Exploring Toenail Colors and Their Underlying Causes

LEAP Foot and Ankle Specialists

Exploring Toenail Colors and Their Underlying Causes

Our toenails, though often overlooked, provide valuable insights into our overall health. Their color can change for various reasons, and understanding these shifts is essential for maintaining healthy feet.

Yellow Toenails

Why are my toenails yellow? Yellow toenails are a common concern and can indicate several issues. One common cause of yellow toenails is the long-term use of dark nail polish, which can stain the nails over time. Smoking can also lead to yellow toenails due to nicotine exposure. Fungal infections, often caused by dermatophytes, are one of the most frequent culprits. These infections can affect one or multiple toenails, causing them to thicken and turn yellow. You may be asking yourself, what kills toenail fungus instantly? While there are both oral and topical medications which can effectively get rid of nail fungus, it often takes treating continuously for several months.

White Toenails

White toenails are another color change to be aware of. They can be the result of various factors. Fungal infections, typically characterized by powdery white spots on the nails, are one possibility. Minor injuries to the toenail, such as stubbing or other forms of trauma, may also lead to white spots or streaks from the nail lifting off it's underlying nailbed. In some cases, a zinc deficiency can cause white bands or spots on toenails. Another very common cause is from keratin granulations. Keratin granulations refer to the buildup of keratin on the nail surface, creating a white, grainy, or speckled appearance. Some of the factors contributing to keratin granulations and white nails include:

Nail Polish Overuse: Excessive use of nail polish, especially dark or vibrant colors. Nail polish removers and harsh chemicals used during manicures or pedicures can strip the nail of its natural oils, causing keratin buildup.

Nail Buffing: Aggressive or frequent nail buffing can disrupt the nail's surface and stimulate keratin granulation.

Nail Adhesive or Artificial Nails: The use of adhesives and artificial nails can sometimes irritate the nail bed and trigger keratin granulations.

Nail Fungus Treatment: When treating nail fungus, the use of topical medications or oral antifungal drugs may cause the nail surface to appear white due to keratin granulation.

Chemical Exposure: Exposure to certain chemicals, such as household cleaning products or solvents, can damage the nail and result in keratin granulations.

Black or Brown Toenails

Dark toenails, appearing black or brown, can be alarming but have different origins. One common cause is trauma. Stubbing your toe or dropping a heavy object on it can lead to bleeding under the nail, resulting in black or brown discoloration, a condition known as subungual hematoma. Black toenails  are a common woe among avid runners and athletes as well. This discoloration typically results from repetitive trauma to the toes, such as the toes hitting the front of the shoe, and can be managed with proper footwear and preventive measures. However, black or brown toenails can also be a sign of melanoma, a rare but serious form of skin cancer. If you notice persistent changes in your toenail color, especially if accompanied by other concerning signs, consulting a healthcare professional as soon as possible is advisable.

Green Toenails

Green toenails may be indicative of bacterial infections. These infections can lead to green discoloration, and the responsible bacteria are often Pseudomonas. Green toenails should be examined by your Lakewood podiatrist to determine the best course of action.

Other Unusual Toenail Colors

Toenails can take on a range of unusual colors, each with specific underlying causes. For instance, reduced blood flow to the toes, often due to cold temperatures or circulatory problems, can cause toenails to turn blue or purple. On the other hand, orange toenails are often the result of fungal infections, particularly those caused by the Trichophyton rubrum species. Grey toenails can be a side effect of certain medications, such as antimalarials or chemotherapy drugs.

Prevention and Treatment

Preventing toenail color changes often involves maintaining good foot hygiene, wearing appropriate footwear, and managing underlying health conditions. The treatment approach varies based on the specific cause, which may include antifungal medications, proper nail care, or medical intervention.

Your toenails offer valuable clues about your foot health and overall well-being. Recognizing the reasons behind toenail color changes can help you address potential issues and take appropriate action. If you have concerns about your toenails or their color, call LEAP Foot and Ankle Specialists for a comprehensive evaluation and individualized treatment plan today!


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