10 nail problems you should not ignore and what they tell you about your health

As fun as nail polish and manicures can be, we all know that our nails aren’t simply there for aesthetic purposes. But did you know that how your nails look can tell a lot about your general state of health? Growing at about 3.5mm a month for healthy nails, our nutritional statuses, diet, medication regime, chronic diseases, and even age can affect how your nail looks at any given time. Some unusual signs may simply be a passing incident, and are no cause for concern, but others may be a sign that it’s time to see a doctor or dermatologist. We break it down for you in this list of nail symptoms, its causes and what to do about them.

1. Yellow nails

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What is it?

When your nail has taken on an obvious yellowish tinge, especially at the excess edge of your nail that has grown out above the nail bed, where it is usually whitish.

What is it caused by, and what should I do about it?

Use of acrylic nails or nail polish It isn’t news to most of us that the chemicals in nail polishes cause the yellowing of nails.

Using a good base coat before any manicure may help to slow down the yellowing of nails, but won’t stop it entirely if your nails are perpetually polished. While some people find that using breathable nail polish help keep their nails looking more healthy, the only truly effective way of whitening your nails back is simply to leave them unpolished until new and unstained nail grows out again.

Smoking When a smoker holds his/her cigarette, the nicotine and tar contact the fingernails and stain them. The smoke from the cigarette can also stain the skin around the nails. Smoking decreases oxygen circulation around the body, so this may contribute to the yellowing of nails.

Aside from wearing gloves every time you smoke (which isn’t just impractical, but may not even be that effective since the yellowing can also happen inside out), the only way to stop this problem is to quit smoking.

Ageing Nails often undergo changes as a person ages, and dependent on the health status of the person involved. Yellowing nails are a normal sign of ageing.
Fungal infection Yellow nails are a common a sign of fungal infection, though typically it also presents with other symptoms such as being dry, brittle or a little protruded.

If you’re not sure if the yellowness of your nail is caused by nail polish or nail fungus, try giving your nails a break from polishes and seeing if the yellowness fades off as the nail grows out. If it doesn’t, then it’s more certainly nail fungus.

2. Dry, cracked, brittle nails

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What is it?

When your nails are dry and rough, and are prone to cracks and splitting.

What is it caused by, and what should I do about it?

Use of nail polish remover Nail polish removers are commonly made of acetone or alcohol, which are very dehydrating chemicals. If you change your nail polish colour often, and therefore expose your nail frequently to nail polish remover, this may dry out your nails, causing them to become brittle and crack.

You can try using nail polish removers that do not contain alcohol or acetone, though these would probably be rather difficult to find. Alternatively, you can try using peel-off base coats, which allow you to peel off your manicure. You may still need to use nail polish remover to remove excess bits of polish, but at least you wouldn’t be soaking your nails for a long time in them.

Dryness Any situation that causes your hands to dry may cause your nails to become brittle and cracked. If this is due to your environment, such as being in a cold or dry climate, or always being in air-conditioned environments, you could invest an intensive hand cream (preferably unscented) and constantly moisturise your hands and nails, especially after visiting the washroom.

If this is due to frequent exposure to chemicals like the chlorine in swimming pools or detergent when washing the dishes, you can attempt to protect your hands and nails by wearing gloves, when appropriate. Either way, you can also consider getting a good cuticle oil containing jojoba, which would help to hydrate your nails and cuticles.

Fungal infection Along with yellow nails, dry and brittle nails are a common sign of fungal infections. They may sometimes (though not always) come with a protrusion underneath the nail. Visit your doctor or pharmacist for medications for the infection.
Ageing When we get older, our bodies tend to get more and more dehydrated, and this may affect our nails, making them drier and more brittle.
Thyroid diseases This nail problem is also common in those who have thyroid conditions such as hypothyroidism. If you suspect that you may have a thyroid disorder, please ask for your doctor’s advice.
Deficiency of certain vitamins Brittle nails may be a sign that you are lacking in Vitamins A, C, or B7 (biotin).

Did you know?

Toe and finger nail fungal infections do not go away by themselves! They must be treated medically and if left untreated, they could result in the loss of the entire nail. However, expect a long duration of treatment, as each nail must be consistently applied with anti-fungal medication until an entirely new nail plate has grown out again. This could take 3-6 months for finger nails and 9-12 months for toe nails.

3. Blueish nails

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What is it?

When your fingernails take on a blueish tinge.

What is it caused by, and what should I do about it?

Low oxygen When your body is not receiving enough oxygen, your nails could turn blue reflecting the richness of deoxygenated blood in the vessels underneath. This could come about if you find yourself in an environment with low oxygen (e.g. high altitudes), or it could indicate a lung disease such as emphysema, which prevents your body from taking in enough oxygen with each breath.

Click to the next page to see more nail-related signs.

 

Today's Beauty Tip

Don't brush your teeth right after eating fruits. The combination of scrubbing and fruit acid can wear away tooth enamel.