Take a close look at your fingernails. Do they look strong and healthy?

Take a close look at your fingernails. Do they look strong and healthy? Or do you see ridges, dents, or areas of unusual color or shape? If your fingernails look less than desirable, proper nail care will help avoid these unhealthy conditions.

Your fingernails are made up of laminated layers of a protein called keratin which grow from the area at the base of the nail under your cuticle. As new cells grow, older cells become hard and compacted and are eventually pushed out toward your fingertips.

Healthy fingernails are smooth, without pits or grooves. They're even in color, texture and free of spots or discoloration. Sometimes fingernails develop harmless vertical ridges that run from the cuticle to the tip of the nail, unfortunately, these vertical ridges tend to become more prominent with age. Fingernails may also develop white lines or spots due to an injury, but these will eventually grow out as the nail grows.

However, not all nail conditions are normal. Talk to your doctor or dermatologist if you notice

Changes in nail color, such as discoloration of the nail or a dark streak under the nailChanges in nail shape, such as curled nailsThinning or thickening of the nailsSeparation of the nail from the surrounding skinBleeding around the nailsRedness, swelling or pain around the nailsDon't we all want beautiful healthy nails? I know I do, but it's not always that easy!

However, here are some simple rules you can follow, to help you keep your fingernails looking their best!

DO - Keep your nails dry and clean. This prevents bacteria, fungi and other organisms from growing under your nails. Wear cotton-lined gloves when washing dishes, cleaning or using harsh chemicals, also avoid long soaks in the tub.DO -Trim and file your nails regularly. Use a sharp manicure scissors or clippers. Trim your nails straight across, then round the tips in a gentle curve. It's easiest to trim and file your nails when they're soft, such as after bathing.DO - Use a moisturizer. When you use hand lotion, rub the lotion into your fingernails and cuticles too.DON'T – Abuse your nails. To prevent nail damage, don't use your fingernails as tools to pick, poke or pry at things.DON'T – Bite your nails or pick your cuticles. These habits can damage the nail bed. Even a minor cut alongside your fingernail can let bacteria or fungi enter and cause and infection.DON'T – Pull off hangnails. You might rip live tissue along the hangnail. Instead, carefully clip off the hangnail.DON'T – Ignore problems. If you have a nail problem that doesn't seem to go away on its own or there are unusual signs and symptoms, consult your doctor or dermatologist.Weak or brittle fingernails can be a challenge to toughen up. To reduce the splitting and breaking of brittle nails here are a few other tips.

Keep your nails short. Long nails are more likely to split or break.Use moisturizer. Apply moisturizer to nails and cuticles several times throughout the day and before bed. Consider wearing cotton gloves while sleeping to help seal in the moisture.Apply nail polish. A thin coat of clear nail polish can help keep moisture in your nails.Limit use of nail polish remover. Don't use nail polish remover more than once a week. Choose the acetone-free variety. Acetone dries nails.Ask your doctor about biotin supplements. Research suggests that the nutritional supplement biotin might help strengthen week or brittle fingernails.Let's talk about another idea for strong healthy nails!

Some people believe ingesting gelatin improves nail health and hardens the finger and toenails. Gelatin is made of collagen, a protein found in the skin and bones of pigs and cattle. Those who use gelatin say the collagen in gelatin teams with keratin in the fingernails to strengthen weak, brittle nails and promote healthy growth. The Knox drink for nails has Vitamin C to aid in collagen formation; biotin, which helps promote healthy nail growth; and gelatin for strong, healthy nails.

So, what will you need?

Knox gelatinGlassWater or juiceManicure tools, nail polish and nail hardener, rubber gloves or work glovesNow here are your instructions!

Mix one package of Knox Orange Flavored Gelatin in an 8-oz. glass of water or juice. Stir until the powder has completely dissolved. Drink one packet of gelatin mixed with water or juice daily.Depending on the health of your nails, new growth may not be measurably visible for approximately three months. Although, begin watching for signs of new growth in about 30 days. Healthy fingernails grow at a rate of about 1 to 2 inches a year. The middle fingernail grows fastest. The growth rate decreases on the fourth, second, fifth fingers and finally the thumb. Nails grow faster in the summer months than in the winter months. Overall, the nails on the hand used the most grow fastest. Wow… now that's something I never knew!Help protect the health of your nails, speed growth, along with taking the Knox gelatin, by wearing rubber gloves while doing dishes or other household chores. Wear regular gloves during cold weather or when doing chores that might break the nail tips, such as working in the yard. Interesting tip: Prevent dirt from getting under your nails by digging them into a bar of soap before gardening.Nail polish, strengtheners, and hardeners help protect the nail surface, particularly those containing nylon fibers. The fibers add strength and protection to the nails. When applying a new coat of nail protectors, apply t over the previous coats rather than using remover to take off the earlier coat. Applying a new coat over the older coats adds another layer of protectionJust think… regular manicures, the use of daily nail and cuticle moisturizers, along with the Knox gelatin routine, may yield healthy long-growing nails that you'll be proud to show off!