Nails can tell you a lot about your overall health. When they become discolored, it usually means that you’ve picked up an infection or nail fungus. It can also mean that your nails have been stained by a product like nail polish, or that you’re having an allergic reaction. Occasionally nails might turn yellow as a symptom of something more serious, such as chronic lung conditions, internal malignancies, lymphatic obstructions, and even rheumatoid arthritis. Read on to find out more about what causes yellow nails and how to get rid of this condition.
Possible causes of yellow nails
If your nails have been damaged by dyes or harsh products, new nail growth should be a healthy, clear color. If your nails continue to be yellow, there may be something else going on in your body. Sometimes having yellow nails can be an indication of something more serious. Vitamin or mineral deficiencies can cause nails to appear yellow, and introducing a multivitamin supplement to your regiment may stop the problem.
In some cases, nails that remain yellow despite repeated treatment can be a symptom of thyroid conditions, psoriasis, or diabetes. In rare situations, yellow nails can indicate the presence of skin cancer. A condition called yellow nail syndrome (YNS) is indicated by continually yellow nails and respiratory or lymphatic problems.
How to get rid of yellow nails
Treatment of yellow nails will depend on the cause. Most likely, your nails have become discolored because of an infection you have or a product you used. These home remedies are based on those causes of discoloration. However, it is important to be aware that home remedies are not always effective. See your physician if home remedies aren’t helpful in eliminating discoloration.
Tea tree oil
If your nails are discolored because of a bacterial infection or fungus, tea tree oil is any easy treatment you can try. Mix a drop or two of tea tree oil with a carrier oil such as olive oil, coconut oil, or jojoba oil, and swab the mixture on the affected nail. A study has shown that tea tree oil can effectively stop common strains of nail fungus from growing.
Fungus can only grow in an environment where the pH level is acidic. Soaking your feet or toes in hot water mixed with baking soda may prevent the fungus from spreading. Baking soda creates an alkaline environment and, over the course of a few soaks, may leave your nails much clearer.
Oregano oil has been found to have antimicrobial properties. It’s effective against bacteria and fungi, which makes it a great treatment if you’re not sure what’s causing your nails to become yellow. Similar to using tea tree oil for treatment, oregano oil should be mixed with a carrier oil before being applied topically to the affected nail or nails.
Hydrogen peroxide has been proven to help whiten teeth effectively when combined with baking soda, and it’s a common ingredient in whitening toothpaste. Hydrogen peroxide has “oxidizing” abilities, which makes it a stain remover. This means it’s a great treatment for nails stained by product use. The dye from dark nail polish can seep into the nail enamel, leaving them permanently stained. Hydrogen peroxide goes deep into the nail and lightens the coloring, similar to the way that bleach strips the color out of hair. Mixing hydrogen peroxide into warm water and soaking the nails may improve the appearance of stains, and adding baking soda will make it even more effective.
Vitamin E is known to help cells retain moisture and look healthier. Your skin, hair, and nails all take on an appearance of vitality when you have plenty of vitamin E. Vitamin E has also been clinically studied as a successful treatment for yellow nail syndrome. Yellow nail syndrome is exactly what you'd think — a condition that causes nails to become discolored, ridged, and thick. Since vitamin E stimulates healthy nail growth, it can be applied topically or taken orally to help your nails grow in quickly.
If your yellow nails are caused by a yeast or bacteria, try some of the treatments above to help clear it up. When yellowing is caused by fungus, oral prescriptions such as terbinafine (Lamisil) or itraconazole (Sporanox) can be effective. Both of these drugs have been flagged by the FDA as potentially dangerous to the liver for long-term use. They do present some common side effects, such as diarrhea and abdominal pain. You may want to request ciclopirox (Penlac Nail Lacquer) as an alternative prescription treatment. Ciclopirox is applied to the nail much like a nail polish. All of these prescriptions take weeks to months to be effective. Healthy nail growth will gradually replace the yellowed appearance of your nails. Be aware that no oral or topical antifungal is 100 percent effective and recurrence of nail fungus is common.
Preventing yellow nails
You can prevent nail discoloration by being careful about nail hygiene. Be mindful of nail salons and spas that could spread fungal infections and disease to customers. A good manicurist will use a clean or new manicure kit on each person. Don’t use nail polish remover on your nails more than once a week, and use a remover that is less harsh by choosing one that does not contain acetone.
Trim your nails frequently, and sweep dirt out from underneath your nails with a nail brush once or twice a week. Always wear fresh socks, and expose your feet to fresh air frequently to avoid toenail infections like athlete’s foot.
After attempting to treat yellow nails at home, your condition should begin to improve. If it doesn’t improve over the course of 10 days to two weeks, make an appointment with your doctor. Your doctor will be able to run tests that will determine whether your yellow nails are being caused by fungus, yeast, bacteria, or something more serious.
If you develop new darkly colored streaks in the nail, you should see your doctor right away. You may need to be referred to a dermatologist.
Yellow nails are common. There are plenty of home remedies that you can try to treat the condition. Sometimes yellow nails are a symptom of a bigger issue. Yellow nails are not to be ignored, and finding out the underlying cause will lead to healthier nails and better general health.