Have you ever looked down at your bare feet and asked yourself why are my toenails white all of a sudden? If so, you’re not alone. While common, white spots on toenails or toenails that turn white could be a sign of fungus or something else entirely.
What causes white toenails?
From fungal infections and psoriasis to nail dehydration and mineral deficiencies, there are a number of causes for white spots on toenails.
White Toenail Fungus
Officially called onychomycosis, nail fungus is a common cause of white spots on toenails. A toenail fungal infection typically presents as a white or yellow-brown spot under the tip or side of your toenail and, if mild, may resolve on its own. If the toenail fungus progresses, it can go deeper into the nail, causing discoloration, thick white stuff under the toenail (keratin debris), nail thickening and crumbling, and even transmission to surrounding nails. The infection can even spread to the skin between the toes and other parts of your feet, which is commonly called athlete’s foot (tinea pedis).
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to see a podiatrist for diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible to stop the toenail fungus in its tracks before developing complications, such as swelling, pain, and bleeding around the nails, difficulty walking or more serious infection (particularly if you’re diabetic).
Approximately 80 to 90 percent of people with psoriasis develop nail psoriasis, though it’s possible to have nail psoriasis without exhibiting signs of the skin condition. Nail psoriasis presents in a number of ways – not just as white patches on toenails. In addition to white spots, toenail psoriasis can cause tiny dents or pits in the affected toenails, yellow or brown discoloration, thick white buildup under the toenail, blood under the nail, crumbling toenails and toenails that separate from the skin of the nailbed.
If most of a toenail appears white – except for the tip – you may have a mineral deficiency that is causing the discoloration. Both iron deficiency anemia and zinc deficiency can cause white nails that are thin and brittle. While mineral deficiencies’ effects on the nails are common, you will typically notice other symptoms of an iron or zinc deficiency before you see a white nail.
In either case, it’s important to see a medical professional if you suspect you have a mineral deficiency. While it may seem obvious to self-treat a perceived deficiency with mineral supplements, doing so can be detrimental to your health and can even lead to a dangerous overdose. To truly know what’s causing your symptoms (including white nails), your doctor will most likely run bloodwork to check your levels before devising a treatment plan.
Do you have white spots on your toenails after removing polish?
If you’ve ever removed your toenail polish to find white spots on your nails, you might have been a bit alarmed at the sudden change in your nails. This reaction is understandable – but these spots are common for anyone who overuses toenail polish. While the presence of these spots isn’t serious, they are a sign it’s time to give the polish a break. There are a couple of reasons why.
First of all, these white, chalky toenails are the result of keratin granulations on the surface of your toenails. Keratin granulations are dehydrated superficial layers of nail cells that result in white, rough, and uneven dry patches on the top of the nail. Prolonged use of nail polish – as well as acetone-based nail polish removers – dries out the surface of your toenails and can lead to these keratin granulations.
Secondly, if left untreated, keratin granulations can open the door to toenail fungus (see above). That’s because when the surface of the toenail is this dehydrated, it creates the perfect atmosphere for fungus to take root in the nail plate. To prevent this from happening, it’s vital to give your nails a break from polish (and polish remover) and rehydrate your nails.
It’s important to note that it can be difficult to tell if those white spots on your toenails after removing polish are keratin granulations or fungus. If you think it might be a toenail fungus, you should see a podiatrist right away for proper diagnosis and treatment.
When to Seek Treatment for White Toenails
If you’re not 100% positive the white spots on your toenails are keratin granulations that can be treated at home by rehydrating your nails, it’s best to see a podiatrist for proper diagnosis and treatment. If the white spots on your toenails are keratin granulations and you neglect to treat them (or continue to wear polish), you’re likely to develop a fungal infection. Ultimately, the safest course of action is to seek professional treatment from a local podiatrist to nip any complications in the bud or just in case your white toenails are due to toenail psoriasis or mineral deficiencies.