Nails of New York: Dr. Dana Stern

Meet Dr. Dana Stern—New York City's preeminent authority on nail health. As a nail specialist in dermatology, this doctor has seen it all when it comes to the tips of our fingers. And she's not only a medical whiz, she's a regular contributor to nail-centric publications and the go-to source for journalists looking for trustworthy advice and information on the health of nails. Oh, but did we mention she's also a manicure devotée? We love that Dr. Stern isn't afraid to make a statement with her nails (not to mention her killer style) and champions the benefits of a great manicure. 

We've put together a special Nails of New York interview with Dr. Stern and she was kind enough to provide us with a wealth of brilliant nail facts, tips, and thoughts. Read on for professional advice straight from Dr. Stern herself. 

Dr. Dana Stern wears Urban Jungle from the Paintbox FW'14 collection.

Why do you paint your nails?

Nail polish is a fun, personal form of self-expression and nails are such an important part of appearance and image. When my nails are manicured I feel put-together, in control, and ready for anything. As a dermatologist and surgeon, I like to keep my nails short and clean, but I never compromise on style. I also love the fact that polish is instantly changeable unlike permanent body art such as tattoos or even hair color. Nails are also my most affordable accessory. As much as I would love to change up my bag and shoes every week…that’s just not happening!

Do you have an all-time favorite nail polish or go-to shade?

When I want my nails to look clean, neat and natural, it’s one coat of Essie Mademoiselle—a classic.

What led you to pursue nails as a specialty?

Early on in my dermatology training at Mount Sinai Hospital my chairman encouraged me to apply for a research grant from an organization called The Council for Nail Disorders. He knew that there were very few nail specialists and thought it would be a great niche for a woman. When your chairman tells you to jump you basically ask how high? I applied and was awarded a research grant to study brittle nails. I ended up making several new discoveries and our work was published as a cover article in the most prestigious dermatology journal. From that point on I was hooked on nails.

It's not strictly nails, but winter skin—ack! What products do you recommend to combat dry skin on hands and fingers?

A big part of my practice is hands and yes, winter skin can be challenging. What fun is a fabulous new manicure if your hands are dry, scaly, and parched? The key is moisturizing throughout the day. During the day I love Cerave therapeutic hand cream as it is packed with ceramides and hyaluronic acid thus mimicking the skin’s natural, protective barrier. For those super dry days I love hand creams that incorporate shea like L’Occitane Shea Butter hand cream.

At Paintbox, our philosophy is to push back cuticles and snip any obvious hangnails. What do you think is the best way to treat cuticles? Does cutting cuticles really lead them to growing back thicker? What can you do instead?

I have the same philosophy. Yet another reason why I love to have my nails done at Paintbox! The cuticle is the nail’s natural protective seal. It is truly an amazing anatomical structure as this sticky protective barrier prevents water and organisms from entering the nail unit. I like to make the analogy of the grout between your shower tile. Imagine what would happen if water seeped into those cracks and crevices? The nail grows from a delicate tissue called the nail matrix which happens to be right beneath the cuticle. Any damage to the cuticle will therefore have a direct effect on the outgrowth and appearance of the nail—so yes absolutely no cutting. I tell my patients to gently push back the cuticles with a wash cloth after a shower or bath.

What are you tips for helping someone to stop biting her nails?

Nail biting is common and the longer the habit persists the harder it is to quit. Like any habit, awareness and wanting to stop is key. For my nail biting patients, I often prescribe a manicure regimen and this is one of the scenarios where gel manicures can be helpful, as they're long lasting and harder to bite through. Investing in regular manicures can be a very effective deterrent for biters and usually if they can stop biting for 12 weeks then they have successfully kicked the habit.

How can you make your nails grow stronger and healthier? What are your thoughts on Biotin?

Biotin is a Vitamin B derived co-enzyme that is available over-the-counter, and there is medical evidence that a daily dose of 2.5 micrograms improves brittle nails and can make nails healthier and stronger.

Should you file the natural nail in one direction only? Why or why not?

It depends on the type of file. For typical one-time-use emery boards, one direction is better for the nail.

What are some of the most common nail issues you see in your office?

Onycholysis (separation of the nail from the nail bed) is one of the most common nail issues that I see. Although there are many causes including psoriasis, thyroid disease, and even certain medications when combined with sun exposure, the most common cause is overly vigorous cleaning under the nail with an orange stick or other tool. As we age our nails don’t adhere as strongly and the slightest bit of pressure can cause the nail to lift off of the nail bed. I also see a lot of patients with melanonychia ie. pigmented bands of the nail. It is my job to decide if these patients need a nail biopsy to rule out melanoma. I also see a lot of infections of the nail, allergies or trauma related to nail products, as well as chronic inflammatory diseases of the nail, such as psoriasis and lichen planus.

To find out more about Dr. Dana Stern and the services she provides as a nail specialist in dermatology, visit her website.

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