Are your nails too long? A doctor explains why trimming them and removing chipped polish may help prevent the spread of coronavirus

  • The CDC's general recommendations for nail hygiene include keeping fingernails short and avoiding biting, chewing, and picking at cuticles.
  • While it's not yet known how long the novel coronavirus can live on skin and nails, longer nails or nails that aren't properly cleaned can harbor germs and potentially spread the coronavirus.
  • WebMD Medical Editor Dr. Neha Pathak told Insider that fingernails should be trimmed so the nail doesn't extend over the top of the fingertip.
  • Germs can also hide in cracked, chipped nail polish and facilitate the spread of viruses.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact communities around the world, experts are advising people on the best ways to go about their personal routines, including staying safe while grocery shopping, cleaning produce from the supermarket, and skin-care best practices for social distancing at home.

One of the most recent suggestions that has gained traction online comes from a Facebook post reportedly relaying advice from an Australian nurse for people to keep their fingernails short to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

In an interview with Insider, WebMD Medical Editor Dr. Neha Pathak, a board-certified primary care physician who focuses on internal and lifestyle medicine, detailed how people should care for their nails during the coronavirus outbreak — and what constitutes a proper or safe nail length.

Pathak told Insider that nails can harbor germs, but since the novel coronavirus is still being studied, it's not yet known exactly how long the COVID-19 virus can live on nails and skin.

"It's important to remember that we are still learning so much about this virus. It's only been known to us for about four months, so everything we say should be caveated with 'from what we know right now,'" Pathak said.

That being said, Pathak explained, nails can certainly harbor germs, and it's possible they can cause the spread of viruses.

"Nails absolutely can harbor germs and allow for spread. We don't know yet how long the new coronavirus can live on our skin and nails, but certainly long enough to allow for spread if we don't clean our hands and nails properly," Pathak said.

Pathak recommends that people keep their nails trimmed so that the nail does not reach over the top of the fingertip. She also referenced the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendation for hospital workers to keep their nails trimmed.

"The CDC actually recommends that [healthcare providers] don't keep their nails long or use artificial nail because germs can live in the crevices even after hand washing," Pathak said. "It's really important to clean thoroughly around and underneath your fingernails."

Pathak also recommended that people remove chipped nail polish from fingernails.

"Chipping nail polish also allows viruses to hide in cracks and crevices, so paying particular attention to those areas and removing nail polish if it's chipping is important," she said.

Pathak added that the optimal hand-washing method, which is using soap and water with 20 seconds of vigorous scrubbing around the fingers, thumbs, wrists, and around and under the nails, is the best solution to preventing the spread of the coronavirus, and other viruses in general.

Germs can hide in cracked or chipped nail polish.

Experts have urged people to cancel nail, hair, and other beauty treatments, and as many salons are closed for the time being due to state or local orders that shut down nonessential businesses, there are many easy ways to take care of nails at home.

For example, removing a chipped gel manicure at home requires a few basic products, including acetone, cotton pads, aluminum, and a nail file.

"You can disinfect nail tools with disinfecting sprays. Make sure they are on EPA's list of certified disinfectants. Make sure to read the instruction on how to use so you clean these products correctly," Pathak said.

On a similar note, as Insider reporter Amanda Krause previously explained, it may also be a smart idea to clean other makeup products and tools like brushes and sponges, and throw out expired beauty products, which can harbor bacteria.

"Please stop biting your nails," Pathak said. "Respiratory germs like this new coronavirus can't enter your body unless you let them in through your eyes, nose, or mouth. Picking at nails and cuticles can put you at risk for bacterial infections around the fingernails."

The CDC recommends trying to avoid biting and picking at nails.
Focus and Blur / Shutterstock

On its website, the CDC has published a list of general nail hygiene recommendations that are not specifically pegged to COVID-19 prevention but are in line with Pathak's advice for nail care best practices amid the pandemic.

"Appropriate hand hygiene includes diligently cleaning and trimming fingernails, which may harbor dirt and germs and can contribute to the spread of some infections, such as pinworms. Fingernails should be kept short, and the undersides should be cleaned frequently with soap and water."

"Because of their length, longer fingernails can harbor more dirt and bacteria than short nails, thus potentially contributing to the spread of infection," the CDC says on its site.

To help prevent the spread of germs and nail infections, the CDC recommends keeping nails short and trimming them frequently, as well as for people to "scrub the underside of nails with soap and water (or a nail brush)" each time hands are washed.

The CDC recommends avoiding biting or chewing nails, ripping or biting hangnails, and cutting cuticles, "as they act as barriers to prevent infection."

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