Healthy nails, on both fingers and toes, are a soft pink color with a single white crescent called a lunula on the underside of each nail. So, what are the white spots on nails that seem to appear out of nowhere? Medically, the condition involving these white spots is called leukonychia. You may have heard that a mineral deficiency is associated with this condition, but there’s more to it. Infections, underlying medical conditions, and even injuries can cause different types of white spots. There are several ways you can get rid of it. Let’s dig deeper to understand this condition so you know what to do about it.
What are white spots on nails and what do they look like?
White spots on nails or leukonychia partial is a type of partial white discoloration of nails. The word leukonychia is derived from two Greek terms, leuko (meaning white) and onyx (meaning nail). Depending on how the white spots appear on your nails, you may have one of these three types of partial leukonychia (1):
If the white spot on your nail looks like a horizontal band running parallel to the lunula (crescent-shaped base of the nail), you may have leukonychia striata. These are also called Mees lines and generally grow with the nail.
Longitudinal leukonychia appears as multiple pale white bands at least 1 mm thick running parallel to the base of the nail.
Leukonychia punctata is the most common type of leukonychia and looks like small white dots on the nails. These generally disappear over time. However, as the nail grows, the number and pattern of the spots may change.
The most common cause of white spots on nails is injury or trauma to the matrix (base). Let’s take a look at some other possible reasons why white spots form on the nails.
What are the main causes of white spots on nails?
White superficial onychomycosis is a common nail fungus that causes tiny white spots to appear on your nails. While this is more common with toenails, your fingernails can also be affected (2).
- Damage or allergic reactions related to nail products
Acrylic or gel nail products can damage your nails and lead to these white marks. In addition, an allergic reaction to nail products such as nail polish, gloss, nail polish remover or hardener can also cause discoloration and white spots or blotches (3).
Some research suggests that calcium deficiency does not lead to white spots on nails (4). However, overall nail health depends on getting enough minerals like magnesium, zinc, iron, calcium, sodium and copper (5). Deficiency of these minerals can adversely affect the composition of the nail plate and make it prone to damage. Therefore, even if there is no conclusive evidence on how mineral deficiencies can lead to white spots, they are often addressed during treatment methods (6).
More unusually, white spots on the nails can be due to underlying conditions such as heart disease, psoriasis or eczema, kidney failure, and pneumonia. Arsenic poisoning can also be responsible for the white discoloration of nails. Systemic diseases (diseases that affect multiple systems in the body) can also cause white discoloration of the nails in rare cases (7).
You can get benign white spots on the nails under control with a few simple home remedies. Read more about these remedies in the next section.
Home remedies for white spots on nails
- Eat foods rich in minerals
Include foods rich in these minerals in your diet so that your nail plate can be strong and recover more effectively from trauma damage (8).
- Use skin-colored or colored nail polish
Use nail polish to cover the white spots for a temporary fix. You can apply a coat of good quality nail polish to match your skin tone for a natural look. You can also experiment with fun colors.
- Avoid exposure to allergens
If the white spots have appeared on your nails after using a certain nail product, you can stop using it. It may also be helpful to check the ingredients to see if you are allergic to any part of that product and to avoid doing so in the future.
In most cases, white spots on the nail will disappear on their own within 6 months, because that’s how long it takes to replace the entire nail plate on your fingers (9). However, there may be situations where you need medical attention.
When should you see a doctor?
If you are concerned about the white spots on your nail or if you suspect you have a fungal infection causing the discoloration, see your doctor. Some signs are:
- Well-defined white spots on nails
- White spots that seem to spread
- Pits and flaky spots
- Bad smell from the nails
The doctor will decide on the appropriate course of treatment after diagnosing the reason behind the discoloration.
How to diagnose this condition?
There are several ways your doctor can proceed with the diagnostic procedures. Depending on what they suspect, they may take one or more of the following steps:
- The doctor may prescribe mycology, which involves testing nail clippings for fungal growth.
- For a nail biopsy, the doctor may take a small sample of nail tissue.
- A blood test may be prescribed to determine if there is underlying systemic disease.
After the results are in, your healthcare provider will determine which treatment you need.
Medical Treatment Options
Depending on the results of diagnostic tests, your doctor will decide on a course of treatment. The most common treatment is the prescription of oral and topical antifungal medications. It can take up to 3 months for a yeast infection to completely clear. If the white spots indicate an underlying disease, the doctor can begin treating the root problem.
For white spots caused by injury or trauma, there is no treatment as such and you will have to wait for the spots to outgrow the nails. You can take certain precautions to reduce your chances of getting white spots, as described in the next section.
How to prevent the formation of white spots on nails?
While you can’t absolutely control whether or not you will develop white spots, there are a few things you can do to protect your nails, such as:
Avoid contact with irritants and chemicals (e.g., acrylates, formaldehyde, and toluenesulfonamide-formaldehyde resin), as these can cause allergic contact dermatitis, which, along with the surrounding skin, can attack the nail plates and make them prone to dryness, brittleness, and damage (3)
- Avoiding excessive use of nail polish
- Keep nails short and clipped
- Using a moisturizer after hand washing to prevent dehydration
Basically, white spots on nails are usually caused by damage to the nail or damage from products. The condition itself is called partial leukonychia and, while usually harmless, in rare cases can indicate underlying health conditions. You can use nail polish to cosmetically hide white spots as they outgrow and disappear with your nails. To take care of your nails, you should eat more mineral-rich foods and avoid exposing your nails to harsh chemicals or allergens. Finally, since white spots can sometimes be the result of yeast infections, keep an eye out for the signs and seek medical attention if you’re concerned.
Key learning points
- White spots on nails or partial leukonychia are of three types: leukonychia striata, longitudinal leukonychia, and leukonychia punctata.
- Damage to the nail bed, fungal infections, systemic diseases, cosmetic products or mineral deficiencies can cause these white spots.
- Leukonychia tends to resolve on its own within six months, but can last longer if underlying medical conditions are causing it.
Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputable organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy for more information.
- Total and partial leukonychia in a single family with a literature review
- Fungal Leukonychia and Melanonychia: A Review
- Cosmetically Induced Nail Disorders with Update on Contemporary Nail Manicures
- Leukonychia on fingernails as a marker of calcium and/or zinc deficiency
- Nails in nutritional deficiencies
- Idiopathic acquired leukonychia totalis of the fingernails in a child successfully treated with zinc and amino acid supplementation
- Nail as a window to systemic diseases
- Nutrition and nail disease
- Understanding the Formidable Nail Barrier: An Overview of the Composition and Diseases of the Nail Microstructure
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