What Are Your Nails Telling You?

What Are Your Nails Telling You?


3 October 2016


Our nails are often regarded as an external aesthetic feature; a platform for bright colors and intrinsic nail arts.  We spend so much time trimming, shaping and painting our nails that we probably don’t spend much time observing them bare. In actual fact, our nails act as a window to our health; from its shape, its color, its texture and even its rate of growth.

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Did you know that your nails can reveal clues to your overall health? While nothing can replace a visit to the doctor for a proper checkup, taking a closer look at your fingernails and look out for any abnormalities. This can help detect early danger signs. Ladies, maybe it’s time to wipe off that nail polish and take a glance.

1. Yellow nails

Credit: Hand Research

  • Possible Causes: One of the most common cause of a yellow nail is a fungal infection. As the infection worsens, nails may thicken and crumbly. Other reasons include smoking and frequent application of nail lacquers or acrylic nails.
  • In rare cases, yellow nails can indicate a more serious condition such as severe thyroid disease, lung disease, diabetes or psoriasis.

2. Blue nails

Credit: Shape

  • Blue nails are commonly referred to as cyanosis; a condition where the blood vessel constrict limiting blood supply and oxygen. Fingers are often cold to the touch. Have a doctor check your blood and oxygenation levels if your nails are persistently blue.
  • Possible Causes: A lung or cardiovascular condition as well as vascular disease such as Raynaud’s phenomenon.
  • Some individuals may experience a slower blood circulation when exposed to cold temperature.

3. Dry, cracked, brittle nails

Credit: Feisty Blue Gecko

  • Possible Causes: Exposure to a lot of water, abrasive soaps or cleaning products can lead to dry, cracked nails.
  • Cracking and splitting of the nails can also be caused by a fungal infection, hypothyroidism or a deficiency in vitamins A, vitamin B (namely biotin) or vitamin C.

4. Horizontal lines/ridges (Beau lines)

Credit: MD Health

  • Possible Causes: Direct trauma to the nails, psoriasis, uncontrolled diabetes, circulatory disease, chemotherapy or severe zinc deficiency may cause these indentation that runs across the nails.
  • A more serious illness can also cause these lines. When your body is working overtime to combat an illness, your body channels its energy towards that and nail growth may be affected. 

5. Dark discolouration of the nail

Credit: Wise Geek

  • Possible Causes: Blood clots under the nail due to trauma can also have a similar appearance. This can possibly be a sign of skin cancer involving the nail bed; subungual melanoma and requires urgent attention.
  • It is common to find dark stripes running down the nails in darker skin individuals.

6. Gnawed nails

Credit: WebMD

  • Possible Causes: Biting your nails also known as onychophagia may be an old habit but in some cases, this can be a sign of persistent anxiety and can also be linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  • While nail biting is harmless, possible health risks include contributing to skin infections and aggravating nail bed conditions.

7. Spoon-shaped nails

Credit: NHS

  • Possible Causes: Iron-deficiency anemia, hypothyroidism, malnutrition, nail trauma or constant exposure to petroleum-based solvents.
  • Also known as koilonychias, the nails curl up at the edges and become whiter, fragile and concave.

8. Clubbed nails

Credit: Elsevier

  • Possible Causes: Clubbing is usually caused by low oxygen levels in the blood and is associated with lung and heart conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic bronchitis, congestive heart failure and congenital heart disease. It is also seen with liver disease and inflammatory bowel disease.
  • The soft tissue around the nail and fingertip becomes enlarged, and the nails become thicker, harder and shinier.

9. White spot on nails

Credit: Nails Mag

  • Possible Causes: Signs of previous trauma to the nail plate (the hard part of the nail) or the matrix (the source of the nail plate, located underneath the cuticle under the skin), and not caused by calcium or zinc deficiency.
  • Worry not as these white spots on fingernails are temporary and will grow out as your nails grow.

What can we do to have healthy nails?

Nail Care

  • Always keep nails clean and dry to prevent bacteria accumulating under the nails.
  • Trim nails straight across and rounded slightly at the center to help keep nails strong.
  • Do not cut your cuticle as this can lead to infection (remember this when you go for a manicure or pedicure!)
  • Bring your own manicure or pedicure set to the nail salon.
  • Do not bite your fingernails as this can damage the skin and encourage infection.
  • Rub coconut oil regularly to prevent cracking.
  • When washing or doing the laundry, use gentle ingredients and always remember to wear gloves.
  • When toenails are thick and difficult to cut, soak feet in warm salt water for five to 10 minutes and then apply urea or lactic acid cream. This softens the nails, making them easier to trim.
  • Wear proper-fitting shoes as tight shoes causes ingrown toenails.

Dietary Sources

  • Biotin plays a critical role in formation of keratin which helps in strengthening nails and hair. Source: organic free range eggs.
  • Protein plays an important role in supporting nail health. Source: free-range eggs, grass-fed meat, legumes and dairy.
  • Grass-fed beef is a good source of zinc necessary for making proteins found in nails.

Selection of Beauty Care Products

  • Avoid dibutyl phthalate (DBP), toluene and formaldehyde found in nail polish which can cause brittle nails. Research showed that DBP can cause birth defect in animals. Chronic exposure to toluene can cause liver and kidney damage. Formaldehyde is known to be carcinogenic nature.

So before you go for your next mani or pedi or sweep them with those glossy or gel nail polish, pay attention to how your nails look as they can be tell-tale signs of your health. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.


American Academy of Dermatology - Nails

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