What your nails tell you about your health?

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10 Things Your Nails Can Tell You About Your Health

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Eyes may be the windows to the soul, but nails can offer an important glimpse into your overall health. It turns out, having strong, healthy nails isn’t just good news for your manicure—unpleasant nail symptoms could also indicate bigger health problems. We spoke with John Anthony, MD, a dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio and Debra Jaliman, MD, a New York City-based dermatologist and author of Skin Rules about the nail symptoms you shouldn’t ignore (and which are totally normal).

The problem: Yellow nails

“This can happen naturally with age,” says Dr. Anthony. “But it’s also sometimes due to nail lacquers or acrylic nails.” If you often wear acrylic nails or paint your nails and are having this problem, try taking a break from the salon and give nails a chance to recover. Another possible cause: smoking, which can stain nails and give them a yellowish hue.

The problem: Dry, cracked, or brittle nails

This issue is a common one, and there are a few possible causes. “Soft, brittle nails can occur from dryness on the nail plate,” says Dr. Jaliman. “This could be from swimming, overuse of nail polish remover, frequent dishwashing without gloves, or just from living in a low-humidity environment.” Other possible causes include chemicals (such as if you’re frequently exposed to cleaning products) or aging. However, if brittle nails are an ongoing problem, speak to your doctor: sometimes hypothyroidism (a condition where the thyroid works too slowly) causes this side effect, too.

RELATED: 19 Signs Your Thyroid Isn’t Working Right

To soothe cracked nails, try slathering them with a super-moisturizing lotion. Like your skin, nails are absorbent, and lotion can prevent them from drying out in the future. Dr. Jaliman recommends choosing a product that contains hyaluronic acid, glycerin or Shea butter (we like SheaMoisture Raw Shea Butter, $13 at amazon.com). If that doesn’t help, you can also try taking biotin, an over-the-counter nutritional supplement that promotes healthy nail growth.

The problem: Clubbing

“Clubbing of the nails—when the ends of your fingers swell and the nail becomes curved and rounded—can sometimes be a sign of liver or kidney disease,” says Dr. Anthony. If you’re experiencing this, speak to your doctor.

The problem: White spots

Many people believe that white spots on nails indicate a calcium deficiency, but this isn’t typically the case: “Usually, those white spots are not very significant,” Dr. Anthony says. “They’re often the result of minor trauma, such as if you whack your finger against something, and aren’t generally to do with calcium.”

The problem: Horizontal ridges

“I sometimes see transverse (side to side) ridges on nails,” says Dr. Anthony. “This is typically the result of direct trauma to the nail or a more serious illness, in which case you’ll see it on more than one nail at a time.” The reason? When your body is working overtime to combat an illness, it saves its energy for the important stuff. “Your body is literally saying, ‘I’ve got better things to do than make nails’ and pauses their growth,” he explains.

Another possible cause for those side-to-side ridges? “Horizontal lines across the nail plate can also be caused by a drug reaction, for example if the patient recently had chemotherapy,” says Dr. Jaliman.

RELATED: 10 Foods for Stronger Nails and Thicker Hair

The problem: Vertical ridges

This is usually a normal sign of aging. “Just like wrinkles on your face, you also get lines on your nails as you age,” says Dr. Jaliman.

The problem: Severely bitten nails

Nail-biting is a common habit, but if it’s excessive—say, constant biting or picking at the skin around the nails—it could be a sign of obsessive-compulsive disorder. “Sometimes psychiatric medicine is required to treat OCD-related nail biting,” says Dr. Jaliman. “A bitter-tasting compound that’s polished onto the nails can help, too.”

RELATED: 10 Signs You May Have OCD

The problem: “Spoon” nails

“Spoon” nails refer to a very thin nail which has become concave in shape. “This is usually a sign of iron deficiency anemia,” says Dr. Jaliman, who recommends speaking to your doctor if you’re experiencing this. “It can be treated with iron supplements.” Extremely pale nails could also be a sign of iron deficiency anemia.

The problem: Pitting

Speak to your doctor if your nails are covered with pits or dents, as this could be a sign that you have psoriasis, says Dr. Jaliman.

The problem: Dark stripes or a painful growth

If you have black discoloration on your nails (such as black streaks) or a painful growth on the nail, see your doctor immediately. “Melanoma that comes from the nail unit is serious, and can sometimes cause black lines or stripes to appear on the nail,” says Dr. Anthony. “So if you see those changes happening on your nails, it’s important to see a doctor.” And although melanoma is generally less common in Hispanic, Asian and black populations, Anthony says that those patients may actually be more likely to see dark stripes when the disease is present—making a trip to the doctor even more important.

9 Things Your Fingernails Reveal About Your Health

Most of us don’t give a lot of thought to our fingernails beyond how often to clip them or which color to paint them. But besides protecting our fingertips or making a beauty statement, your nails say a lot more about your body than you think.

“The nail matrix, the site of nail growth that hides a few millimeters underneath the cuticle, is affected by each individual’s general state of health,” says Jessica Weiser, M.D., board-certified dermatologist at New York Dermatology Group. “Illness, fever, surgery, trauma, life stressors, and nutritional deficiencies all have different effects on the nails and their growth.”

To clue you in to everything your nails might be telling you about your body—from the minor to the more serious—watch for these nine things.

1. Brownish Stripes

Possible Cause: MelanomaJust like you regularly check your skin for moles, you should also keep an eye out for weird color changes in your nails. Melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, can pop up in your oft-exposed nail beds and go undetected. Any sort of asymmetric pigmentation can be a sign of skin cancer, but melanoma on nails (called subungual melanoma) usually looks like a pigmented vertical band stretching upward from the cuticle.Subungual melanoma: a review of current treatment. Cochran AM, Buchanan PJ, Bueno RA. Plastic and reconstructive surgery, 2014, Oct.;134(2):1529-4242.” data-widget=”linkrefIf a brownish streak on your nail bed shows up suddenly or changes in appearance, see a dermatologist as soon as possible, Weiser says. “If pigmented bands appear on several nails, this can be a sign of a normal variant, but you should still see a doctor to be sure.”

2. White Lines

Possible Cause: Nutrient Deficiency Horizontal white streaks spanning the nail are called Muehrcke’s lines. The likely cause: a protein or zinc deficiency.Nutrition and nail disease. Cashman MW, Sloan SB. Clinics in dermatology, 2010, Oct.;28(4):1879-1131.” data-widget=”linkref “These lines signal that segment of the nail had an interruption while growing and didn’t get all the nutrients or blood flow it needed,” says Niket Sonpal, M.D., assistant clinical professor at Touro College of Medicine in New York.Check in with your doc to make sure you’re getting the correct daily amount. Daily protein intake depends on your weight and activity level (you can calculate how much you need here). As for zinc, the recommended daily amount is 11 grams for women and eight grams for men. In rarer cases, Muehrcke’s lines could signal more serious issues, including kidney disease or liver problems.

3. Vertical Ridges

Possible Cause: AgeIf you notice vertical ridges and roughness appearing in your nails that you didn’t have a few years ago, it’s probably nothing more than a side effect of aging. “They’re analogous to getting wrinkles in your skin,” Sonpal says, who adds that we usually don’t notice these until around age 50. If the ridges seem particularly severe, or they pop up out of the blue, check in with your doctor to make sure there’s not something else at play.

4. Concave, Spoon-Shaped Nails

Possible Cause: Iron Deficiency or AnemiaThis nail deformity is not subtle, and definitely weird-looking enough to catch your attention. Koilonychia, known as “spoon nails,” are most commonly due to an iron deficiency.Images in emergency medicine. Koilonychia, or spoon-shaped nails nails, is generally associated with iron-deficiency anemia. Kumar G, Vaidyanathan L, Stead LG. Annals of emergency medicine, 2007, Feb.;49(2):1097-6760.” data-widget=”linkrefIn this case, the nail gets so thin that it actually becomes concave (as if it could hold a drop of water).If you notice this, have some lab work drawn to determine if anemia is the issue, Weiser says. If you are iron deficient, your doc will probably recommend an iron supplement. Other causes include working with petroleum-based products or trauma. In very rare circumstances, koilonychia can be associated with thyroid disease and heart conditions.

5. Brittle or Dry Nails

Possible Cause: External FactorsCracked, dry, and brittle nails that break easily aren’t out of the ordinary—and probably a major reason why so many people stock up on nail-boosting supplements like biotin. Once in a while, brittle nails are normal, Sonpal says. If you’re a regular at the nail salon or working with water or cleaning supplies all the time, dry, cracking nails aren’t that unusual.But if brittle nails are becoming a regular trend, then speak to your primary doctor and have your thyroid checked, since chronically brittle nails can be a sign of hypothyroidism.

6. Huge Half-Moons

Possible Cause: Renal Failure or Liver DiseaseEveryone has little white half-moons at the base of the nails, but how big they are can clue you into some serious health issues. If they take over half the nail bed, it could be a signal of renal failure, which tends to occur in people who have diabetes or high blood pressure.If the moons extend two thirds up the nail bed, they’re called Terry’s nails, and you’ve got another issue. “Terry’s nails are classically associated with liver failure,” says Jennifer Chen, M.D., clinical assistant professor at Stanford School of Medicine. Liver failure is pretty serious, and treatment depends on the underlying cause. Certain liver problems might be easy to fix with a lifestyle change, such as cutting out alcohol or losing weight, while others might require medication or surgery. Either way, it’s important to see your doctor.

7. Red Streaks

Possible Cause: Heart Condition Bloody-looking streaks on your nail bed are not normal (unless you’ve just slammed a finger in a car door). Little longitudinal lines of blood—especially on the half of the nail closest to your body— are called splinter hemorrhages. They can indicate a heart infection affecting the valves or inner lining of the heart, Chen says.Heart infection, or endocarditis, is usually caused by a bacterial infection, and risk is higher for people who have implanted heart devices, congenital heart defects, a history of drug use, or have had heart attacks. It can be accompanied by flu-like symptoms, weight loss, muscle pain, coughing, and more. Treatment will typically involve antibiotics. Bottom line: If you notice little red lines, see a doc, stat.

8. Pitted Nails

Possible Cause: PsoriasisLittle dents and tiny craters in the nails are known as “pitting” and are often a symptom of psoriasis, a chronic skin condition that causes an itchy, scaly rash. But this particular symptom could mean more complications later on. “When you see nail involvement with psoriasis, it’s associated with a higher instance of arthritis down the road,” Chen says. Typically, pitting occurs in around half of people with psoriasis and 80 percent of people with psoriatic arthritis, she adds.Dented nails can also be a sign of alopecia areata, an autoimmune condition that causes you to lose your hair, Weiser says. If you’re not already being treated for psoriasis, see a derm to figure out what’s going on.

9. Rounded or “Clubbed” Edges

Possible Cause: Pulmonary ProblemsIf the nail looks curved and rounded (like an overturned spoon) and fingertips look swollen, it could signify an issue called clubbing. “Clubbing is classically the result of a wide variety of lung conditions that cause lower-than-normal oxygen levels in the blood,” Weiser says. Lung cancer is the most common cause, but it can also be associated with an overactive thyroid or liver disease. Just remember: Clubbing is not a normal finding and should always be evaluated by a doctor to determine the underlying cause.

What Your Nails Say About Your Health

You probably trim your fingernails on a regular basis, but when’s the last time you really took a closer look at your nails?

Your nails can reveal a lot about your general state of health, so it’s important to recognize the signs of healthy nails, as well as abnormalities that could indicate a medical problem.

Not sure what’s normal and what’s not? Here are some clues to help you determine what healthy nails look like, and when there could be a problem, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Signs of Normal Nails

  • Uniform in color
  • Smooth with no grooves or pits
  • Attached to the skin
  • White lunula (“little moon”) just above the cuticle

Signs of Abnormal Nails

  • Discoloration
  • Spots
  • Separation of nail from skin
  • Thinning or thickening
  • Oddly shaped

The good news is that nail changes aren’t usually anything to get riled up over. Even so, a change in appearance can sometimes point to a disease elsewhere in the body. If you notice any of the following changes in your nails, err on the side of caution and make an appointment to see a dermatologist or podiatrist.

Nail Color Changes Tied to Health Conditions

A change in nail color might not mean anything, but certain changes may be linked to the following conditions:

Leukonychia Also known as “white nail syndrome,” leukonychia can develop when there’s a defect in how the nail grows, explains Ashley Anderson, DO, a family medicine doctor with Dignity Health Medical Foundation in Davis, California. The nail will have white patches or lines, which often don’t reach the edge of the nail, or the entire nail will go white, she adds. These changes can be due to microtrauma of the nail, especially after a manicure or with artificial nails, or indicate leprosy, cirrhosis, or typhoid fever, warns the Genetic and Rare Disease Information Center (GARD).

Terry’s Nails The nail will look mostly white and grainy with a pink or red strip at the top. This change is found in about 80 percent of people with cirrhosis, according to an article published in the journal American Family Physician. It can also develop in people with congestive heart failure, kidney failure, and diabetes, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Muehrcke’s Nails Muehrcke lines usually appear as narrow pairs of whitish, horizontal bands on the fingernails (it is uncommon for them to appear on the thumbnails), according to an article published in March 2013 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. The condition has been linked to low levels of a protein called albumin, which is found in the blood. According to an article published in the Journal of the Turkish Academy of Dermatology, this condition has also been linked to liver disease and malnutrition.

Half-and-Half Nails, or Lindsay’s Nails Half-and-half nails feature red, pink, or brown bands occupying 20 to 60 percent of the nail bed, according to an article published in April 2015 in The New England Journal of Medicine. The condition is associated with chronic kidney disease.

Mees’ Lines Mees’ lines are single or multiple narrow, whitish lines running along the width of the nail, and may involve multiple nails, according to an article published in the March–April 2015 issue of the Indian Dermatology Online Journal. They are caused by arsenic intoxication, and have also been reported with other conditions as well, such as Hodgkin lymphoma, leprosy, tuberculosis, malaria, shingles, chemotherapeutic drugs, carbon monoxide (CO) and antimony poisoning, renal and cardiac failure, pneumonia, and childbirth.

Splinter Hemorrhages These thin, dark red or brown vertical lines in the nail bed look like splinters beneath the nail, but are actually blood under the nail plate appearing in a splinter pattern, explains Tammy Gracen, a doctor of podiatric medicine based in Vancouver, British Columbia. Possible causes include trauma, collagen vascular diseases, infectious endocarditis, and heart disease. It’s also sometimes seen in people with clotting problems and those who inject drugs under the nails, Dr. Gracen adds.

Yellow Nail Syndrome This condition — where slow-growing yellow nails become thickened and curved — is associated with pulmonary disease and lymphedema, Dr. Anderson says. She also notes that some cases of yellow nail syndrome are spontaneous, although the condition does occasionally run in families, according to the National Organization for Rare Diseases (NORD).

Vertical Brown Streaks Although this is a common nail problem among people with dark skin, it shouldn’t be ignored. Dark or brown streaks on the nail can indicate a serious illness like melanoma, or something simple like a benign nevus (an overgrowth of cells) or chemical staining (nail polishes), according to the article from American Family Physician.

Nail Shape Changes Linked to Health Conditions

A wide range of health issues can also cause changes in the shape of your nails. Conditions possibly associated with these changes include:

Spoon Nails (Koilonychia) The nails are soft and look scooped out, like they can hold a drop of liquid, according to the Mayo Clinic. This can have a variety of causes, including iron deficiency anemia, hemochromatosis (when your body absorbs too much iron), hypothyroidism, and heart disease.

Clubbed Nails or Clubbing The tips of the fingers get larger, and the nails curve around the fingertips, according to the Mayo Clinic. “Nail clubbing is most often associated with cardiovascular or pulmonary disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and congestive heart failure,” explains Anderson. “Less common causes include inflammatory bowel disease and cirrhosis.”

Nail Texture Changes Linked to Health Conditions

Apart from the odd bump or small lines, nails are normally fairly smooth. But a texture change can occur when there’s a problem elsewhere in the body. The following conditions can cause nail texture changes:

Beau’s Lines Beau’s lines are indentations in the nails that run across the nail, according to the Mayo Clinic. Conditions associated with Beau’s lines include diabetes and peripheral vascular disease, as well as scarlet fever, measles, mumps, and pneumonia. Beau’s lines can also be a sign of zinc deficiency.

Pitting Small, pinpoint depressions can appear in the nails when there’s a problem in nail plate layering. These depressions can be shallow or deep, and are more common on fingernails than toenails, Anderson says. Pitting is seen in approximately 68 percent of people with psoriasis and nail changes, according to an article published in 2017 in the journal Reumatologia. Pitting can also appear with alopecia areata, eczema, and the autoimmune disease lichen planus.

Health Conditions Associated With Nail Separation

The following conditions can cause nail separation:

Onycholysis In this condition, the nail starts to lift up so that it’s no longer completely attached, and you’re likely to see white discoloration, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Common causes include trauma, infection, and psoriasis.

Onychomadesis This is a temporary, acute cessation of nail growth that causes the nail to separate from the bed, Gracen explains. It can appear in one nail due to trauma, but is also seen in children following hand, foot, and mouth disease, as well as with immune diseases, psoriasis, and lichen planus, she says.

When Nail Changes Are Harmless and When to See a Professional

Your nails say a lot about your health, so don’t ignore abnormalities. While many nail changes are nothing to worry about, you won’t know this until you get checked out by a doctor.

“Any changes to the nail that don’t resolve in a few weeks and don’t have an inciting cause should be evaluated by a physician,” warns Anderson. “Additionally, any pain, swelling, or redness should be evaluated right away.”

What Do Red Lines on Fingernails Mean?

What are the Red Lines on Your Fingernails?

We don’t often pay close attention to our fingernails. As long as they are not falling apart, we tend to not take much notice. It might not be until you are getting your gel nails, that you notice something isn’t quite right. The condition of your nails can actually tell you a lot about your general health and if there is something unusual, such as red lines, you may be suffering from an underlying health issue. Red lines are likely to be blood lines and the condition is probably a splinter hemorrhage. Splinter hemorrhages can be perfectly harmless, but in some cases, they may be caused by an underlying condition.

What is a Splinter Hemorrhage?

A splinter hemorrhage is the result of a blood leakage from the small blood vessels on the nail bed. If you have had an injury to the nail, hitting your fingernail for example, or anything that could have caused trauma to the nail, this is the likely cause of the splinter hemorrhage. However, if you don’t remember any cause for the injury, it may be an underlying illness and, in this case, it would be better to seek advice from your doctor.

Do I Need to See a Doctor if I Have Red Lines on my Fingernails?

The potential conditions causing a splinter hemorrhage are wide ranging, and include antiphospholipid syndrome, which is when blood clots develop, both in the arteries and the veins. They could also be a symptom of lupus.

Conditions such as infectious endocarditis, which is a sign of an underlying infection could also be behind your red lines. Injecting illegal drugs can also cause splinter hemorrhages, or they be the result of nail psoriasis or rheumatic heart disease. As you can see, there are all kinds of potential conditions causing red lines on the fingernails and the only real way to find out is to speak to your doctor. You should definitely visit your doctor if you have other symptoms, such as a fever or joint pain.If you are concerned, I would always advise you to seek a medical opinion.

Treatment for Red Lines on my Fingernails

If the red lines are just a result of trauma, they probably won’t need any treatment, and will vanish with time. However, it is a good idea to try and give your nutrition a boost by eating a diet with a higher quantity of vitamins and zinc, as well as drinking more water.

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If there is no known cause of the splinter hemorrhages and they are not going away, it’s important to seek advice from your doctor as there may be an underlying health condition such as splinter hemorrhages.

Check out these red fingernail guidelines to make sure if you should be worried in case you are experiencing red lines on your fingernails.

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What’s Causing My Toenail Problems and How Do I Treat It?

There are a number of toenail abnormalities that can cause anything from pain to a change in a toenail’s appearance.

Here’s a look at some common toenail problems, what causes them, and their symptoms.

Toenail fungus

Nail fungus, or onychomycosis, is a common condition. About 10 percent of people are affected. The older you are the more likely you are to experience it. Half of all people over age 70 develop this infection.

You may first notice a white or yellow spot under the tip of a toenail. As the fungal infection makes its way deeper into the nail, your nail will become discolored and thicken.

Your nail may also crumble and become jagged at the edge, and spread to other toenails. It can also spread to the surrounding skin.

Toenail fungus can be caused by a fungal infection on your foot or from walking barefoot where someone else with an infection has walked, such as saunas or locker rooms.

Fungi thrive in dark and damp environments, so people whose feet remain wet for extended periods have an increased risk of toenail fungal infections. This can happen when wearing the same sweaty shoes or boots every day or working in wet conditions.

People with diabetes are also at high risk for this infection.

Symptoms

If you have toenail fungus, one or more of your toenails may become:

  • discolored, usually white or yellow
  • thickened
  • misshapen
  • brittle or crumbly
  • foul-smelling

Ingrown toenail

Ingrown toenails are one of the most common and most painful toenail problems. It occurs when the corner or side of your toenail grows into the flesh.

This can be caused by:

  • cutting your toenails too short
  • cutting your toenails on a curve instead of straight across
  • injuring your toenail
  • having unusually large or curved toenails

Symptoms

If you have an ingrown toenail, you may experience:

  • redness and pain along the side of the nail
  • swelling around your toenail
  • pus draining from your affected toenail

Toenail trauma

Toenail trauma can happen several ways, including:

  • stubbing your toe
  • dropping something heavy onto your foot
  • wearing ill-fitting shoes
  • picking at nails

Activities such as running or ballet dancing may also cause trauma to the toenail, as can a poorly performed pedicure.

Injuring a toenail can result in a collection of blood under the nail, called subungual hematoma. Other damage can include a partially or completely separated nail or injury to the underlying bone.

Symptoms

Symptoms of toenail trauma depend on the type of injury and may include:

  • pain or throbbing
  • dark red or purple spot under the nail
  • split or torn nail
  • nail lifting away from the skin
  • thickening of the toenail
  • discoloration
  • bleeding

Clubbed nails

Nail clubbing refers to changes under and around the toenails that cause your toes to take on a widened, club-like appearance.

Clubbing is most often caused by an underlying medical condition, such as heart disease, lung disease, gastrointestinal disorders, and cancer. It can also be an inherited trait in some people.

Clubbing can develop gradually over weeks or years, depending on the cause.

Symptoms

Symptoms of clubbed nails may include:

  • widening and rounding of the toenails
  • downward curving of the toenails
  • pronounced angle between the cuticles and nails
  • softening of the nail beds
  • nails that appear to be floating
  • bulging of the tips of the toes

Discoloration of the nail plates

Discoloration of the nail plates is usually the least worrisome of toenail problems.

Your nails are susceptible to discoloration from substances you come into contact with. Nail polish, dye from your shoes, and other products containing dye can stain your nails.

Drugs, including some cancer drugs, antibiotics, and those used to treat autoimmune disorders, can also cause discoloration of your nail plates.

Discoloration is usually not painful and will improve when your nail grows out or when you stop taking the medication or using the product that caused the discoloration.

There is a rare medical condition that can cause your nail plates to turn white.

Symptoms

Other than the discoloration, there aren’t usually any other symptoms associated with discolored nail beds.

Nail-patella syndrome

Nail-patella syndrome is a rare condition that affects an estimated one in 50,000 people. It causes changes in the nails, kneecaps, hip bone, and elbows. The most common symptom is underdeveloped or missing fingernails and toenails. It caused by a genetic mutation.

Symptoms

The following are some of the symptoms of this rare condition:

  • underdeveloped fingernails and toenails
  • missing fingernails and toenails
  • ridged or split fingernails and toenails
  • discolored nails
  • small, deformed, or missing kneecaps
  • underdeveloped or deformed elbows
  • knee and elbow pain
  • small bony growths on the hip bones (iliac horns)

Leukonychia

Leukonychia is the whitening of the nail plate. The condition can be divided into types based on the extent of the whitening:

  • Leukonychia striata are white streaks on the nail.
  • Leukonychia partialis is a partial whitening of the nail.
  • Leukonychia totalis is the complete whitening of the nail.

It is believed white streaks that form on the nail are due to problems with how the nail makes keratin. Whitening of the nail can be caused by underlying medical conditions or injury to the toenails.

An inherited gene mutation, certain medical treatments, such as chemotherapy, and heavy metal poisoning can also cause leukonychia. In some cases, an underlying cause is not found.

Symptoms

Symptoms of leukonychia include:

  • white spots on the nails
  • partial whitening of the nails
  • complete whitening of the nails

Red or black lines down the nails can be signs of a variety of serious infections and medical conditions, including cancer. See your doctor if you notice these types of changes.

What to know about splinter hemorrhages

Share on PinterestSplinter hemorrhages are characterised by red, splinter-like streaks under the nails.
Image credit: Splarka, MD, (2010, August 23).

Splinter hemorrhages occur when blood leaks or swells from small blood vessels that run up and down the nail bed. Tiny blood clots known as microemboli in the capillaries can also cause splinter hemorrhages.

One of the most common causes of splinter hemorrhages is trauma to the nails. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, an estimated 20 percent of splinter hemorrhages are due to nail trauma.

Dropping something on the nails, hitting the fingernails against something, or getting them stuck in an obstacle can cause splinter hemorrhages to appear.

However, if a person is unable to identify the cause of splinter hemorrhages, the hemorrhages could be the result of an underlying medical condition.

Some medical conditions that cause splinter hemorrhages include:

  • Antiphospholipid syndrome: This syndrome causes blood clots to develop in the arteries and veins. It can be the result of another medical condition, such as lupus, or can occur without having a known condition.
  • Infectious endocarditis: This condition happens when a person has an underlying infection, such as strep. People who abuse drugs intravenously are at greater risk for this condition, which can damage the heart valves. Splinter hemorrhages are usually one of the later signs of infective endocarditis.
  • IV drug abuse: When a person injects illegal drugs, such as heroin, they are at greater risk of infectious diseases.
  • Nail psoriasis: This is an autoimmune disorder that causes excess skin cells to build up on the nails, which can result in pitting of the nails. Sometimes, the nails will also split or separate from the nail bed.
  • Rheumatic heart disease: This condition occurs when a person has strep throat as a child that progresses to a more serious infection that damages an individual’s heart.
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE): This autoimmune disorder causes joint pain, blood clotting, and changes to the circulation in the fingers.

In rare instances, splinter hemorrhages can be the result of taking certain medications. Examples of drugs that can cause this include aspirin, warfarin (Coumadin), and some chemotherapy medications, such as tetracycline or ganciclovir (Cytovene).

When a person has splinter hemorrhages that have no known cause, it is referred to as idiopathic splinter hemorrhaging.

If you’ve ever taken a picture of your hands, like after a manicure, or maybe while holding a big ol’ doughnut at brunch (hey, what do you take pictures of?), then you know how, uh, kinda ugly hands can be in the wrong lighting, or with the wrong polish, or with a bad doughnut. Just kidding—THERE ARE NO BAD DOUGHNUTS.

Which is why we’re really into the idea of nail-polish contouring, which is basically just picking specific colors for your skin tone to give your hands a bit more oomph. No, we’re not saying that this is a required step for any human being, because we realize that hands are just hands, but if you’re planning to wear nail polish anyways, why not make it purposeful?

And to help you decode your digits, we got the very brilliant manicurist Jin Soon Choi to break down the best colors from her polish collection for your exact skin tone and dream hand look. Because that’s a thing, right? Right.

Design by Katja Cho

“Choose colors that are not too immature or too neon-like,” says Choi. “They should be more elegant and have sharp color pigmentation to make your skin look vivid.”

Fair Skin: Try a soft, blush-y pink, like Dolly Pink BUY IT

Medium Skin: Look for a bright coral orange, like Enflammee BUY IT

Olive Skin: Pick a rich, hot-as-hell orange, like Pop Orange BUY IT

Dark Skin: Try a bright mint blue, like Poppy Blue BUY IT

Design by Katja Cho

“Try to use colors that make your hands look a bit more bronzed, like orange, yellow, green, or opaque pastel colors,” she says.

Fair Skin: Pick a deep, ocean-y green, like Tila BUY IT

Medium Skin: Go for a coral-y pink, like Coral Peony BUY IT

Olive Skin: Try another bright, rich orange, like Pop Orange BUY IT

Dark Skin: Look for a creamy lemon yellow, like Charme BUY IT

Design by Katja Cho

“Opaque whites and pastel shades give your nail beds a bigger appearance in contrast to your skin,” says Choi.

Fair Skin: Go for a retro, blush-y pink, like Dolly Pink BUY IT

Medium Skin: Look for an off-white shade with just a hint of blue, like Kookie White BUY IT

Olive Skin: Try an opaque beige, like Prim BUY IT

Dark Skin: Look for a super-powder-y pink, like Doux BUY IT

Design by Katja Cho

“Darker shades tend to make nail beds look smaller, so make sure that you choose deep colors that naturally complement your skin tone, especially in the winter,” she says.

Fair Skin: Pick a deep, electric blue, like Blue Iris BUY IT

Medium Skin: Try a dark blue-gray, like Rhapsody BUY IT

Olive Skin: Go for a red-hued black, like Risqué BUY IT

Dark Skin: Pick a rich, ocean-y green, like Tila. BUY IT

“Use more natural, subtle colors that don’t draw attention to your nails, so your nails can become an extension of your fingers,” explains Choi.

Design by Katja Cho

Fair Skin: Look for a super-sheer pink, like Muse BUY IT

Medium Skin: Go for a subtle, sheer tan, like Tulle BUY IT

Olive Skin: Try a pink-tinged beige, like Nostalgia BUY IT

Dark Skin: Pick a milky toffee shade, like Dulcet BUY IT

Chloe Metzger Senior Beauty Editor Chloe Metzger is the senior beauty editor at Cosmopolitan, obsessively writing about new makeup launches, the best hair products (curly girl here; whattup), and the skincare formulas that really work for every skin type (follow her on Instagram to see behind-the-scenes pics of that magazine life). Lauren Valenti Associate Web Editor I’m the associate web editor at Marie Claire.

Tips for Strong, Healthy Nails

To strengthen your nails, avoid infections, and improve their appearance, try the following tips:

  • Keep your nails clean and dry.
  • Avoid nail-biting or picking.
  • Apply moisturizer to your nails and cuticles every day. Creams with urea, phospholipids, or lactic acid can help prevent cracking.
  • File your nails in one direction and round the tip slightly, rather than filing to a point.
  • Don’t remove the cuticles or clean too deeply under your nails, which can lead to infection.
  • Don’t dig out ingrown toenails. See a dermatologist if they become bothersome.
  • Avoid nail polish removers that contain acetone or formaldehyde.
  • Bring your own instruments if you get frequent manicures.
  • If you have artificial nails, check regularly for green discoloration (a sign of bacterial infection).
  • Eat a balanced diet and take vitamins containing biotin.

Finally, ask your doctor to take a look at your nails during your next checkup. Fox says this is becoming more routine “because the nails offer such a unique window into the health of our bodies.”

Published March 7, 2005.

SOURCES: Tamara Lior, MD, dermatologist, Cleveland Clinic Florida. Joshua Fox, MD, director, Advanced Dermatology; spokesman, American Academy of Dermatology. News release, Advanced Dermatology. American Academy of Dermatology. Christine Laine, MD, MPH, senior deputy editor, Annals of Internal Medicine; spokeswoman, American College of Physicians.

What Does It Mean to Have Half Moons on Your Nails?

Here are some of the most common reasons for abnormal lunulae:

Tetracycline therapy

Tetracycline medications are antibiotics that are usually used to treat acne and skin infections. Extended use may cause your lunulae to turn yellow.

Diabetes

Pale blue lunulae may be a sign of undiagnosed or uncontrolled diabetes. This is a chronic, lifelong condition that affects the body’s ability to control blood sugar.

Excessive fluoride ingestion

Taking in too much fluoride, like that found in toothpaste, can turn the lunulae brown or black.

Silver poisoning

Blue-grey lunulae may be a sign of silver poisoning.

Yellow nail syndrome

This condition typically produces thick, slow growing nails. The middle of your nail may begin to rise, causing the lunulae to disappear completely. Your entire nail will take on a yellow appearance.

It isn’t clear what causes this syndrome, but it may be tied to:

  • chronic sinusitis
  • pleural effusion
  • recurrent pneumonia
  • lymphedema
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • immunodeficiency disorders

Terry’s nails

This condition causes the bulk of your nail to appear white, completely erasing the appearance of the lunula. It’s characterized by a pink or red band of separation near the arc of your nails. Although it can happen on one finger only, it usually affects all fingers.

In older adults, this condition is usually a natural sign of aging.

In some cases, it may be a sign of:

  • diabetes
  • liver disease
  • kidney failure
  • congestive heart failure

Wilson’s disease

This is a rare inherited disorder that occurs when too much copper accumulates in your organs. It’s known to cause blue lunulae.

Severe renal disease

The portion of your nail containing the lunula may turn white, sometimes creating a nail that’s half-brown and half-white. This is sometimes called half-and-half nails and may be a sign of renal disease.

Chronic renal failure

People who experience chronic renal failure may produce more melanin, which can cause your nail bed to turn brown.

Heart failure

If your lunula turns red, it may be a signal of heart failure.

Your nails can tell you much more than whether you need a manicure. They’re packed with details about your health. They can show if you have an infection, a serious disease, or even how well you’re eating.

To figure out what your nails might have to say, answer these questions. If you’re concerned, ask your doctor, as you’ll need more than a glance at your hands to know if there’s a problem.

1. Do they look pale or white?

This could mean you have a low red blood cell count. White nails also can signal liver disease, diabetes, an overactive thyroid, heart failure, or a lack of nutrients in your diet.

If your nails are mostly white with a narrow pink band at the tip, you have a condition called Terry’s nails. It can result from aging, but it can also herald diabetes or kidney, liver, or heart disease.

2. Are they yellow?

Nails that are thick, slow-growing, and yellow often point to lung diseases like emphysema or chronic bronchitis. Fluid in your lungs and hands also can lead to yellow nail syndrome. So can Raynaud’s phenomenon, which is caused by poor circulation to the fingers, toes, and nose. Yellow nails can even be a symptom of sinusitis, thyroid problems, and rheumatoid arthritis. Only your doctor can tell you what they mean.

3. Are your nail beds red?

Talk to your doctor. She’ll probably want to examine your heart.

4. Do they look a bit blue or purple (without any nail polish)?

Your doctor may call this cyanosis, which is a medical word for that skin that looks that way. You might notice it on other parts of your body, too, such as your lips or even your earlobes. It can happen if your red blood cells aren’t carrying enough oxygen. Your doctor will see if your heart, lungs, blood cells, and blood vessels are working right.

5. Do you see thin red or brown lines?

They’re called splinter hemorrhages. They usually come from trauma to your nails or a fungal infection. They can also be from psoriasis, melanoma, or even an infection in the lining of your heart.

Turns out the size of the moons on your nails reveal the current state of your health!

In case you’re wondering what moons are, they are the rounded shadow located at the base of your fingernails, closest to your fingers.

According to palmistry, overly large moons can mean an overactive thyroid and high blood pressure. Small or no moons are thought to predict, the opposite; an under-active thyroid and low blood pressure.

Scientists have found that a lack of a fingernail moon may indicated you are low in Vitamin B-12 or in iodine which feeds the thyroid. You would not want to be in this boat, as Vitamin B-12 deficiency has been linked with lack of energy, depression, and loss of coordination and memory, among other things. Iodine deficiency has been linked with breast cancer.

An article on Fingernail Analysis in Natural Health Techniques tells us what your moons ideally should be sized like. “There should be 8 of these. The lunulae on the little fingers should be missing according to Eastern Medicine Philosophy. The one on the thumb nail should be 25% or less than the total length of the nail from base to flesh line at the top”.

Small or No Moons: There is not much research on this topic but one study has shown that missing moons are associated with various systemic disorders including issues with your thyroid or pituitary gland, iron deficiency, chronic renal failure, depression and possible B-12 deficiency. Have your iodine and Vitamin B-12 levels checked. Have your blood pressure and thyroid function checked.

Large Moons: Have your thyroid and blood pressure checked. It’s difficult to tell if your moons are overly large, so there is no need to panic if your blood pressure and thyroid have been normal!

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