5 Health Clues Your Nails Show

Doctors get really excited when they talk about nails. That’s because, like the rings of a tree, the bumps, dents, and ridges on them reveal a lot about your well-being.

“Nails provide an amazing time line of a patient’s habits and health history,” says Dr. Courtney Holmberg Naturopath, a licensed naturopath Toronto.

Below are a few of the most common nail markings, their meanings, and what to do about them.

  1. White Spots

These imperfections on an otherwise healthy nail signal damage to the cuticle, the thin but durable skin that borders the lower nail plate. The cuticle acts as a seal, keeping in moisture and blocking out bacteria and drying chemicals. When cuticles are trimmed too aggressively, or if you have a habit of pushing, cutting, or picking them, irritants can slip below the surface, compromising the nail-growth process.

Solution: These spots can’t be scraped off. Your best bet? “Leave your cuticles alone,” says the Toronto naturopathic doctor. Also stick to acetone-free polish removers and formaldehyde-free polishes. In a few months, the cuticles will heal, allowing healthy nails to grow out.

  1. A Deep Groove

This horizontal mark, called a Beau’s line, emerges after a single traumatic event. The more intense the circumstances, the more severe the dent. Illness, fever, pregnancy, and even stress, such as grieving, can cause one. “Cells halt metabolic activity and stop producing smooth, uniform nails,” says Courtney. Two to three months later, the imperfect product of these dysfunctional cells is visible in the form of a groove.

Solution: A Beau’s line takes up to six months to grow out. You can make the dent less noticeable with a ridge-filling base coat that smooths and resurfaces. Do not try to file or buff the line away, as this will only weaken the nail.

  1. Horizontal Depressions

These dings usually happen when you’ve done something directly harmful to the nail matrix, such as shutting a drawer on your finger. However, a series of dips along the center is often a telltale sign that you’ve been repetitively picking at or pushing back the cuticle.

Solution: The depressions will grow out. Quitting the picking habit will prevent future grooves from forming.

  1. Split Nail Tips

If your nails break easily, the culprit is probably overexposure to water and chemicals, both of which weaken nails.

Solution: Get the daily recommended intake of 30 micrograms of biotin, which helps to strengthen nails. Pull on a pair of cotton-lined rubber gloves to do the dishes. Also avoid dehydrating alcohol-based hand sanitizers; instead, wash with soap and apply hand cream afterward for the extra moisture. During manicures, use a non-acetone polish remover and a strengthening base coat.

  1. Rough White Patches

If parts of the nail plate look white and appear roughed up, they are probably keratin granulations that were caused by wearing polish for too long or using drying polish remover too often. The chemicals cause the nail plate to dry out and the keratin molecules within it to clump together into what looks like a chalky stain.

Solution: A one-month holiday from nail polish and polish remover will clear up the nail plate nicely. To prevent a reappearance, go bare for a few days between manicures.