"By a man's fingernails...a man's calling is plainly revealed."
So says Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in a Study in Scarlet, speaking as the famous detective Sherlock Holmes. This is so true.
Dancer's toe nails, and indeed all areas of their 'hard worked’ feet are worlds apart from most other professions.
However, even Sherlock Holmes would recognise the feet of a dancer..
In the past 60 years of fitting dance shoes, I have truly seen every kind of problem feet in regard to dancers. From Ballet, Highland and Irish Dance I have seen some really terrible things but which, fortunately, my experience as a dance shoe fitter and designer, have managed to offer help and advice to those dancers who just needed some guidance.
The toe nail and finger nail protect the ends of your fingers. They are the remains of what were claws. Seeing some outlandish lengths of some women’s highly decorated and painted nails, that is very well illustrated!
Discoloration to the nail can be the result of a number of references which include using nail polish without a break and using hair colourants, fake tans, a sign of an infection etc.
The structures of the nail include:
• Nail matrix – where nail growth occurs, tucked under the skin behind the nail
• Nail plate – the visible part of the nail
• Nail bed – the nail plate sits on top of the nail bed. The nail plate looks pink because of the blood-rich capillaries in the nail bed
• Lunula – the crescent-moon shape that you can sometimes see at the base of the nail plate
• Nail folds – the slender skin grooves that hold the nail plate in place
• Cuticle – the flap of thin tissue over the base of the nail plate.
Dancers can suffer many issues with toenails and while I could write thousands of words on this subject I have kept this article to two areas. Fungal infection and ingrown nails.
Medical conditions that impede blood flow or depress immunity may increase the risk of fungal nail infection. Diabetes and circulatory disorders may impair blood flow to the nail beds, increasing the chance of fungal infection.
Toenail fungus, or onychomycosis, is a slow-growing infection of the nail and skin beneath it.
Cause: Toenail fungal infections are usually caused by the same type of fungi that causes athlete's foot; in fact, people who are prone to athlete's foot may also be susceptible to toenail fungal infections.
An ingrown toenail develops when the sides of the toenail grow into the surrounding skin. The nail curls and pierces the skin, which becomes red, swollen and tender.
The big toe is often affected, either on one or both sides. Other possible symptoms include:
• pain if pressure is placed on the toe
• inflammation of the skin at the end of the toe
• a build-up of fluid in the area surrounding the toe
• an overgrowth of skin around the affected toe
• white or yellow pus coming from the affected area
See your GP or podiatrist (foot care specialist) if your ingrown toenail is badly inflamed, bleeding or has pus coming from it, because it may be infected.
It's also important to seek medical advice if you have diabetes and an ingrown toenail. Having diabetes could affect how your toenail heals.
A number of things can cause an ingrown toenail to develop, including:
• badly cut toenails – cutting your toenails too short, or cutting the edges, will encourage the skin to fold over your nail and the nail to grow into the skin. Dancers need to learn the correct method of toe nail cutting. Straight across. Never shaped into the corners. Gently file down edges.
• wearing dance shoes (or any kind of shoe) that are far too tight-fitting, wet or small socks or tights – this places pressure on the skin around your toenail; the skin may be pierced if it's pressed on to your toenail
• sweaty feet – if the skin around your toenails is soft, it's easier for your nail to pierce it and embed itself within the edges. Always wash and then dry your feet between changing dance shoes. Carry a damp cloth and a dry towel for this process.
• injury – for example, stubbing your toe can sometimes cause an ingrown toenail to develop. Never wear your shoes outside or off the dance floor. There are far too many steps, carpet edges and furniture for dancers with which to stub their toes.
• natural shape of the nail – the sides of curved or fan-shaped toenails are more likely to press into the skin surrounding the nail. Be aware of your toe nail shape and get advice as to the best way to cut and maintain your shape of nail.
• Always cut and shape your toenails prior to fitting new shoes. .For some dancers this can be a weekly chore.
• A fungal nail infection can cause your toenail to thicken or widen.
Without treatment, an ingrown toenail can become infected, so it’s important that you:
• keep your feet clean by washing them regularly with soap and water
• change your socks regularly
• cut your toenails straight across to stop them digging into the surrounding skin
• gently push the skin away from the nail using a cotton bud (this may be easier after using a small amount of olive oil to soften the skin)
• wear comfortable shoes that fit properly
1 Olive Oil
Olive oil is an excellent natural skin softener that can be used to treat many different skin conditions. It is particularly good for treating cracked heels and hard skin on the toes and ball of the foot. For best results, apply a thick layer of extra virgin olive oil to your feet before going to bed. Cover your feet with thick socks to avoid staining your bed sheets, and leave the oil overnight to soak into your skin.
2 Sea Salt
Sea salt, added to warm water, helps to soften the skin in preparation for removal. Add a handful of sea salt to a bowl of warm water and wait for the salt to dissolve. Soak your feet in the salted water for 20 to 30 minutes to allow the skin on your feet time to soften. Once the skin has softened, use a pumice stone to gently scour away the thick skin patches on your feet.
3 Lavender Essential Oil
Lavender essential oil contains properties to help heal and soften the skin on your feet. The healing properties of lavender are especially useful in the treatment of cracked heels and for use on areas where the skin is broken. Add 15 to 20 drops of lavender essential oil to a bowl of warm water and soak your feet for 10 to 20 minutes. Alternatively, blend 5 to 10 drops of lavender oil with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and massage the mixture into your feet.
Like most natural remedies, each of the above DIY treatments must be repeated several times in order to be effective.
Start by trying each of them, one by one, and following the directions religiously for about 2 weeks straight. In my opinion, Olive Oil will probably prove to be the easiest and best solution.
Surgery may be recommended if your toenail doesn't improve. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, this may involve either:
• partial nail avulsion – removing part of your toenail
• total nail avulsion – removing your whole toenail
Partial nail avulsion
Partial nail avulsion is a very effective and commonly used operation for treating ingrown toenails.
A local anaesthetic is used to numb your toe and the edges of your toenail are cut away. A chemical called phenol is applied to the affected area to prevent the nail growing back and becoming ingrown in the future.
A course of antibiotics may be prescribed if your nail is infected, and any pus will be drained away.
Total nail avulsion
Total nail avulsion may be necessary if your nail is thick and pressing into the skin surrounding your toe.
After your toenail has been removed, you’ll have an indentation where your nail used to be. However, it's perfectly safe for you not to have a toenail.
After toenail surgery, your toe will be wrapped in a sterile bandage. This helps to stem any bleeding and prevent infection. Rest your foot and keep it raised for one to two days after the operation.
To help reduce the pain, you may need to take a painkiller, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, and wear soft or open-toed shoes for the first few days after surgery.
Taking care of your feet will help prevent foot problems such as ingrown toenails. It’s important to cut your toenails properly (straight across, not at an angle or down the edges).
Wash your feet every day, dry them thoroughly and use foot moisturiser. You can also use a foot file or pumice stone to remove hard or dead skin.
Wearing shoes that fit properly will help to ensure your feet remain healthy. You should also change your socks (or tights) every day.
Visit your GP or a podiatrist as soon as possible if you develop problems with your feet.
While all of this information is in the public domain I would like to cite my sources to where dancers can do further research.
Betterhealth vic gov au/health/