Wondering what your nails say about your health? Well, the condition of your fingernails or toenails may have a lot to say about your general well-being. For example, if you’ve recently noticed discoloration, strange lines, or other abnormalities, these may be signs that your body is trying to tell you something.
Look At Your Fingernails Right Now: What Your Nails Say About Your Health
Did you know that your nails can tell a doctor whether your circulation is healthy? That’s why, if you’re undergoing a hospital procedure, you’ll be asked to remove your nail polish. A doctor or nurse can check for dehydration and blood flow simply by pressing down on your nail bed and watching how fast the color returns. 1
But fingernails can also give warning signs about your health in other ways. Let’s take a look at the ways in which nails may present themselves and what these signs could mean.
Firstly, Healthy Nails
To begin with, it’s good to have some idea of what a healthy nail looks like. A fingernail (or toenail) that’s in good shape should be a healthy shade of pink across the nail bed. The nail bed is the skin that your nail sits upon. Then, this nail should transform into a clean, smooth white tip as the nail plate grows out past your fingertip.2
Dry, Brittle Nails And Thick Nails (And What They Can Mean)
Brittle nails usually appear very thin, and they peel or break easily. While thick nails can be so hard they become troublesome to clip.
Brittle nails can be due simply to aging, which causes drier skin and nails. But they also may be from washing your hands a lot, overusing nail polish, or iron deficiency (anemia).3Sometimes, they may also be a sign of thyroid problems.4
Thick nail plates are also often related to aging and are caused by slow nail growth. Other things that may cause you to have thick nails are fungal infections and dry skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis. Thick nails often appear yellow in color, especially where a nail fungus is involved.5
Discolored Nails: Yellow Nails, Blue Nails, White Nails, And More
Discolored nails may also alert you that all is not rosy with your health. Here are some of the common colors that may show up:
- Yellow Nails
Wearing red nail polish or smoking are the most common reasons for yellow nail plates. However, a finger or toenail fungus (especially where the nails are thick and yellow) is also a frequent culprit. In rare cases, the health of the lungs may play a part.6
- Blue Nails
Bluish nails tend to relate to either very cold conditions or a lack of oxygen in the bloodstream. You should consult a doctor immediately if you are experiencing any problems with breathing.7
- White Nails Or Pale Nails
If your nail bed appears white (but the nail is still attached) this could be a sign of a nail infection. But it could also signal a decrease in blood supply known as “Terry’s Nails.”
Terry’s Nails are often white across the nail bed with a reddish or dark-colored tip. They can relate to a range of medical issues, including those that affect the liver and kidney, so you should consult a doctor for further examination.8
White specks or spots, on the other hand, may signal calcium or zinc deficiency.9
- Red Nails
Red half-moons (lunula) at the base of your nails, or a general reddish discoloration, may relate to the heart and cardiovascular system. 10
- Black Nails and Dark Streaks
You’ve probably experienced black, blue, or purple bruised nails after a nail injury at some point. It’s a very common occurrence known as a subungual hematoma. It may take some time for the color to grow out but it’s perfectly harmless.
However, if no injury has occurred, dark streaks on the nail could relate to abnormal cell growth and should be examined by a dermatologist. 11
- Red Splinters Or Spots
A smattering of red spots under the nails are known as splinter hemorrhages. These are tiny blood spots caused by tiny blood vessels bursting on the nail bed.
Splinter hemorrhages most commonly occur as a result of nail injury (like stubbing your toe) and are generally nothing to worry about. But if you know you haven’t injured yourself, they can also be caused by skin conditions (like psoriasis), medication, and several other underlying conditions. 12
Nail Abnormalities: What Do Nail Ridges, Spoon Nails, and Other Issues Signify?
A nail abnormality may also appear as a change in texture or shape. These nail changes commonly show up as: 13
Nail Ridges – These tiny, raised, vertical ridges are very common with aging and you could think of them as “wrinkles” on your nails. Just like wrinkles they are caused by a lack of moisture in the skin and nails. They may stop your nails from looking shiny and smooth, but they’re generally harmless.
Nail Pitting – Tiny dents in the nail that are often associated with certain skin issues.
Spoon Nails – Here, the nail dips down in the middle and may look like a spoon. These nails are thin and often related to dietary concerns like iron deficiency (anemia).
Nail Clubbing – Club nails curve downward. The fingertips or the nail fold (where your nail meets the skin at the cuticle) may look swollen or feel spongy. Clubbed nails may be genetic but can also relate to more serious conditions.
How To Keep Your Nails Healthy: The Relationship Between Skin and Nail Health
Just as you take care of your skin to keep it looking healthy, supple, and younger-looking, so too should you nurture your nails. Dry hands mean dry nails, and as you’ve seen, parched nails can become brittle. Dry cuticles (the skin around your nails) can also become irritated, sore, and even bleed.
So, you should try to always:
Moisturize your hands, feet, and nails regularly: Lather a good hand rejuvenating serum or cream on your hands (and feet) routinely. Really work it into your nails and cuticles. You can also apply a cuticle cream to your nails.
Trim nails with care: Both fingernails and toenails should be trimmed straight across so the corners “lie loosely against the skin.” This means, not so short that the corners will grow into your skin – which is what causes an ingrown nail. You should not round the edges unless you have long fingernails and the rounded edges are far from the adjoining skin.14
Don’t overuse acrylic nails: Artificial nails can damage the nails, leaving them thin and brittle. They can also irritate the skin around the nails.15
Nails: A Window On Your Health
As you can see, what your nails say about your health is… a great deal. Your nails are much more than just a stylish addition to your “look.” They can help you to better understand everything from skin conditions (like psoriasis), vitamin and mineral deficiencies (like anemia), infections (like fungal conditions), and even more serious underlying issues.
As you care for your nails, if you do see any sudden changes or anything that concerns you, talk to your doctor or dermatologist for a proper diagnosis.