Long nails are all the rage, but what lies underneath them might shock you
One study found MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant bacteria that causes serious infections in hospitalized patients, underneath half of the fingernail samples collected.
Long nails are a major trend these days, seen on the hands of superstars like Cardi B and Billie Eilish. But a biologist warns that this trend could come with health hazards, considering what can be growing underneath.
The area under the fingernail in the crevice is where most of the bacteria live, according to Jeffrey Kaplan, a biology professor at American University..
“The longer the nail, the more surface area there is for microorganisms to adhere,” he said. “Studies have found 32 different bacteria and 28 different fungi underneath fingernails.”
Kaplan said it doesn’t matter if you have long artificial nails, long natural nails, gel nails, acrylic nails or nail polish, because there is an increased probability of carrying microorganisms which makes it more difficult to decontaminate with handwashing or scrubbing.
One study found MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant bacteria that causes serious infections in hospitalized patients, underneath half of the fingernail samples collected, according to Kaplan.
Also, some of the bacteria under nails can be found on the skin such as staphylococcus, which can lead to an infection.
“You can transmit fingernail bacteria to your system by scratching, nail-biting, nose-picking and finger-sucking,” Kaplan said.
He said the worst thing that could happen from the bacteria and fungi is a nail infection, which would not be life-threatening but could leave your fingernails disfigured.
That’s why healthcare workers typically are required to keep their nails short due to being at risk for transmitting disease, according to Kaplan.
Two nurses at an Oklahoma City hospital might have contributed to the deaths of 16 babies in 1997 and 1998 because of bacteria found underneath their long nails. Epidemiologists found a link between the deaths of the infants in the neonatal unit and the bacteria under the nails but did not prove it was the cause.
“When surgeons scrub for surgery and then they test their hands, there’s always bacteria under the fingernail, and you can’t get rid of it,” Kaplan said.
Kayla Newman, a nail technician in North Carolina, said none of her clientele has had infections or “nasty nails” in her eight years in the business.
“Generally, people who have long nails know how to maneuver with them and keep them clean,” she said. “If you’re spending upwards of $60 to get your nails done and you don’t keep them clean, that doesn’t make sense.”
Newman suggests that people with long nails regularly make appointments with their nail tech.
“Nails are an awesome luxury to have,” she said. “I encourage people to get them done because, when you look at your hands and see them nice and done whether they are long or short, it makes you feel amazing.”