What Really Happens When You Don't Clean Underneath Your Fingernails

Our hands go through a lot of use on a day-to-day basis. While it would be nice to regularly undergo salon treatment, many of us struggle to find the time to keep up with nail care. This means some funky stuff may start to develop under the nails if cleaning doesn't become a priority.

First off, don't panic if you start to see some gray substance under your nail. "The 'gunk' underneath fingernails is most commonly the keratin debris from the underside of the nail, as well as skin cells from the nail bed," New York dermatologist Dr. Dana Stern tells Women's Health. You can also expect to find dirt, as well as remnants of lotions or other products you use.

But just because not all of the grime under your nails isn't automatically harmful doesn't mean there isn't the possibility for infection. Even if you can't see it, fingernails do harbor some nasty bacteria due to all of the things we touch throughout the day (via Mic). In fact, Dr. Phillip Tierno, a clinical professor at NYU Langone Medical Center refers to fingers as the "10 dirtiest things on your body."

Best practices to keep your fingernails clean

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the dirt and germs found under your fingernails have the ability to spread infection. Typically, you will see a swelling of the skin near your nail, experience pain, or notice nails growing thicker. You may need to seek medical attention if the infection becomes serious.

So what's the best way to keep your fingernails in tip-top shape? Keep them short, and scrub them with soap and water frequently, according to the CDC. Acrylic or longer nails can be even worse for harboring unseen germs or bacteria, so be sure to make cleaning a priority if you choose to have longer nails. You should also be sure to sanitize all tools used for nail grooming and avoid nail habits such as biting or chewing.

By practicing good nail hygiene, you can avoid the risk of infection developing — and have an excuse to get manicures more often.