One would think that few areas of human life are less conducive to rigorous quantitative analysis than nail care. And yet a group of researchers, seeking insight into why nail problems occur, has taken the stuff of Valley Girl stereotypes and transformed it into equations. The basic lesson of their findings, which were just published in Physical Biology? Obsessing over your nails is a surefire route to causing problems in that neck of the woods.
Lead author of the study Cyril Rauch said: “It is remarkable what some people are willing to do to make their nails look good, and it is in this context that I decided to look at what we really know about nails. Reading the scientific literature on nails I quickly realised that very little physics or maths had been applied to nails and their conditions.”
“Looking at our results, we suggest that nail beauty fanatics who trim their nails on a daily basis opt for straight or parabolic edges, as otherwise they may amplify the imbalance of stresses which could lead to a number of serious conditions.”
In their study, the researchers focused specifically on ingrown toe nails which, though recognised for a long time, still lack a satisfactory treatment as the causes remain largely unknown.
When devising their equations, the researchers accounted for the strong adhesion of nails to their bed through tiny, microscopic structures, which allow the nail to slide forwards and grow in a “ratchet-like” fashion by continuously binding and unbinding to the nail.
Basically, the more you mess with your nails, the more opportunities you’re providing for those damaging imbalances to occur. No word yet on whether nail salons will start displaying giant posters of complex nail-stress-modeling equations.