Are long nails unhygienic? Here's what you need to know.

By Erin Lukas
Updated Mar 04, 2020 @ 3:45 pm
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Treating yourself to a manicure is a popular way to unwind. However, in the wake of the conoravirus outbreak, would getting acrylic extensions or a trendy long stiletto nail shape add cause for worry rather than alleviate it?

"Long nails are not entirely ideal during an outbreak simply for the reason that they take longer to clean," says Dr. Niket Sonpal, NewYork Based internist and gastroenterologist and adjunct professor at Touro College. "People are not mindful that they have to allocate more time than usual to wash the underside of the nails, and they harbor more germs and bacteria."

The virus, which was first reported in Wuhan region of China in December 2019, has made its way to the United States. As of Mar. 5, 11 people have died of COVID-19, which is the disease coronavirus causes in humans, and there's over 150 confirmed and preemptive cases across the country. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the virus can be spread person-to-person by standing in close contact to one another, coughing and sneezing. "These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs," the CDC writes.

The CDC also states "It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads."

That's what makes washing your hands so important. According to the CDC, the best way to protect yourself from COVID-19 is proper hand-washing, and avoiding touching your face or putting your hands in your mouth.

Dr. Sonpal stresses that while proper hand-washing is important during the COVID-19 outbreak, "this is not just the case with the novel COVID-19 outbreak, but this can affect you during flu season as well as other viruses that are more common or well-known," he says. "For example, someone with long nails could be cognizant of the 20-second hand-washing benchmark but could neglect to clean the underside of their nails effectively, allowing risking that when they scratch their nose or rub their eye, they infect themselves."

The CDC's guidelines on nail hygiene says to "keep nails short, and trim them often" to prevent the spread of germs and nail infections. Also avoid cutting your cuticles because "they act as barriers to prevent infection."

While length and shape are a personal preference, Dr. Sonpal adds that "you can trim them to rise, healthily above the tip of your finger if you want an easier time keeping them clean."

If you don't want to ditch your long nails, how can you make sure they're adequately clean?

Dr. Sonpal suggests the following method for washing your hands. "First, wet your hands with warm or cold water. Then apply soap," he says. "You want to lather your hands with the soap and do so thoroughly, making sure to wash your fingers, back of the hand, wrists, under the nails — if they are long, spend an extra 20 seconds cleaning your nails." A common suggestion is washing your hands for the duration of singing "Happy Birthday." For even more under-nail cleanliness, carry a nail brush with you to gently scrub the undersides of your nails while washing your hands.

As for how often you should wash your hands, you should be doing it consistently; before, during, and after preparing food, before eating, and after coughing and sneezing (though always try to sneeze into your elbow). You can see the CDC's complete hand-washing guide for more info.

Any soap is good soap, but if you have a choice, Dr. Sonpal recommends a liquid one. "Liquid soaps are best because it doesn't come into contact with anyone else," he explains. "Bar soap is still okay if it's the only thing available, but the important thing is that you are washing your hands consistently and thoroughly."

And when washing your hands isn't an option? Using hand sanitizer is the next best thing. "It would help if you used hand sanitizer when you don't have immediate access to soap and water," says Dr. Sonpal. "Some examples are after touching elevator buttons, stair railings, and doorknobs." A hand sanitizer that's at least 60% alcohol will be the most effective.

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Washing your hands and keeping your nails clean is important, but it's imperative to keep your hands away and out of your mouth. "Please avoid biting your nails, picking at your nails, or ripping bits of your nail off," Dr. Sonpal says. "This can introduce germs into your mouth, and it can also cause you to rip the skin below the nail opening it up to the opportunity for germs to enter through the cut."

As for that trendy long manicure you've been maintaining for weeks now? Either get ready for long soap sessions, or brace yourself for a trim.