By ARIADNE WEINBERG, Featured Columnist
“Didn't I just cut my nails the other day?” This happens to me rather frequently. While I try to keep my nails cut, there are times when they seem to double in length in two days. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, fingernails grow an average of 2-3 millimeters per month, and toenails grow 1 millimeter per month.
As you'll read in the following article, the length of nails in general has also changed a fair amount from generation to generation. Our grandparents had shorter nails. However, putting that aside, you can still see cycles in your own life where your nail growth fluctuates, even if you keep them properly trimmed.
What are some factors that could make it seem like they are growing a lot? Well, besides just spacing out and not cutting them for a month, it could be due to a handful of things. (protein, general diet, age, health, season: more summer than winter).
We've looked at scientific studies to find the 7 most likely reasons that your nails are growing like weeds:
The American Academy of Dermatology also points out that while hormone imbalance can cause nails to grow more slowly, it can also boost growth.
For example, women have faster nail growth in pregnancy and slower nail growth during lactation.
Nails might also grow faster during menstruation, which would explain my consternation about my sudden growth at a certain point in the month.
2. Protein-rich Diet
A 2009 study from the University of North Carolina and Oxford revealed that, in general, our fingernails are in fact growing faster. In fact, fingernails have increased the amount by which they grow each month more than half a millimeter over seven decades.
Part of that has to do with our relatively new hyper-rich protein diet, consisting of lots of fish, meat, eggs, and poultry, as well as other protein-fortified products.
In the U.S during wartime, a carb diet of bread and potato products was much more common.
Researchers at the University of North Carolina compared results with a study of nail growth at Oxford University in 1938 and another study from the 1950s.
Big toenails now grow more than two millimeters a month, compared with 1.65 millimeters a month in the 1930's.
Thumbnail growth was three millimeters a month in 1938, 3.06 in the 1950s, and now they average 3.55 millimeters a month. Wow.
So, chances are, if you are eating a particularly high-protein diet, and weren't before, your nails might have noticed.
3. The Season
If you notice your nails getting particularly pointy during summertime, there's a reason for that. Especially if you're living in a sunny environment.
According to Teresa Smith, director of the mobile manicure service nailsatwork.co.uk, “The sun does help nails grow faster, too, because of Vitamin D. And people tend to drink more water in the summer which flushes out toxins and makes the body healthier, so nails grow stronger.”
You might have to give those bad boys a few more clippings, while you're out there sunbathing. A worthy sacrifice.
4. Nail Disease
It's more common for your nails to get shorter and brittle or turn weird colors when you're sick.
But it's not out of the question for them to get longer.
According to a 2004 report from A.S. Geyer from Columbia University in New York, certain diseases are characterized by accelerated nail growth. A few examples are nail clubbing and onychogryphosis.
With nail clubbing, the tips of your fingers enlarge and the nails curve around the fingertips. It is usually a process that happens over a period of years, and could be due to low oxygen in the blood, lung disease, irritable bowel syndrome, cardiovascular disease, liver disease, or AIDs.
Onychogryphosis is the thickening and/or increase in the curvature of the nail, that usually manifests itself on the big toe, but could occur on the hand as well. It could be hereditary or from a lack of neglect. It's a bad cycle, because the difficulty in cutting it causes it to grow longer.
If you suspect that your nail growth may be due to something other than a healthy amount of protein or hormones, consult your podiatrist.
5. Taking Care of Them Right
This sounds counter-intuitive, but cutting your nails a lot could actually help them grow.
Cutting your nails prevents the damage and breakage that frequently keeps nails worn down.
Dr. Janet Pyrstowsky, New York City Dermatologist, recommends that you cut them every two weeks, perhaps more if your nails already grow quite long naturally. She adds that if you partake in activities that harm them, such as rock climbing or manual labor, that you pick up an emory board to file them down.
So, if you're obsessed with nail care, that could just explain why they always grow so long. That could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your style and lifestyle.
6. Your Age
Our nails tend to grow longer in adolescence and young adulthood. I remember that my nails were even more of a pain to take care of when I was 15 than they are now. But, that's just anecdotal evidence.
According to Dr. William Bean at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, I've got shorter fingernails to look forward to. He started to measure his fingernail growth at age 32. He marked a spot on his cuticle and measured how far it went in a month.
He discovered that over 20 years, fingernail growth slowed down.
7. Your Relaxation
It's possible that your fingernails are growing longer because your nervous tics have gone away.
We've all seen people who have destroyed their hands from stress. Flor Mayoral from the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine confirms that sometimes people bite or pick at nails when stressed.
Sometimes they rub fingers over their thumbnail, causing a ridge (guilty). However, these habits aren't like cutting your nails; they won't make them grow faster.
So, when you chill out, your nails will thank you by growing back.
Some nail care specialists recommend painting your nails and keeping them looking nice, because it will remind you to cut them. It will also help you pay attention to when and how they are growing.