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What does it mean when your fingernails are yellow?

Fingernails are kind of weird, but they can hint at lots of underlying health issues, and if there are any sudden changes in them, it can be a major cause for concern. If you’ve wondered about soft fingernails in the past or why you have spoon-shaped fingernails, you might be missing another possible indicator of trouble: their color. 

Discolored fingernails aren’t always necessarily a cause for concern, but if yours are suddenly more yellow than they’ve ever been before, there might be something deeper going on. Although they can occur as a result of smoking or tanning, yellow fingernails may also hint at an infection or vitamin deficiency.

Yellow fingernails might occur for a simple reason

Prevention notes several reasons you could have yellow fingernails. First and foremost, it might just be simply because you wear a lot of dark nail polish regularly and it’s staining the nail plate underneath. As dermatologist Rina Allawh, M.D., explains, “The dye in the nail lacquer interacts with the keratin of the nail, causing a yellow discoloration and brittleness.” 

Acetone nail polish remover can actually worsen the situation, giving the dissolved polish more opportunity to bond to your nails. If you’re concerned, lay off the polish for a while until the color returns to normal and always apply a clear base coat when painting your nails in the future. Likewise, if you work with your hands a lot, use a lot of fake tanning products, or smoke, then yellow discoloration may occur as a result of your lifestyle.

There could be something else going on if your fingernails turn yellow

On the more serious side of things, however, an underlying fungal infection can cause a thickening of the nail and the accumulation of debris under it, both of which may lead the nail to turn yellow. “Because nails grow slowly, a systemic medication would need to be prescribed for 3 to 6 months in order to fully eradicate the fungal infection,” advised dermatologist Susan Massick, M.D.

Likewise, if you’re suffering a vitamin deficiency, like a shortage of zinc or b12, it could also lead to discoloration. However, don’t panic, as Dr. Joshua Zeichner, M.D. explains, “If you do have a deficiency, then use of supplements over several weeks to months may help correct the deficit.”

Most worryingly, an underlying issue such as thyroid disease or diabetes may lead to nail discoloration, but you’ll need to consult your doctor to be sure. 

In a piece for Nails, dermatologist Dr. Dana Stern shares that if your nails are otherwise healthy-looking, there’s likely nothing to worry about, but if they’re flaking or painful, or you have other accompanying symptoms, check with your dermatologist or doctor immediately as there may be something more serious going on.

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  • Posted on January 28, 2020