Take a look at your nails. What do you see? Purple discoloration? Large depressions? Pitting? Did you know your nail health can offer insight into your body’s overall health? That’s right – eyes maybe be the window to the soul but…
Nails are a window into our health.
If your nails have recently changed in color or texture, this can be symptom of a bigger health issue. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to the appearance of your nails… especially if there’s been a change in color or texture recently.
What Problems Can Our Nail Health Reveal?
There are several different possibilities for every kind of nail health issue, but it’s always best to make sure any symptoms you’re seeing aren’t due to that last manicure (i.e., picking off gel manicures can wreck your nails!) you had or any recent damage you might have experienced.
So what, exactly, can these changes in your nails indicate? These are some of the key issues and indicators.
|Nail Symptom||What To Look For||What It Could Mean|
|Nail Pitting||Ice pick-like depressions in the nails||Nail pitting is suggested to be linked to skin conditions that cause scaly patches or even hair loss issues.2|
|Nail Clubbing||The tips of the fingers enlarge, with the nails curving around the fingertips (usually over the course of years)||Nail clubbing is believed to be a result of low oxygen in the blood. The condition is also associated with inflammation in the bowels and other health issues.4|
|Koilonychia (known as spoon nails)||Koilonychia is characterized by soft nails that have the appearance of being scooped out – the depression is usually large enough to hold a drop of liquid||Koilonychia is believed to indicate an iron deficiency or that the body is absorbing too much iron. They’re also linked to heart health and thyroid health issues.5|
|Terry’s Nails||Nails appear white, except for a narrow pink band at the tip||Mostly attributed to aging, Terry’s nails can also be associated with liver, heart, kidney, or insulin issues.8|
|Beau’s lines||Deep indentations across the nails. These can appear when growth at the area under the cuticle is stopped by injury or severe illness||There are several conditions associated with Beau’s lines, including insulin resistance, heart health issues, or even a zinc deficiency.10|
|Onycholysis||Fingernails become loose and separate from the nail bed – the separated part of the nail becomes opaque with a white, yellow, or green tinge||Detached nails are normally linked to injury or infection. May also be the body’s response to a drug or product. Thyroid and skin health issues have also been linked to detached nails.|
|Yellow Nails||Yellow thick nails and slow regrowth– affected nails can lack a cuticle and detach from the nail bed||Yellow nails are mainly associated with a lack of oxygen, but are also suggested to indicate more serious respiratory issues. Frequent nail polish use may also cause this condition.13|
|Cyanosis||Blue or purple discolorations of the nail beds||Cyanosis is believed to be the result of low oxygen levels and can indicate serious heart issues14|
|Onychomycosis||Nails become thick, ragged, crumbly, and yellow||This condition is related to fungal, yeast or mold infection of the nail. Rarer versions of onychomycosis suggest immunosuppression issues.15|
|Paronychia16||Inflammatory reaction caused by bacterial invasion of the tissues surrounding the nail. Symptoms can be discoloration, puffy skin, and redness around the nail||Paronychia is suggested to indicate skin and hair health problems.16|
Tips for Healthy Nails
What can be done to keep these kinds of nail issues at bay? Here are some specific solutions:
1. Stop Biting Your Nails!
Nail biting has been directly linked to infection. Chewing on the nails can transfer all kinds of microorganisms that can enter through tiny tears or abrasions. This can lead to swelling, redness, or even pus around the nail. Nail biting has also been suggested to cause dental issues as well.17
While nail biting is usually seen in children and adolescents, it’s important at age to kick the habit.
Wrapping nails in small bandages, wearing gloves when you’re most likely to nail bit and keeping a journal to identify what triggers nail biting are a few ways to help quit the habit. Keeping nails trimmed and hands busy are other ideas. Dousing nails in unpleasant tasting substances (such as vinegar) has also been suggested.18
2. Keep Nails Clean
Making sure any dirt is removed from under and around the nails is another key step to having healthy nails. Just make sure not to clean harshly or too deeply under the nail beds – infection could occur. Use a gentle nail brush to clean under the nails daily.
3. Eat a Healthy, Balanced Diet
Eating a balanced diet of healthy veggies, fruit, and protein can benefit the body overall, and the nails will happily reflect solid diet choices.
If you feel your diet isn’t doing enough for you, adding supplements like biotin and collagen can promote healthy nails.19
4. Don’t Make Drastic Changes
Odds are your nails are fine they way they are, so don’t try to remove your cuticles or file your nails to a point. Cuticle removal could lead to infection, while a rounded tip for your nail allows it to stay healthy. Make sure to file your nails in one direction, as a sawing motion could harm more than it could help. Gently push back overgrown cuticles with an orange stick, but don’t cut!
Wearing polish is fine, but when it comes time to take it off, avoid harsh chemicals such as acetone and formaldehyde.
5. Moisturizing Should Be A Must
Give your nails (and hands) some lovin’ with a moisturizer that contains lactic or glycolic acid to keep your nails healthy.20,21 Consider using cuticle oil to keep ragged cuticles at bay. And it doesn’t have to be anything expensive…good ol’ olive oil works well!
Our nails can give us hints about what’s going on within our bodies at any given time. It’s critical that we listen and pick up on the messages being sent. Be sure to check your nails for issues regularly. Clean and moisturize effectively, and boost your diet with nutrient-packed foods – your nails will thank you.
2 Conrad Stoppler M. Nail Pitting: Check Your Symptoms and Signs. Medicinenetcom. 2016. Accessed December 1, 2016.
4 Singal Arora R. Nail as a window of systemic diseases. Indian Dermatology Online Journal. 2015;6(2):67. doi:10.4103/2229-5178.153002.
5 Vivek Kumar K, Vishal S, Aggarwal S, Sharma A. Nailing the Diagnosis: Koilonychia. PubMed Central (PMC). 2012. Accessed December 1, 2016.
8 Singal Arora R. Nail as a window of systemic diseases. Indian Dermatology Online Journal. 2015;6(2):67. doi:10.4103/2229-5178.153002.
10 Singal Arora R. Nail as a window of systemic diseases. Indian Dermatology Online Journal. 2015;6(2):67. doi:10.4103/2229-5178.153002.
13 Singal Arora R. Nail as a window of systemic diseases. Indian Dermatology Online Journal. 2015;6(2):67. doi:10.4103/2229-5178.153002.
14Singal Arora R. Nail as a window of systemic diseases. Indian Dermatology Online Journal. 2015;6(2):67. doi:10.4103/2229-5178.153002.
15Studdiford A. Evaluation of Nail Abnormalities – American Family Physician. Aafporg. 2012. Accessed December 2, 2016.
16 Studdiford A. Evaluation of Nail Abnormalities – American Family Physician. Aafporg. 2012. Accessed December 2, 2016.
17 WL L. Nailbiting. – PubMed – NCBI. Ncbinlmnihgov. 2009. Accessed December 2, 2016.
18Ghanizadeh A. Nail Biting; Etiology, Consequences and Management. PubMed Central (PMC). 2011. Accessed December 2, 2016.
19Hochman LG e. Brittle nails: response to daily biotin supplementation. – PubMed – NCBI. Ncbinlmnihgov. 1993. Accessed December 2, 2016.
20G F. Treatment of onychomycosis with a propylene glycol-urea-lactic acid solution. – PubMed – NCBI. Ncbinlmnihgov. 1989. Accessed December 2, 2016.
21Banga GPatel K. Glycolic acid peels for nail rejuvenation. Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery. 2014;7(4):198. doi:10.4103/0974-2077.150737.