ATLANTA - Students at The Elaine Sterling Institute in Atlanta are taught to recognize nails in good shape.
"A healthy nail is actually translucent pink,” says nail instructor Gina Morgan. “It has no ridges, bumps or no imperfections on the nail plate at all."
And Morgan says the future nail technicians also learn the signs of a problem.
So, what do they look for?
“Dry, brittle nails, hangnails, and, if it is an infection, it will be in a color of yellow, then turns to green, then a dark brown color,” says Morgan.
Fungal infections are common, especially when it comes our toenails.
Mold and yeast can get in through tiny cracks in the nail and skin around it, causing not just the discoloration Morgan mentioned, but thickness and flaking.
Fungal infections usually don't hurt, but they also usually don't get better on their own.
So, you may want to skip the salon and go see your dermatologist.
"I always tell the nail technicians ‘We are not doctors, so we cannot diagnose’" Morgan says.
If the skin around your nails becomes swollen, red or painful, or bleeds, those are all signs of infection.
Watch for major changes in the color, shape or texture of your nails.
The CDC says the best way to keep your nails healthy is to keep them short, clean, don't bite them, and never rip off hangnails.
If you like getting your nails done, Morgan says, pick a licensed nail salon vigilant about infection control, preferably one that steam-cleans metal tools in a high-temperature autoclave, then packages them in shrink-wrapped bags that opened in front of you.
"If it's not distorted in some form or fashion, and they don't open the bag in front of you, then that is a sign it may not be disinfected properly,” Morgan says.