What Our Nails Are Telling Us About Our Health

By: Sara Spruch-Feiner
October 25, 2020

nail

When most of us think of nails, we think of picking a manicure color. But to doctors, the nails can reveal tons about our internal health. We spoke to a host of experts about what our nails are trying to tell us—and how to listen. According to integrative medicine doctor, Dr. Taz Bhatia, “the key health signs of your nails include overall nail strength—i.e. do they break or split easily, and their color.” Our nails can send clues not just about how we’ve been treating them (one too many gel manicures) but sometimes also hint at our internal health as well. These are some of the “symptoms” to keep an eye on when it comes to your nails and your overall health—and though it might be tempting to self-diagnose, we recommend always discussing any changes to your routine, or supplements with a doctor.

Weak/Brittle

Weak or brittle nails are nails that are prone to cracking easily. The formal name for this condition is Onychoschizia, and it is most common in women. “Weak or brittle nails are consistent with protein deficiency, low zinc levels, and low vitamin c levels,” says Dr. Taz. They can also, however, just be connected to aging—“nails weaken as we age,” explains board-certified dermatologist Dr. Ranella Hirsch. Brittle nails can also point to an under-active thyroid, Hirsch explains, so if they’re a continual struggle for you, you’ll want to see your physician and get your thyroid levels checked! On the external front, Hirsch explains, brittle nails can result from “overdoing nail treatments, stripping them (e.g. pulling acrylics), or over washing hands. When nails get wet over and over it can cause brittleness. One trip? Wear gloves when washing the dishes.

White Spots

White spots on the nails (also called leukonychia). In many cases, it’s not only common, but also totally harmless. However, they can also result from fungal infection or mineral deficiency, and sometimes correspond with deficiencies in zinc or calcium. But it’s worth consulting a doctor and having bloodwork done before taking supplements.

Yellowing

Yellowing nails can be caused by fungal infections, but they can also point to internal conditions like diabetes, psoriasis, and thyroid disease, Dr. Hirsch says. Yet, yellowing nails can also be caused simply from the use of nail polish. Make sure to go to nail salons with top-notch hygiene practices where there is low risk for things like fungal infections being spread. Hirsch recommends consulting a dermatologist to make sure you accurately pinpoint why your nails are yellowing.

Dark Lines

Black, red, or brown lines—also called splinter hemorrhages, can occur as a result of blood vessel inflammation under the nail, and usually, will disappear on their own as the nail grows. Sometimes, however, these lines can correspond with a host of internal issues—another reason it’s key to consult a professional and not rush to draw your own conclusions! These can include endocarditis (infection of the heart’s inner lining), psoriasis, lupus, infections and more.

Pitted Nails

Pitted nails, Hirsch explains, “appear as they sound–tiny pits in your nails like someone put a thumbtack through and made a divot.” These can be hereditary but can also result from eczema, psoriasis, or arthritis, and alopecia. Like so many other changes in nails’ appearances, pitting can also result from fungal infection in which case anti-fungal treatment can help.

These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to things our nails can tell us about our health. The topic is so dense that there are entire dermatological textbooks on it! So take care of your nails and if you have any questions or concerns, consult a board-certified dermatologist!

Stress HeadacheFive Nail Conditions—And What They Say About Our Health

When most of us think of nails, we think of picking a manicure color. But to doctors, the nails can reveal tons about our internal health. We spoke to a host of experts about what our nails are trying to tell us—and how to listen. According to integrative medicine doctor, Dr. Taz Bhatia, “the key health signs of your nails include overall nail strength—i.e. do they break or split easily, and their color.” Our nails can send clues not just about how we’ve been treating them (one too many gel manicures) but sometimes also hint at our internal health as well. These are some of the “symptoms” to keep an eye on when it comes to your nails and your overall health—and though it might be tempting to self-diagnose, we recommend always discussing any changes to your routine, or supplements with a doctor.

Weak/Brittle

Weak or brittle nails are nails that are prone to cracking easily. The formal name for this condition is Onychoschizia, and it is most common in women. “Weak or brittle nails are consistent with protein deficiency, low zinc levels, and low vitamin c levels,” says Dr. Taz. They can also, however, just be connected to aging—“nails weaken as we age,” explains board-certified dermatologist Dr. Ranella Hirsch. Brittle nails can also point to an under-active thyroid, Hirsch explains, so if they’re a continual struggle for you, you’ll want to see your physician and get your thyroid levels checked! On the external front, Hirsch explains, brittle nails can result from “overdoing nail treatments, stripping them (e.g. pulling acrylics), or over washing hands. When nails get wet over and over it can cause brittleness. One trip? Wear gloves when washing the dishes.

White Spots

White spots on the nails (also called leukonychia). In many cases, it’s not only common, but also totally harmless. However, they can also result from fungal infection or mineral deficiency, and sometimes correspond with deficiencies in zinc or calcium. But it’s worth consulting a doctor and having bloodwork done before taking supplements.

Yellowing

Yellowing nails can be caused by fungal infections, but they can also point to internal conditions like diabetes, psoriasis, and thyroid disease, Dr. Hirsch says. Yet, yellowing nails can also be caused simply from the use of nail polish. Make sure to go to nail salons with top-notch hygiene practices where there is low risk for things like fungal infections being spread. Hirsch recommends consulting a dermatologist to make sure you accurately pinpoint why your nails are yellowing.

Dark Lines

Black, red, or brown lines—also called splinter hemorrhages, can occur as a result of blood vessel inflammation under the nail, and usually, will disappear on their own as the nail grows. Sometimes, however, these lines can correspond with a host of internal issues—another reason it’s key to consult a professional and not rush to draw your own conclusions! These can include endocarditis (infection of the heart’s inner lining), psoriasis, lupus, infections and more.

Pitted Nails

Pitted nails, Hirsch explains, “appear as they sound–tiny pits in your nails like someone put a thumbtack through and made a divot.” These can be hereditary but can also result from eczema, psoriasis, or arthritis, and alopecia. Like so many other changes in nails’ appearances, pitting can also result from fungal infection in which case anti-fungal treatment can help.

These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to things our nails can tell us about our health. The topic is so dense that there are entire dermatological textbooks on it! So take care of your nails and if you have any questions or concerns, consult a board-certified dermatologist!