An expert explains why keeping your nails short is likely the best way to keep bacteria at bay

By Kaitlyn Frey
March 18, 2020 01:40 PM

Now that social distancing and self-isolation are becoming the new norm amid the escalating coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, people are Googling at-home solutions to beauty treatments they used to outsource. So we’re reaching out to experts to share their do-it-yourself tips, from safely removing a gel manicure at home to deciding if you should go to that haircut appointment.

We’ve all heard that one of the best ways to curb the current coronavirus pandemic is by washing your hands (Google searches for hand soap have spiked exponentially in the past month), but properly cleaning your nails is just as important too.

“Nails can harbor dirt and bacteria which may lead to infections and the spread of germs. The underside of nails, called the ‘subungual’ region, is the ideal environment for the growth of microbes,” says Dr. Y. Claire Chang, board-certified cosmetic dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in N.Y.C. “That tight space between the nail and nail bed can trap moisture and bacteria and is hard to clean properly with soap.”

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If you’re not visiting your regular nail salon for routine manicures amid coronavirus, Chang urges people to still tend to your nails at home during the self-isolation period to prevent the spread of germs. “Don’t forget to scrub the underside of your nails with soap and water every time you wash your hands,” she says. “It is also important to dry the nails completely afterwards to avoid trapping moisture under them.”

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Chang also suggests using dilute vinegar water to sterilize your nails if they’re on the longer side. She says, “Soak them in the diluted vinegar water for 10 minutes at the end of the day.”

If you’re looking for a more low-key approach to nail care, at this time Chang says your best bet is to just trim them short. “Longer fingernails can trap more dirt and bacteria than shorter nails,” she explains.

RELATED: How to Safely Remove Your Gel or Acrylic Manicure at Home

But be forewarned: cutting nails too short can pose a problem too. “Cutting the nails or cuticles too short can expose the nail bed, leading to sore and painful nails, inflammation of the skin around the nails and spread of infection,” says Chang.

Most important, she says, is to avoid biting your nails at all costs. “It’s unsanitary and can cause a number of problems,” Chang says. “It damages the nails and skin around the nails, increasing the risk of infection and inflammation. Plus, nail biting can introduce germs from your hands to your mouth, which can lead to viruses.”

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.

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