Most of us are very perceptive when it comes to analyzing our faces, necks and hair. Those are the features that are most obvious as we primp and prod ourselves each morning before work, and as we cleanse, exfoliate and moisturize each night before bed. We know that if our skin is dry it means that we should look into eliminating products that contain sodium lauryl sulfate from our routine. We know that if our hair is brittle and thinning we may want to investigate a serum with lots of anecdotal evidence to back it, like Junko’s DIY hair oil. But do we really ever take a look at something as inconspicuous and disregarded as our nails? Sure, we might take the time to polish them, but the health of our nails remains elusive. And even if we do notice a ridge here or some yellowing there, we often don’t know what caused it or how to fix it.

Yellowing: Yellow nails can be caused by something as simple as wearing dark nail polish too often. The polish may actually stain the nail because of a reaction between the colorant and the nail itself. Sometimes, formaldehyde in nail polish may be the cause of yellow nails. Obvious solutions would include giving your nails a break from polish and sticking with formaldehyde-free brands. While there are nail whiteners on the market, a DIY concoction may also do the trick; try mixing hydrogen peroxide with baking soda, then allowing it to sit on nails for 4 minutes. Interestingly, psoriasis can cause yellow nails, so if you know that you have the condition skip the DIY stuff and head over to a dermatologist for treatment. Same goes for thickened yellow nails, which could indicate a fungus.

White spots: Formally known as leukonychia, those little white discolorations that you see from time to time on your nails are usually caused by trauma to the nail (like slamming your finger in a door, for example). But if you’re positive that you haven’t injured your nails and you see the spots reoccurring often enough, then a zinc deficiency may be to blame. Supplements will more than likely solve the problem. Another cause of the white markings could be eczema. If they bother you, definitely make an appointment with your dermatologist to discuss possible treatments.

Brittleness and peeling: Nails are composed of layers of keratin. If you’re hands are always in hot water thanks to a plethora of dirty dishes or if you live in a very cold, dry climate, your nails may begin to peel. Something as simple as keeping your nails polished, even with just a clear coat, can keep them protected. To prevent peeling in the first place, wear gloves when possible and try applying a moisturizing hand serum each day (maybe something like Pharmacopia Hand Cream). Another cause of peeling can be a lack of linoleic acid, which can be found in plant and fish oils (consumed internally) or in a topical cream like Reviva. A simple trick for reviving brittle nails is taking a biotin supplement, which has been shown to strengthen nails and increase their plate thickness.

Nail ridges: There's a lot of misinformation and scaremongering about about ridges on nails with websites (selling dubious cures) claiming they are harbingers of worrisome diseases. The Mayo Clinic, on the other hand, dismisses them as harmless and nothing more than hereditary. There is an explanation that is less fatalistic and that it is a sign that the nails are desperately in need of moisturizing. Rubbing a rich, moisturizing cream into nails every day will prevent ridging and even smooth out existing ones.

While nail aesthetics are usually just that – aesthetic – or maybe indicative of an easy to fix deficiency, always be aware that your nails could be telling you something a bit more serious. For example, a red discoloration may indicate heart problems, copper nail beds may mean infection or even high arsenic levels, and thickness may point to circulation problems. So there’s no harm in giving your nails a glance every now and then, a more meaningful glance than the one you give them when applying polish. And remember that keeping them hydrated with a good moisturizing cream will go a long way to keeping them healthy.