Medically reviewed by Sarah Taylor, MD on April 24, 2017Written by Kathryn Watson on April 24, 2017

What is onycholysis?

Onycholysis is the medical term for when your nail separates from the skin underneath it. Onycholysis is not uncommon, and it has several possible causes. This condition lasts for several months, because a fingernail or toenail won’t reattach to its nail bed. Once a new nail grows to replace the old one, the symptoms should resolve. Fingernails take 4-6 months to fully regrow, and toenails can take 8-12 months.

What causes onycholysis?

Injury to the nail can cause onycholysis. The condition can also result from an allergy to products used on the nail, like chemical nail polish remover or artificial nail tips. Onycholysis can also be a symptom of nail fungus or psoriasis. Other causes include a reaction to a systemic medication or trauma. Even repetitive tapping or drumming of the fingernails can count as trauma.

Nails tend to be a barometer of your overall health. If your nails look unhealthy or have problems like onycholysis, this could be the first visible sign that something deeper is going on in your body. Sometimes onycholysis can indicate a serious yeast infection or thyroid disease. It can also mean that you aren’t getting enough of essential vitamins or minerals, such as iron.


If you have onycholysis, your nail will begin to peel upward off of the nail bed underneath. This is not usually painful while it happens. The affected nail may become yellow, greenish, purple, white, or gray, depending on the cause.

Treating onycholysis

Determining the cause of your onycholysis is the most important step. Once the cause is found, treating the underlying issue will help the nail lifting resolve.

While it is important to keep the nails short, aggressive clipping is not recommended. As the affected portion of the nail grows out, you will be able to clip off the lifted nail as the new nail continues to come in.

Treating an underlying condition

The cause of the nail separation will need to be addressed before the symptoms stop occurring. It may feel unnecessary to visit your physician over a nail issue, but it’s not. Onycholysis, especially recurring onycholysis, might need a diagnosis and a prescription in order to heal.

It’s not uncommon to have onycholysis as a symptom of psoriasis. The Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis Association (PAPAA) estimates that at least 50 percent of people with psoriasis experience problems with their nails. Fingernails in particular are affected by psoriasis. Treating psoriasis in the nails can be difficult. Some clinical trials report that a topical treatment of vitamin D can help with nail psoriasis. Doctors also sometimes prescribe drugs called corticosteroids to treat nail psoriasis.

A blood test may reveal that you have a thyroid condition or vitamin deficiency causing you to have onycholysis. In this case, your doctor may prescribe medication or an oral supplement to treat the underlying cause of your onycholysis.

Home remedies

In the meantime, you might want to try to treat your onycholysis at home. Don’t try to clean underneath the nail, as that could make the problem worse or sweep bacteria deeper underneath the nail. A study shows that tea tree oil can help treat fungus and yeast infections that happen underneath the nail. Applying a mixture of tea tree oil diluted by a carrier oil, such as jojoba oil or coconut oil, may get rid of the fungus. Make sure to keep the nail dry while it heals.

Read more: Tea tree oil uses and benefits »

Prevent onycholysis

Onycholysis can result from a skin sensitivity to products such as glue, acrylics, or acetone that are used during manicures and pedicures. Artificial nail “tips” applied to the nail can also cause trauma of the nail bed, with onycholysis as the result. If you have skin allergies to these products, avoid the manicurist chair. Choose allergen-free products and paint your nails at home.

If you have a fungus or yeast growth causing your onycholysis, you can stop it from spreading by taking proper care of your nails. Don’t bite your nails, as this will spread the problem from nail to nail as well as possibly affect your mouth. If your onycholysis is happening in your toenails, make sure you’re wearing clean socks and exposing your feet to dry air for as much of the day as possible.

Read more: How to stop biting your nails »

How will I know if I have onycholysis?

Onycholysis is easy to spot. If you notice that your nail is beginning to lift or peel away from the nail bed underneath, you have onycholysis.

Finding out the underlying cause might be a bit trickier. You may need to visit a dermatologist to talk about your onycholysis, especially if it affects more than one digit of your fingers or toes.


Onycholysis is not a reason for an emergency medical appointment, but you need to find out what’s causing it. With effective treatment, your nail will reattach to the nail bed as new growth occurs.

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