What Your Nails Say About Your Health

July 24, 2014

Your nails can reveal a surprising amount about your overall health and wellness. I’ll never forget the moment years ago when I was buttoning my jeans, and with one innocuous movement my thumbnail tore like tissue paper (I’m cringing just writing this!). That was the wake-up call that spurred me to seriously evaluate my nutrition and lifestyle habits which not only healed my nails, but improved my well-being as a whole. In this post, I’ll explore some of the most common nail issues and what they say about your health, plus give some tips on how to encourage strong, resilient nails.

What your nails say about your health

My nails are telling me I need a serious paint job!

Problem 1: Spoon nails

If your nails are soft and are concaved like the scoop of a spoon, this may be a sign of iron deficiency anemia. It can also be an indicator of hypothyroidism.

Problem 2: Yellow, thickened nails

If you are consistently using dark nail polishes sans a protective base layer, you may notice a yellowish staining on the nails. While annoying, this generally isn’t serious and requires simply cutting back on the manicures. However, if the nails are yellow, thickened and even beginning to crumble, this could be signs of a fungal infection. Only very rarely do these symptoms suggest something more serious like a thyroid condition or diabetes.

Problem 3: Pitted or rippled nails

Nails that are pitted (think the surface of a golf ball) or have ridges spreading across the nails horizontally could indicate a condition known as psoriasis. It is often accompanied with nail discoloration that is reddish brown underneath.

Problem 4: Dark streaks under nails

A black streak spreading vertically across the nail should be checked out by a doctor immediately. While it could be just a harmless mole or evidence of a past injury, it could also be warning sign of melanoma.

Problem 5: White spots

White spots on the  nails are common and generally harmless. Some suggest that they are caused by a calcium or zinc deficiency, but most likely they are caused by a past injury to the nail.

Problem 6: White lines across nail

White lines that span across the entire nail, come in pairs and affect more than one fingernail are known as Muehrcke’s lines. They could reveal a protein deficiency or a kidney or liver disease.

Problem 7: Brittle, thin or lifted nails

We’ve all suffered a broken or peeling nail now and again, but nails that are unusually fragile might be a sign that your thyroid needs a check-up. Hypothyroidism (too little thyroid hormones) can lead to slow growing and breaking nails, while hyperthyroidism (too much hormone) will cause the nail to lift from the nail bed.

What your nails say about your health

Tools of the trade

If none of these issues apply to you but you’re still battling with cracked and weak nails, here a few quick tips to consider:

Tip 1: Always protect your nails from moisture and harsh chemicals. Wear gloves every time you clean or do the dishes!

Tip 2: Moisturize your hands and nails daily. I am admittedly terrible at following my own advice here, but I try to remind myself by keeping hand moisturizer in my car and argan oil for my nails next to my bed.

Tip 3: Never use your nails as a letter opener or to pop open cans. Using your nails as a tool will eventually weaken nails and lead to breakage.


Readers, what are your tips for maintaining healthy nails?

Related: The Best DIY Natural Manicure

Going Bare with Polish-free Healthy Nails

DIY Glitter Nails

Also by Sarah: Heatproof Makeup Secrets

Photo: Sarah McEwing


Sarah is a freelance writer based out of Portland, Oregon. Her top three passions in life include her family, her husband, Geoff, and her pug, Rupert. She also enjoys spending her time volunteering, traveling, and experimenting with new recipes. Follow her on Pinterest.


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