As keen beauty addicts, we invest a lot of time and money ensuring that our nails look good, from getting our monthly mani-pedis to coating them with polishes in all shades of the rainbow. They’re not just there to look pretty, though. Our nails provide many clues to our overall health. Healthy nails appear smooth and have consistent colouring. As you age, you may develop vertical ridges or your nails may be a bit more brittle. This is harmless. Spots due to injury should grow out with the nail. While nothing replaces a visit to your doctor for a proper diagnosis, checking them for the following abnormalities can help you spot early warning signs. So, wipe off that polish and take a good look.
Most likely cause: Frequent use of nail varnish. If the discolouration is caused by your polish, you’ll have to wait until your nail grows out to restore the natural colour.
But could also be: Yellow and thickening nails are unsightly and can be caused by a number of disorders including fungal infection and thyroid disease. The best way to return them to their natural colour will depend on the cause of the discoloration. If the condition is caused by medical reasons, get it checked by a doctor asap.
White lines or spots
Most likely cause: Non-uniform white spots or lines on the nail are called leukonychia. They are usually the result of a minor trauma to the nail bed and are harmless in healthy individuals.
But could also be: Associated with poor health or nutritional deficiencies like a Zinc or vitamin B6 deficiency.
Pits and Grooved Nails
Most likely cause: Depressions and small cracks in your nails are known as ‘pitting’ of the nail bed and are not all terrifying. If it’s occurring on one nail it may be the result of trauma to the nail bed, but if all the nails are affected it definitely is a sign that there is an underlying health problem says Dr Maurits from Skin and Health Renewal. In some instances, they are often associated with psoriasis, an inflammatory disease that leads to scaly or red patches all over the body.
But could also be: Related to connective tissue disorders, such as Reiter’s syndrome, and alopecia areata — an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss.
Most likely cause: Some nail fungus infections can also be dark grey or green and oral treatments administered by your GP usually get rid of it.
But could also be: Nails are the last place you’d check for mole irregularities that can cause skin cancer but you’d be surprised to know that that’s one of the areas in the body where dangerous melanoma often goes unnoticed. If there’s a dark streak along the nail from cuticle to tip and there’s only one – or it’s changing fast – it may mean something more serious.
Most likely cause: Our beloved nail polishes play a role. Long-term use of nail polish or exposure to moist conditions including frequent swimming or dishwashing causes nails to crack, chip or split as a result of being brittle. You can strengthen your nails by taking biotin (vitamin B7) supplements, wearing gloves when working with water and by frequently applying moisturising cream or oil to the nails.
But could also be: If you have nails that are hard but break easily, this can be a sign of dryness or possibly hypothyroidism – especially if you also have thinning or unusually dry hair.
Most likely cause: A blue nailbed indicates a lack of oxygen in the blood. This can be a sign that your circulation is bad in your hands and feet or that your lungs aren’t properly oxygenating the blood in your whole body—either due to lung or heart disease.
But could also mean: Another reason for your blue nails could be due to low haemoglobin, the carrier of oxygen in red blood cells.
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