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 new trend may carry health risks when considering what may be growing underneath.
Jeffrey Kaplan, professor of biology at American University, told USA TODAY that the area under the nail in the crevice is where most bacteria live.
“The longer the nail, the more surface area there is for microorganisms to adhere to,” he said. “Studies have found 32 different bacteria and 28 different fungi under the 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 likelihood of carrying microorganisms, which makes it more difficult to decontaminate with hand washing or scrubbing.
Studies find MRSA, staph below
One study found MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant bacteria that causes serious infections in hospitalized patients, under half of the fingernail samples taken, according to Kaplan.
Also, some of the bacteria under the nails can be found on the skin, such as staphylococcus, which can lead to infection.
“You can transmit nail bacteria to your system by scratching, biting your nails, picking your nose and sucking on your fingers,” Kaplan said.
He said the worst thing that can happen from bacteria and fungus is a nail infection, which isn’t life threatening but could leave your nails disfigured.
Childhood deaths linked to long fingernails
That’s why most, if not all, healthcare workers have to wear short fingernails because of the risk of disease transmission, according to Kaplan.
Two nurses at an Oklahoma City hospital may have contributed to the deaths of 16 babies in 1997 and 1998 from bacteria found under their long fingernails, The New York Times reported.
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Epidemiologists have found a link between the deaths of infants in the neonatal unit and bacteria under the fingernails, but have not proven this to be the definitive cause.
“When surgeons scrub for surgery and then test their hands, there’s always bacteria under the nail and you can’t get rid of it,” Kaplan said.
Trending long nails on social networks
Kayla Newman, a North Carolina-based nail technician, told USA TODAY that none of her clients had any infections or “old nails” in her eight years of service.
“Usually people with long fingernails know how to maneuver with them and keep them clean,” she said. “If you spend over $60 getting your nails done and you don’t keep them clean, it doesn’t make sense.”
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Newman has seen the long nail trend grow over the past couple of years, and social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok are showcasing art designs on nails that can be over 2 inches long.
She said the most common complaint she gets from clients with long nails is broken nails, especially if they’re new to the trend.
Newman suggests people with long nails schedule regular appointments with their nail technician because the strength of the nails can change as they grow.
“Nails are an incredible luxury to have,” she said. “I encourage people to do them because when you look at your hands and see them nice and shapely, whether long or short, it makes you feel amazing.”
Follow journalist Asha Gilbert @Coastalasha. Email: [email protected]