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What fingernails reveal about your health

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  • What do healthy fingernails look like?
  • What are the most common fingernail diseases?
  • Brittle, grooves, dents in fingernails: What do fingernails say about diseases?
  • Discoloration of fingernails: What do yellow, white, green fingernails mean?
  • Conclusion: If in doubt, seek medical help if discoloration occurs

The eyes are the gateway to the soul, while the fingernails are considered a mirror of our health. But do you really need to drink more milk if you have white spots on your nail because that is a sign of calcium deficiency? And are blue fingernails an indication that you don’t have enough oxygen in your blood? Our expert, the dermatologist Dr. med. Ute Siemann-Harms, senior physician at the UKE-Hamburg, explains the myths surrounding nail science. It shows what the color, structure and shape of your fingernails can actually reveal about your mental and physical health.

What do healthy fingernails look like?

This is what healthy fingernails should look like: smooth surface without dents, with a subtle shine, a light pink color and elastic. If this description doesn’t fit your fingernails, you can change that with these 6 steps for more beautiful nails. If you don’t have the so-called “nail moon” under each fingernail, which looks like a milky-white crescent moon and extends directly from our nail bed, that’s no reason to worry. Every person is different. You can often no longer see the nail moon on your little finger.

On average, the fingernail grows about 0.5 to 1.2 millimeters per week. Nails grow more slowly in older people. There are also seasonal fluctuations; nails grow a little slower in winter and faster in summer. Why? Simple answer: The sun’s UV light promotes the production of vitamin D in the body. This in turn stimulates nail growth. Vitamin D is also contained in foods, such as salmon, eggs or mushrooms. With our individual nutrition plans you can optimize your diet and get more vitamin D so that your nails grow better!

What are the most common fingernail diseases?

If the fingernail is directly affected, i.e. does not indicate any other indirect disease, then it is often one of the following diseases:

  • Eczema nail: If patients suffer from eczema (e.g. neurodermatitis), this can also show up on the skin around the fingernail. Consequence: The nail no longer grows normally. It becomes porous, the surface rubs and the nail becomes distorted. The nail bed is often already affected.
  • Psoriasis or nail psoriasis: A typical feature is the so-called spotted nail. The nail is covered by millimeter-sized dents (pits), which occur either individually or in groups. Another feature: brownish-yellow spots (oil stains) under the nail. Nail lichen is an inflammation in which the nail cover slowly detaches from the nail bed. Not necessarily, but in many cases there is also a general ringworm, for example on the elbow.
  • Fungal diseases: The fingernail becomes discolored, cracked, brittle, and may either flake or thicken. Anyone suffering from fingernail fungus should urgently examine their toenails: the origin can often be found down there, namely in the form of athlete’s foot. If this is not recognized in time, the much worse chronic nail fungus (onychomycosis) follows: around 2 to 15 percent of Germans are affected by it, according to the German Dermatological Society (DDG) in its latest guidelines. Many patients become infected with the infection when drying their feet or having a pedicure. Nail fungus can be treated, but it is extremely annoying.

You can treat nail fungus yourself with these over-the-counter medicines:

  • Loceryl nail polish against nail fungus only needs to be applied to the nails once a week.
  • Terbinafine nail polish helps with mild and moderate fungal infections with the active ingredient terbinafine.
  • Ciclopoli nail polish against fungal infections of the nails is applied once a day.

Brittle, grooves, dents in fingernails: What do fingernails say about diseases?

These are the possible causes of uneven fingernails:

  • Dents and dimples: They often occur in all types of eczema (e.g. neurodermatitis). Individual dents, on the other hand, can also be the result of everyday injuries or bruising of the nail bed.
  • Longitudinal grooves: No stress! These are normal signs of aging from 35 years onwards.
  • Transverse grooves: You can often find the reference “acute malnutrition” on websites. But these are rare, at least in Western Europe, according to our expert. But if one Transverse groove extends over at If you pull fingernails at the same level, you can assume that the patient has had a serious infection. However, this is most likely already in the past. Because: Fingernails only grow 0.2-0.3 centimeters per month. Many common infections have already subsided during this period before the patient notices it on their fingernails.
  • Brittle nails: They are caused by depleted, porous nail plates, for example from frequent hand washing or dishwashing. Only if nails break or splinter repeatedly over a period of months can the thyroid actually be underactive.
  • Horizontal splitting: The nail consists of two layers, if these are divided into 2 levels, this could be a sign of iron deficiency and thyroid disease, according to our expert.

The typical deformations and discolorations of the fingernails: dents, grooves, brittle nails, white spots and brown spots

Discoloration of fingernails: What do yellow, white, green fingernails mean?

You should observe the discoloration of your fingernails:

  • Pale fingernails: Acute anemia? All-clear: “Then the patient’s face would have to be ghostly pale,” says our expert. Anemia is more likely to be recognized by the eyes and face than by the fingernails. But: Tall and slim people tend to have pale fingernails and cold hands and feet. Background: The circulatory system has to go further in order to pump blood to the outermost corners of the body. But this is all normal and nothing to worry about.
  • White spots: Leukonychia punctata! In other words: harmless. The roundish white dots or spots are air pockets that form and expand during normal growth. So it’s not a calcium deficiency, just a small production error during growth. If the diagnosis disappoints you, you are welcome to drink a glass of milk.
  • Green fingernails (Chloronychia): You could be infected by the wet germ Pseudomonas aeruginosa. This isn’t a swamp monster, but unfortunately your nails look something like this after the attack: They turn a mossy-green-dark color. The bacterial pathogen likes to live in damp areas, such as sinks or in sponges. Risk group: if your nails are porous or damaged. So if you come into contact with water a lot with your hands at work, frequently apply disinfectant, or are constantly condemned to wash the dishes in your private life, you should be careful and take good care of your nails.
  • Blue fingernails: They could be an indication of heart or lung disease. Provided that the patient is poorly supplied with oxygen. However, the affected person would first notice a lack of oxygen through other symptoms, such as shortness of breath.
  • Yellow fingernails: It could indicate a fungal infectious agent. But: If the nails also grow thickened, hardened and distorted from the nail bed, you could… Yellow-Nail-Syndrom suffering: This can occur with various underlying illnesses, often there is a lung disease.
  • Light brown nails: Suspected nail fungus. Get medical treatment!
  • Dark brown to black spots: You should definitely differentiate here: If the spots appear acutely but slowly grow out of the nail, it could be that you have pinched yourself somewhere or hit your finger. If the spot doesn’t grow out, it could be either a pigment spot or black skin cancer (melanoma). If you don’t remember a painful situation that could have caused a bruise, make an appointment with a doctor. Important: Document the development of the stain, our expert advises. Take a cell phone photo every week until your appointment. Then the dermatologist can make a better diagnosis. Unfortunately, skin cancer in the nail is not that rare.

Conclusion: If in doubt, seek medical help if discoloration occurs

If your fingernails are discolored, you should seek treatment from a dermatologist (the color of your toenails can also indicate illness). Bacteria in the nails and skin could be the cause here. A black spot can – if there are no bruises or other accidents – be an indication of skin cancer. The shape or color of the nails, on the other hand, rarely indicates a nutritional deficiency. Only if the nails split horizontally would this be an indication of iron deficiency. However, this is more likely to be due to a thyroid disease than to a direct nutritional deficit.

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