For the last several seasons, fashionably long nails have been trending among celebrities including Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, and Gwen Stefani. Unfortunately, acrylic extensions and longer natural nails may harbor pathogens that could provide a “safe harbor” for bacterial, viral, and fungal infections. With greater public health concerns for the COVID-19 virus, perhaps one method of reducing infection spread could be to shorten your finger nail length and perhaps avoid acrylic nails.
As far back as 1999, a study in the journal of Clinical Infectious Diseases found that 86% of a volunteer group of health care workers with artificial nails had bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus or yeast present under the nail compared to only 25% of a control group without artificial nails. Published in October 2002, the CDC reported that health care workers with acrylic nails harbored more bacteria under their nails and on their fingertips both before and after handwashing than those who had natural nails.
In 2008 hand cultures among 69 nurses working in an ICU demonstrated increased numbers of bacteria associated with nail tips measuring more than 2mm. Another study found that if nail tips were longer than 2mm (1/8 inch), hands were more likely contaminated with the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus.
The Joint Commission (2009) instructed medical staff members to hold their palm in front of their nose: If they can see their nails over the fingertips, they need to trim the nails (see picture below).
In the United Kingdom, the specifies nails must be short. Both World Health organization (WHO) and the UK’s National Health Services (NHS) defined short nails as less than 0.5cm or ¼ inch. The CDC also recommends cutting nail tips to ¼ inch. The CDC very clearly spells out when and how clean your hands with soap and water and the proper use of alcohol gel (CDC.gov).
As far as gel nail polish, a study in the American Journal of Infection Control (2018) demonstrated no difference in microorganisms on nails with gel polish, however, they did conclude that gel nails may be more difficult to clean using alcohol hand gel. The NHS recommends healthcare workers refrain from using any form of nail polish.
Just like my nails, I will keep this blog short: Short nails, proper cleaning, and keeping hands away from the face (except when eating or applying lipstick) are recommendations based on true facts and are essential in an effort to decrease your likelihood of catching or transmitting disease.