What do brittle, ingrown or white spots on nails mean?


Brittle nails

When your nails start to break easily, it’s very likely you’re exposing them to excessive use of nail paints or just water (like during the rains). Easy treatment would be to let your nails breathe. Keep them dry and away from harsh soaps. “Apply an Alpha Hydroxy Acid (AHA) lotion or a cream that has lanolin in it. You can also start a biotin supplement for healthier nails,” says Dr Kiran Kaur Sethi, Delhi-based dermatologist at Isya Aesthetics.

“In some cases, brittle nails can also be a sign of iron deficiency,” she adds. So if it gets serious, a dermatologist may ask for a blood test to make sure iron levels are in order. In the meantime, eat iron-rich foods, such as small portions of red meat, as well as vegetarian sources like spinach bolstered with vitamin C, to ensure absorption.

What do your nails say about your health?

Ingrown nails

You know you have the condition when, “the growing edge of the nail plate buries into the skin at the edges,” says Dr Mohan Thomas, cosmetic surgeon at Cosmetic Surgery Institute, Mumbai. In the worst cases, this can lead to an infection and result in a pus/blood discharge. Causes range from a nail injury (constantly wearing shoes that are too small, for instance) to a lack of foot hygiene, or even incorrect footwear that adds pressure to the nails, says Dr Thomas. “In some cases, there can be reasons like genetics or diabetes,” he says.

When you spot it early, Dr Thomas suggests that you soak your feet in warm water (with Epsom salt or hydrogen peroxide), followed by carefully clipping the ingrown nail and applying an antiseptic cream to it. Avoid wearing tight, narrow shoes. “If it’s persistent or when you spot a discharge, you might need to see an expert,” says Dr Thomas. Don’t panic if the word surgery is pronounced. It’s a small procedure, followed by regular dressings and a course of antibiotics.

Nail discolouration

  • Yellow: Mostly due to overuse of dark nail paints, simply skip nail paint for a bit. When you apply, use a clear base. In some cases, yellow nails can have other causes. “A fungal infection can cause severe yellowness and thickened nails,” says Dr Sethi. This can be treated by a topical cream or an oral tablet prescribed by the doctor. In rare cases, though, yellow nails can also occur due to an underlying health condition like diabetes or liver issues, explains Dr Sethi.
  • Green: A sign of an infection that needs medical attention. “This needs to be treated with antibiotics or a solution that comprises one percent acetic acid,” she says.
  • Brown or black: If the nail bed goes dark in patches or the whole goes black, it could be frequent injury or inflammation. “When your nail develops a dark line, however, it may be a sign of melanonychia. If benign, there is nothing to be done. In rare cases it can mean melanoma or skin cancer, which indicates a need of biopsy and removal of the lesion,” warns Dr Sethi.

Vertical and horizontal ridges

When you spot vertical ridges on your nails, it may be a sign of ageing. Re-examine your diet, and increase protein-rich foods such as sprouts. Another solution is to use an effective hand salve/cream before sleeping, to heal the dryness and keep your nails moisturised. You may, however, need to see a doctor when there are horizontal ridges on your nails. “The causes can be different, for example, an injury or an infection. But, in some cases, horizontal ridges can be due to an underlying condition like a heart disease, diabetes or thyroid. It can also be caused by a skin disease or vitamin deficiencies,” says Dr Thomas. Do see a doctor.

White spots

“Called leukonychia, white spots usually occur for reasons like trauma (in the case of injury), or a zinc or iron deficiency. Typically, these can disappear on their own,” says Dr Sethi. “In rare cases (especially when the entire nail turns white), it can be a sign of heavy metal toxicity such as lead or arsenic, a liver disease or hyperthyroidism,” says Dr Sethi. If you’re on chemotherapy, you may find them too. See a doctor if they don’t disappear in a week or two.



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