Having strong, smooth nails is about much more than beauty. How your nails look and feel can clue you in on your overall health and well-being. If you are wondering what those discolorations or lines on your nails happen to mean (and if they are a cause for concern), read on. Board-certified dermatologist and nail expert Dana Stern, MD helps us take our nail health into our own hands.
White spots, streaks and faint white lines on nails are nothing to worry about. But some white lines can be of concern. Dr. Stern breaks down the different types of lines on your nails that indicate it’s time to see a dermatologist.
Dark brown or black stripes down the length of the nail could be benign pigmentation, moles or freckles. For example, splinter hemorrhages are black, length-wise lines that look like splinters but are most commonly due to trauma. So while it is normally nothing, “the pigmentation can be a melanoma of the nail,” says Dr. Stern, “which most commonly appears on the thumb, index finger and big toenail.” Dr. Stern recommends seeing a dermatologist if there is a single pigmented band (brown or black) on a single nail or if you see a brown pigment surrounding the nail—as these could be an indication of skin cancer.
Those at-home manicures could be doing more harm than good. Nails separating from the nail bed is a telltale sign that you need to take a step back from vigorously cleaning under the nail. Other possibilities? “Trauma (skiing, tennis, hiking) or certain diseases (psoriasis),” Dr. Stern tells us and recommends a strict irritant-avoidance regimen.
How to Treat:
Dr. Stern tells us: No nail polish, no filing and no cosmetic treatments for a few weeks, keeping the nail clip short. Be sure to keep the nails clean and dry by avoiding soaking them in water. Doctor’s orders!
Our nails thicken as we age. And while many may think a thick nail means fungus, thick and misshapen nails can appear from repetitive friction on the nail over time. “In fact, only 50 percent of ‘abnormal’ looking toenails are fungal. Proper diagnosis is key!” says Dr. Stern.
Cracked, split, thin nails: all in the same family. Brittleness is an all-too-common complaint, and, unfortunately for us, there are many potential causes. Genetics and aging play a huge role, as well as anything that puts a strain on the nails throughout time. This could be due to:
How to Treat:
Yellow nails? Discolored looking? Your nail polish is usually the culprit! Yet nails can also turn color due to stains from tobacco, henna or self-tanning products. A non-cosmetic cause can be yellow nail syndrome. Yellow nail syndrome nails appear thick and yellow/green in which case it’s time for a visit to the doctor’s office.
How to Treat:
“Nail polish stains can be lightened by using a dilution of hydrogen peroxide,” Stern explains. “Combine three to four tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide and one-half cup of water and mix them well. Soak your nails in the solution for two minutes. Using a soft toothbrush, gently scrub your nails. Then rinse them with water. Repeat two to three times during the week if needed.”