.”

Parikh added that germs transferring to your mouth is “the easiest way you can contract any infection.”

While this all sounds very concerning, there are some simple steps we can take to minimise our risk.

  • Adequate time spent washing hands will kill most bacteria. Antibacterial hand soap is advised, with hand gel an option if you’re unable to access soap and water.
  • For nail biters who may have seen an increase in their habit due to stress, boredom or anxiety around the coronavirus pandemic, there are numerous products on the market to help reduce the habit, including bitter polish which tastes rancid.
  • Another way of protecting yourself is to ensure nails—natural or false—are kept neat and clean. Some experts advise that having a freshly painted manicure can decrease the chances of putting nails in mouths, as the taste is unpleasant and we don’t want to ruin the nails’ appearance.

Keeping nails in good condition can reduce the possibility of bacteria lingering; try Tweezerman’s Combo Clipper Set and Pushy & Nail Cleaner, a dual-ended tool for cleaning under nails and around the nail bed.