How to Get Rid of Discolored Nails, According to a Podiatrist (2023)

How to Get Rid of Discolored Nails, According to a Podiatrist (1)

Whether you consistently opt for a perfectly-polished pedicure or you prefer a more au naturale look, one thing’s for sure: nobody wants discolored nails. Yet white stripes, a yellow tint, green, blue—and yes, even black—are all some not-so-fun results of nail discoloration on your fingers and toes.

And just as the colors differ, the reasons behind them do, too. We tapped a podiatrist for the causes behind nail discoloration and how to treat it.

Meet the Expert

Miguel Cunha, DPM, is a Manhattan-based podiatrist and the founder of Gotham Footcare. He specializes in foot and ankle surgery with experience treating a wide array of conditions.

Causes of Nail Discoloration

  • Fungus: According to Cunha, while several things can negatively impact the color and texture of nails, fungus is usually the leading culprit."Yellow or brown and thickened nails are signs of fungal nails," he says, which are caused when a microscopic fungus infects one or more nails. "These microscopic organisms typically thrive in dark, warm, and moist environments, which makes a prime place for fungal growth the inside of your shoes." Fungal nails often begin as Athlete’s Foot, when the skin becomes infected first, and then will grow deeper into the nail where it can cause the nail to, as Cunha describes, “discolor, thicken, and develop crumbling edges—an unsightly and potentially painful problem.”
  • Bruising: Black or purple nails, on the other hand, are usually signs of what’s called a subungual hematoma, or, “a bruise of the nail bed that occurs when the nail is injured and small blood vessels bleed underneath the nail staining it darker,” Cunha describes. This is usually caused by trauma to the area, the result of something like stubbing or dropping something on your toes.One option for dealing with a subungual hematoma is to simply wait it out. Eventually, a healthy nail will gradually replace the damaged one. The problem is that our toenails aren’t the quickest growers—they grow at a rate of a few millimeters per month. It can take several months for a new, healthy nail to grow and fully replace the problem. But sometimes, the pain can be too much, and the thought of waiting for a few months doesn’t seem realistic. Consequently, another option is to have the nail removed by a professional.
  • Trauma: White spots or grooved lines can also be triggered by trauma from something such as wearing a sneaker that is too small while running.
  • Possible cancerous cells: Perhaps the most alarming visual sign of nail discoloration is black stripes. These can either be of no concern or of serious concern and should almost always be evaluated by a medical professional.As Cunha states, this could be linear melanonychia, which affects the majority of African Americans. Cunha explains, "This condition occurs when pigments in the nail, known as melanocytes, make excess pigment causing the nail beds to darken." Less common but more serious explanations include taking certain medications such as chemotherapy drugs or skin cancer and immunodeficiency diseases such as lupus, scleroderma, and HIV.Cunha adds that a splinter hemorrhage, which occurs when blood vessels under the fingernail are damaged resulting from impact and injuries, is also a possible explanation for a black stripe on the toenail.
  • Genetics: Inherited conditions may also play a part in some nail discoloration, such as psoriasis,which can lead to the development of psoriatic nails. "These nails can become thickened, brittle, discolored, and look as if they are infected with fungus,” Cunha explains. Nail fungus can also run in families due to an inherited sensitivity.
  • Leukonychia: You know those white spots on your nails that everyone seems to have at some point in their life? It's called leukonychia and it's actually quite common and also completely harmless. It can be caused by nail injury, fungal infections, or a mineral deficiency.

Instead of simply accepting your nail discoloration, it’s important to see a podiatrist for some answers before tackling the issue on your own. An examination and nail biopsy will likely take place to find a reason for the discoloration if any.After speaking with your doctor, here are some things you might try to whiten your nails and restore their health.

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Wear the correct footwear

How to Get Rid of Discolored Nails, According to a Podiatrist (2)

(Video) The Best Treatment for Toenail Fungus, According to a Podiatrist

Properly caring for your feet may help prevent both disease and discoloration in myriad ways.Cunha's best advice includes avoiding walking barefoot in any public places and wearing only clean socks. Avoid rewearing and changing socks frequently if you are active. Dark, moist places are where bacteria thrive, and you’ll want to avoid giving them an easy place to grow.

Properly fitting shoes are also a must to avoid repetitive micro-trauma. Consistent trimming, cleansing, and filing of the nails are important as well to try to avoid discoloration-causing trauma and infection.

02of 05

Get a laser treatment

Not just for hair removal and anti-aging, laser treatment for nails is a pain-free way to deal with certain discolorations. Laser treatment "creates micro-pores on the nail bed allowing the anti-fungal topical to penetrate the nail plate more efficiently and effectively, attacking the source of the nail plate more directly," says Cunha.

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Research your nail salon

How to Get Rid of Discolored Nails, According to a Podiatrist (3)

If you opt for professional pedicures, ensure you only select places that properly sanitize tools, tubs, and products in-between every customer.Otherwise, you risk contracting a fungus or bacterial infection—a large price to pay for what was meant to be a little R&R. Think about bringing your own pedicure kit if you're concerned about the tools.

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Use common kitchen items

How to Get Rid of Discolored Nails, According to a Podiatrist (4)

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Theanswer to whiter nails just might be in your kitchen cabinet.Cunha says, "Apple cider vinegar contains both acetic acid and alpha hydroxy acid, which have anti-fungal, antiseptic, and antimicrobial properties to help fight fungal nails, which in turn are more likely improve the white appearance of the nail." Create a foot soak of one part ACV and two parts warm water to help treat the infected areas.

Other products applied topically, such as baking soda and toothpaste, may help cosmetically improve the whiteness of the nails, so long as the nails are not discolored permanently from trauma or underlying pathological conditions.Ultimately, "the quality of your nails really goes down to how well you treat your feet," he explains.

(Video) How to Treat Thick, Discolored Toenails

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Consider supplements

How to Get Rid of Discolored Nails, According to a Podiatrist (5)

Sometimes, yellowing nails can be a sign of a vitamin deficiency. Vitamins and supplements, like collagen can have a positive effect on nail health and color. Consult your physician before starting any supplement or vitamin regimen.

FAQ

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Article Sources

Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.

  1. American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. Subungual hematoma.

  2. Yaemsiri S, Hou N, Slining MM, He K. Growth rate of human fingernails and toenails in healthy American young adults.J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2010;24(4):420-423. doi:10.1111/j.1468-3083.2009.03426.x

  3. NiDirect Government Services. Nail abnormalities.

  4. Singal A, Bisherwal K. Melanonychia: etiology, diagnosis, and treatment.Indian Dermatol Online J. 2020;11(1):1-11. doi:10.4103/idoj.IDOJ_167_19

  5. Ghannoum M, Isham N. Fungal nail infections (onychomycosis): a never-ending story?PLoS Pathog. 2014;10(6):e1004105. doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1004105

  6. Pakornphadungsit K, Suchonwanit P, Sriphojanart T, Chayavichitsilp P. Hereditary leukonychia totalis: a case report and review of the literature.Case Rep Dermatol. 2018;10(1):82-88. doi:10.1159/000488522

  7. Hexsel D, Zague V, Schunck M, Siega C, Camozzato FO, Oesser S. Oral supplementation with specific bioactive collagen peptides improves nail growth and reduces symptoms of brittle nails.J Cosmet Dermatol. 2017;16(4):520-526. doi:10.1111/jocd.12393

    (Video) WHITE Toenails after Nail Polish - QUICK TREATMENT FROM PODIATRIST

  8. Vignes S, Baran R. Yellow nail syndrome: a review.Orphanet J Rare Dis. 2017;12(1):42. doi:10.1186/s13023-017-0594-4

FAQs

How do I get my toenails back to normal color? ›

One of the most common prescription antifungal medications is ciclopirox 8 percent solution, which is applied to the nails like nail polish. Other medications that can help cure yellow toenails include applying vitamin E, zinc, and a topical corticosteroid with Vitamin D-3.

How do you get rid of discolored nails? ›

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.

How can I fix discolored toenails naturally? ›

Vinegar is an antifungal ingredient that can be mixed with water to create a foot soak. Its acetic acid component helps to whiten discolored toenails and stop the spread of the infection to other toes. Try one part vinegar to two parts warm water and soak feet for 20 minutes daily.

Can a podiatrist remove a fungal nail? ›

The podiatrist can mechanically debride or remove some of the fungal nail infection without the use of local anaesthesia. This is a pain free treatment and needs to be repeated every 2 months until regrowth of the nail is viewed or a change in treatment plan is required.

What does discoloration of nails indicate? ›

If a fingernail or toenail has a new or changing dark streak, it's time to see a dermatologist for a skin cancer check. That dark streak could be melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer. Not every dark streak is a melanoma, but it's always good to have a dermatologist examine one.

How can I whiten my toenails fast? ›

Whitening toothpaste, especially those that include baking soda, will have your nails runway-ready in just ten minutes. After removing your polish, layer the toothpaste on your nails and let it sit for ten to fifteen minutes. Once time is up, grab a nail brush or toothbrush to gently scrub the nails under warm water.

How do I make my foot nails whiter? ›

Use lemon juice and baking soda paste

Mix 1 tablespoon of lemon juice with 2 to 3 tablespoon of baking soda and stir them in a bowl. Using a cotton swab apply the paste on your nails and also underneath each nail. After about 15 minutes wash it off with soap and water.

How can I make my fingernails white? ›

How To Whiten Nails Instantly | NewBeauty Tips and Tutorials

What causes darkening of nails? ›

Melanonychia is caused when the pigment cells, called melanocytes, deposit melanin — brown-colored pigment — into the nail. These deposits are usually grouped together. As your nail grows, it causes the stripe of brown or black to appear on your nail.

Does Vicks VapoRub work for toenail fungus? ›

Dr. Ioli, who is chief of the podiatry service at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital, suggested that daily applications of Vicks VapoRub might be at least as effective as most of the topical treatments for toenail fungus that are available by prescription or over the counter.

How do you use Vicks VapoRub for toenail fungus? ›

Clean thoroughly between toes and dry well.
...
Using Vicks VapoRub for Toenail Fungus
  1. Take a small amount of Vicks from the jar with a Q-tip. ...
  2. Place a THIN coat of Vicks on top of the nails.
  3. Make sure only the nails are covered with the Vicks. ...
  4. Apply the Vicks once a day either in the morning or the evening.
21 Dec 2016

Does Vicks VapoRub cure toenail fungus? ›

One common thing that comes up are products that contain menthol. So Vicks VapoRub is a common nail remedy for nail fungus. It probably won't help. But it won't hurt anything either.

What do podiatrists do for nail fungus? ›

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your podiatrist can detect a fungal infection early, perform a lab test, determine the cause, and form a suitable treatment plan, which may include prescribing topical or oral medication, and debridement (removal of diseased nail matter and debris) of an infected nail.

How do I get rid of toenail fungus permanently? ›

Your health care provider might suggest temporary removal of the nail so that the antifungal drug can be applied directly to the infection under the nail. The most effective but least used option is surgery to permanently remove the nail and its root.

What do podiatrists prescribe for toenail fungus? ›

Oral antifungal medications are prescribed to treat toenail fungus. These medications help the nail grow free of infection. Your podiatrist may have you apply a cream or powder that contains medicine that kills fungus. Topical nail lacquer is also used to treat toenail fungus infections.

What vitamin deficiencies cause yellow nails? ›

Vitamin E deficiency may lead to yellow-colored nails. So can many other vitamin deficiencies or conditions. If you have yellow nails, see your healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment. Yellow nail syndrome is a rare nail disorder.

What does iron deficiency nails look like? ›

Spoon nails (koilonychia) are soft nails that look scooped out. The depression usually is large enough to hold a drop of liquid. Often, spoon nails are a sign of iron deficiency anemia or a liver condition known as hemochromatosis, in which your body absorbs too much iron from the food you eat.

What diseases can you tell from your fingernails? ›

Ripples on nails or pitted nails may be caused by a skin disorder, psoriasis, eczema, or arthritis. Nail clubbing is when a nail curves under at the tip of the finger. It could indicate heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, lung disease, liver disease, thyroid disease, or HIV/AIDS.

What happens if you put baking soda on your nails? ›

Nail smoother.

"Combine three parts baking soda and one part water to create a gentle yet effective scrub to buff and exfoliate nails," says Julie Kandalec, the creative director at Paintbox in New York City. "Rub gently in circular motions over hands and fingers to seriously smooth the nail surface."

What does toothpaste do to your nails? ›

Whitening toothpaste, when applied, can lighten and brighten your nails in just a few short minutes. The same clinically proven natural whitening ingredients in products such as Tom's of Maine Luminous White Toothpaste can double as a treatment for surface stains on nails.

Will hydrogen peroxide whiten my nails? ›

You can also combine hydrogen peroxide with baking soda. This will be an extremely effective solution to whiten your yellow nails. Just dip your nails for a while in the solution and then wash off the solution with water. You can also lightly scrub the solution with a baby toothbrush.

Why are my nails not white? ›

Healthy nails are transparent and look pink because of the vascular activity under the nail bed. They change to clear or white when they grow out past the skin. Changes to your nail like peeling, splitting, or color alterations may be signs of environmental factors or other medical conditions.

How can I make my toenails clear? ›

The most common remedies include having a diet high in fiber and protein and low in yeast, grain, and sugar, using vinegar, cornmeal, baking soda and essential oils including oregano, lavender, coconut, tea tree, olive leaf, and orange.

Does baking soda work on toenail fungus? ›

Baking soda.

In addition to treating the fungal infection, it can also help with neutralizing foot odor. To use baking soda correctly as a treatment for toenail fungus, start by mixing a half-cup of it—along with a half-cup of Epsom salt and a quarter-cup of hydrogen peroxide (3%)—in four cups of hot water.

How does lemon remove stains on nails? ›

Remove Those YELLOW STAINS From Your Nails: WITH A LEMON!!

How do you whiten yellow nails? ›

Apply a coat of whitening toothpaste - Evenly coat the tops and undersides of your nails. Use a nail brush and gently scrub your nails. For some, scrubbing your nails will do the trick, but if your nails are still stained or yellow, apply another coat of toothpaste and let it sit for at least 5-10 minutes.

How do you get rid of yellowing toenails? ›

Getting rid of yellow toenails
  1. Soak your nails in warm water for 5 to 10 minutes.
  2. Trim and file your nails (when necessary).
  3. Apply an over-the-counter anti-fungal solution or cream to your nails, such as clotrimazole or undecylenic acid. ...
  4. Repeat this process daily until your nails have returned to normal.

What vitamin deficiency affects your nails? ›

- A deficiency in B-complex vitamins, especially biotin, will produce ridges along the nail bed. - A diet lacking in calcium contributes to dry, brittle nails. - A lack of folic acid and vitamin C can lead to hangnails.

What does fungus nail look like? ›

It begins as a white or yellow-brown spot under the tip of your fingernail or toenail. As the fungal infection goes deeper, the nail may discolor, thicken and crumble at the edge. Nail fungus can affect several nails.

How do you get rid of melanonychia? ›

Treatment of melanonychia depends on the underlying pathology. Treating the underlying systemic disease, removing an offending drug, or using antibiotic or antifungal treatments may cause the hyperpigmentation to regress. In the majority of cases, benign causes do not necessitate treatment.

How does vinegar cure toenail fungus? ›

The antifungal properties also make vinegar soaks a good idea for people who have toenail fungus. Soak your feet for 10 to 15 minutes daily in a vinegar bath until the infection subsides. You can increase the length of time in the soak gradually. It may take two to three weeks or longer to see improvement in symptoms.

How long does it take Vicks to get rid of toenail fungus? ›

“Applying Vicks VapoRub to fungus-infected toenails can clear up the notoriously hard-to-treat condition. Michigan State University clinicians found that applying the product daily to the infected nail cleared the condition in 32 of 85 patients, though it took anywhere from 5 to 16 months…”

What kills foot fungus fast? ›

Hydrogen peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide can effectively kill the fungus on the surface level of the foot, as well as any surface bacteria that could cause an infection. Pour hydrogen peroxide directly onto the affected area.

What is best fungal nail treatment? ›

Terbinafine and itraconazole are the two medicines most commonly prescribed for fungal nail infections. These usually need to be taken once or twice a day for several months to ensure the infection has completely cleared up. If you stop taking the medication too early, the infection may return.

Can I wear nail polish if I have toenail fungus? ›

Because fungi thrive in moist environments, wearing nail polish may make a fungal infection worse. However, your nail continues to grow with or without polish.

Can you put apple cider vinegar directly on toenail fungus? ›

Apple cider vinegar is a popular remedy for toenail fungus due to its antifungal properties. If you want to treat your fungus using ACV, you can soak your feet in a mixture of warm water and the vinegar for about 15 minutes, twice a day.

Is Tea Tree Oil Good for toenail fungus? ›

When used topically, tea tree oil is believed to be antibacterial. Tea tree oil is commonly used to treat acne, athlete's foot, lice, nail fungus and insect bites.

What is better for toenail fungus white vinegar or apple cider vinegar? ›

The acidity of vinegar repairs the PH balance, which is necessary to combat fungi and bacteria. White vinegar offers the same benefits as apple cider vinegar for treating toenail fungus and can be used in the same way, with slight modifications.

What causes darkening of toenails? ›

Causes of Nail Discoloration

Dirt, poor hygiene, and living in a humid area are all causes of a fungal infection in your toenails. Fungal toenail infections can cause discoloration, making your nail appear any of these colors: Yellow. Red-brown.

How do you whiten discolored toenails? ›

Soak in hydrogen peroxide

Simply fill a small bowl with one part water and one part hydrogen peroxide. Place fingers or toes in the bowl so that nails are completely covered and let soak for 15 minutes. Rinse well. Repeat daily until nails are whiter and stains have disappeared.

Why are my toenails discolored after removing polish? ›

Upon removing the polish you may discover some white spots on your nails and even some discoloration. Many of time the discoloration can actually be the beginnings of a fungal toenail infection. Studies have shown that fungus can be caused from wearing dark nail polish for too long without removing it.

Why are my toenails white after removing polish? ›

Keratin granulation

If you remove your nail polish only to find that part of your nail is white and dry underneath, you may have this common condition. It's caused by wearing toenail polish for too long. If you have this, it's best to let your nails heal for a while.

What toenail fungus looks like? ›

It begins as a white or yellow-brown spot under the tip of your fingernail or toenail. As the fungal infection goes deeper, the nail may discolor, thicken and crumble at the edge. Nail fungus can affect several nails.

What toenails say about health? ›

Your toenails tell a lot about your overall health. A fungal infection often causes thickened yellow toenails. Thick, yellow nails also can be a sign of an underlying disease, including lymphedema (swelling related to the lymphatic system), lung problems, psoriasis, or rheumatoid arthritis.

Why are my big toenails yellow? ›

#2: Toenail Fungus

Toenail fungus is the most common cause of yellowing toenails. Here's where it comes from: A break in the skin close to/under the toenail from ill-fitting shoes; Walking barefoot in warm, damp areas (locker rooms, pool decks, public showers, etc.);

Will vinegar whiten nails? ›

Use white vinegar

To use white vinegar to get rid of the stain, in one cup of warm water add one teaspoon to one tablespoon of distilled white vinegar. Soak your nails for about eight minutes and then rinse your hands under lukewarm water.

Can baking soda whiten toenails? ›

Baking Soda Fights Stains

A simple baking soda paste can be made to for DIY nail whitening. Water can be used to make the paste, but most prefer to add lemon juice, white vinegar or hydrogen peroxide* to the mix. Lemon juice and baking soda are the most popular combination to give nails a fresh clean look.

Will peroxide Whiten toenails? ›

You can also combine hydrogen peroxide with baking soda. This will be an extremely effective solution to whiten your yellow nails. Just dip your nails for a while in the solution and then wash off the solution with water. You can also lightly scrub the solution with a baby toothbrush.

What is the toenail color for 2022? ›

Earth tones are another major 2022 nail polish trend. This warm brown Orly shade is a versatile shade when painted on your toes, and will complement both bright and pastel colors on your fingertips.

How do I keep my toenails healthy as I age? ›

Care for your toenails.

Trim toenails keeping the edges aligned with the tips of the toes. Because nails become more brittle as we age, they're typically easier to trim after a foot soak. Be sure to cut toenails straight across to prevent ingrown toenails.

How can I make my toenails look better? ›

Remove any nail polish. Trim toenails straight across so that some of the white remains. Lightly brush the surface of toenails with a nail buffer or fine grit nail file. Apply some lemon juice with a cotton swab on and around the nail to further remove dead skin and give nails a healthy shine.

What is better for toenail fungus white vinegar or apple cider vinegar? ›

The acidity of vinegar repairs the PH balance, which is necessary to combat fungi and bacteria. White vinegar offers the same benefits as apple cider vinegar for treating toenail fungus and can be used in the same way, with slight modifications.

What do dehydrated toenails look like? ›

White spots and white marks from toenail polish are due to the toenail getting dehydrated. This can cause the toenail to dry out and curl. This is not all that dangerous, but it can look like fungus. Just make sure to moisturize and clean it up, it will go away!

What does it mean when a woman has white toenails? ›

Most of the time, white toenails aren't a big deal. The spots might've come from bumping your toe or a common toenail fungus that a doctor can easily treat. Although it doesn't happen too often, white toenails may suggest a more serious matter, like a vitamin deficiency or disease.

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