When your toenails become yellow and discolored, it could be a sign of an underlying health condition or lifestyle choice. Nail discoloration for any reason should never be ignored. There are different colors your toenails can turn, and each one means something very different.
Concerning how to get rid of toenail discoloration, you must look at the potential causes first. Your toenails could turn yellow, brown, black, green or blue. Because there are so many possible explanations, you have to become familiar with and recognize the other symptoms. It’s unlikely that the only sign of a health problem will be the off-color of the toenail.
Some toenail conditions cause pain, while others may not be remotely uncomfortable. But even if you aren’t experiencing discomfort, you shouldn’t ignore what’s causing a discolored toenail. Sometimes, it may heal on its own. In other cases, treatment may be needed to lighten the nail and stop it from spreading to other toes/feet.
Table of Contents:
- 1 What Does It Mean When Your Toenail is Dark?
- 2 Why Are My Nails Pale or White?
- 3 Why Do Toenails Change Colors?
- 4 How to Clean Discolored Toenails
- 5 Best Way to Get Rid of Discolored Toenails
What Does It Mean When Your Toenail is Dark?
A discolored toenail can be unsightly to look at, so it’s understandable that anyone would want to clear up the problem quickly.
But, it could be something more severe than that. When you take care of your toenails, you may be taking care of your health in general.
So, what’s the best treatment for toenail discoloration? Let’s look at some of the most popular causes to find out:
1) Toenail Fungus (Onychomycosis)
Toenail fungus has many symptoms. One of the common signs of a fungal infection is discoloration of the nail. An early sign of toenail fungus is a small yellow or white dot in the center of the nail. The nail can continue to turn a yellowish color as the fungus gets worse.
If the fungal infection gets too bad, though, the nail may turn darker – even black! A fungus won’t go away on its own. It can become worse and spread to other nails or parts of the body. As debris continues to build up underneath the nail, it can even separate from the nail bed.
Thankfully, because toenail fungus is such a common problem, there are many solutions to help treat it. Over-the-counter antifungal creams and ointments are popular, like the Xenna NonyX Nail Gel.
Home remedies have also become increasingly popular. There are many to choose from, so it’s important to know what works and what doesn’t. One of the best home remedies for getting rid of discoloration caused by nail fungus is tea tree oil.
Tea tree oil is an antiseptic, antifungal, and antibacterial essential oil. Not only will it help to keep an infection from spreading, but it will help to kill an existing fungus and return your toenails to their regular color. The Purely Northwest Toenail Fungus System contains tea tree oil as well as other natural ingredients. It’s a foot soaking system designed to get rid of fungus and get rid of discoloration.
If you want to use tea tree oil on its own to clear up your toenails, you can add a few drops of 100% tea tree oil to a carrier, like olive oil or jojoba oil. Then, apply on and underneath the affected nail(s) using a cotton swab.
2) Skin Cancer (Melanoma)
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that can show up almost anywhere on the body.
Unfortunately, it can also show up underneath your toenails. It is called subungual melanoma. It has a few different symptoms to be aware of. It usually starts as either a brown or black streak under the nail. Because of the discoloration, it’s easy to mistake for a bruise. Unfortunately, ignoring it for too long or thinking it will go away on its own can give the cancer time to spread.
The streaks on the nail will continue to get bigger, and the surrounding skin may even start to turn darker. If you have brown or black streaks on the nail and you haven’t experienced any trauma to the nail, it’s vital to get it checked out right away.
More symptoms include:
- Bleeding nail(s)
- Thinning or cracking of the nail
- Nail that separates from the nail bed
It’s most likely that you’ll see these symptoms on the big toenail, but melanoma can occur on any of the toes.
The symptoms of subungual melanoma can look a lot like other bacterial or fungal infections. So, it requires an official diagnosis from a doctor.
Treatment usually includes having the area surgically removed. Depending on how severe the case is, a part of the toenail may need to be removed, or even part of the toe itself. If cancer has started to spread to other areas of the body, further treatment may be needed. This type of treatment should be determined on an individual, case-by-case basis. But, the most common treatment options are chemotherapy or radiation.
The survival rate of melanoma varies greatly. But, it’s a type of cancer that doesn’t have to be deadly if you get it treated quickly enough. Be sure to pay attention to the symptoms as early as you can, and don’t wait to get a diagnosis so you can begin treatment.
3) Diabetes Mellitus
People with diabetes know how important it is to take care of their feet. Diabetics are more prone to foot problems because they usually have poor circulation. Discolored toenails due to diabetes aren’t uncommon.
There are a few common causes. The first is toenail fungus. People with diabetes tend to be more prone to fungal infections. All the same symptoms and treatment options apply. For a person with diabetes, it may be even more important to treat a toenail fungus as quickly as possible. A weakened immune system can make it easier for the infection to spread and cause more problems throughout the body.
Diabetics can also experience yellow nails. Discolored and thick nails are common for some people who have the condition. This type of discoloration deals with the way the body breaks down sugars. Sugars affect collagen in the nails.
If your body can’t break down those sugars properly, your nails can experience a build-up and turn yellow. This type of discoloration isn’t harmful or painful. It doesn’t need any type of treatment other than taking good care of your feet and toenails.
It’s important to be able to tell the difference between ‘natural’ yellowing due to diabetes and fungal infection. Pay attention to other symptoms that might go along with the condition. This includes things like a bad smell, brittle or thick nails, or a lot of debris underneath the nail.
For people with diabetes, it’s essential to treat a fungal infection aggressively. If you don’t want to use an over-the-counter solution or home remedy, you can try at-home laser therapy to kill the fungal infection. If you’re concerned about the health of your feet and the fungus has gotten worse, the best treatment may be a visit to the podiatrist. In some cases, they may need to remove the nail.
Pregnancy comes with a lot of different changes to a woman’s body. Most women expect fatigue and some swelling. But, you may not realize that pregnancy can have a significant impact on how your nails look and feel.
Pregnancy can cause toenails to become:
- Slow to grow
This is due to the influx of hormones going through the body. Most of the time, it’s nothing to worry about and doesn’t take any specific treatment other than taking care of yourself.
Some of the best tips you can use include:
- Eating a balanced diet rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables
- Taking a prenatal vitamin that contains biotin
- Don’t bite or tear your nails
- Keep your nails closely trimmed, clean, and dry
You should also be aware of artificial nails when you’re pregnant. They might look nice at first, but they can sometimes cause an infection to develop. This can make the nails underneath, and the surrounding skin turns yellow or green. It’s best to keep natural nails during pregnancy.
If after giving birth your nails are discolored, continue taking vitamins. In most cases, the nails will return to their normal color in a matter of weeks.
5) Nail Polish
Nail polish can make your toenails look pretty for a while. It can make it easy to match your nails to particular outfits, or give yourself a little more color when you’re wearing open-toed shoes. Unfortunately, nail polish can stain the toenails.
Sometimes, people experience this staining when they remove the nail polish. Your nails might have a yellowish tint to them. This is more common when you apply dark nail polish but can happen with almost any color. It’s usually a cosmetic problem that can be fixed with nail whitening treatments or home remedies.
But, you should be aware that by wearing nail polish frequently, you could be putting yourself at a higher risk for toenail fungus. Your nails need a chance to breathe. Remember, toenail fungus occurs when moisture gets trapped underneath the nail. If your nails are always covered in polish, it makes it easier for a fungus to form.
So, if you remove your nail polish and noticed discoloration, it’s important to recognize why you see it. If it’s a cosmetic stain, there is nothing to worry about. You can treat it using a whitening solution, and it will usually go away on its own with time.
If you have other symptoms of a fungal infection, it has to be treated with an antifungal solution before it spreads or gets worse.
If you want to help prevent staining when using toenail polish, there are a few helpful things you can do:
- Apply a clear base coat to your nails before using a colored polish. This will create a barrier between the polish and your nail to prevent staining.
- Don’t wear nail polish every day. Give your nails a chance to breathe whenever possible, saving polish for special occasions or functions.
- If you’re worried about toenail fungus, you can buy antifungal nail polish, such as Dr.'s Remedy Enriched Nail Polish. Different brands come in a variety of different colors. While you still shouldn’t wear even these polishes every day, they can help to lower your risk of getting a fungal infection.
- Keep your nails trimmed and clean as much as possible if you wear polish frequently. The shorter your toenails are, the harder it can be for a fungal infection to form underneath them.
6) Injury (Trauma)
One of the most common reasons for a toenail turning black and blue is by injuring it. Two different types of trauma can damage the toenails; acute trauma and blunt trauma. Both can cause the nails to turn color for various reasons.
Acute trauma occurs when something hits or pushes against the nail repeatedly. The most common occurrence of this is when you wear tight shoes. If you don’t have enough room in the toe box, your toes can bang against the inside of the shoe every time you take a step.
That’s why people who do a lot of running are more prone to this kind of trauma. It can start with no pain. But, repeated trauma can eventually become painful. In some cases, the nail may turn dark and even fall off.
Nails can also fall victim to blunt trauma. This occurs when you bang your toes against something or drop something heavy on them. Many times, the nail will become bruised. A subungual hematoma will form, which is a blood blister under the nail. This blister can appear black, blue, or purple.
Some runners and athletes consider it a right of passage to get a black toe, but if it becomes painful, it’s no laughing matter.
Both types of trauma can heal without treatment. If you start to experience extreme pain, you may need to visit a doctor. A subungual hematoma can be dangerous if too much pressure builds up under the nail.
In some cases, a podiatrist may have to drill a hole in the nail to release that pressure so your nail can heal. Many times, though, the best treatment is to rest your feet and take over-the-counter pain medication if the pain becomes unbearable.
There isn’t a way to completely prevent a discolored toenail after an injury because there isn’t a way to completely prevent injuries themselves. But, there are some things you can do to lower your chances of acute and blunt trauma:
- Wear properly-fitted shoes. Make sure you have enough room in the toe box
- Alternate which shoes you wear each day
- If you’re working around hefty objects, where thick shoes or steel-toed boots
- If you start to feel pain in your toes, rest your feet for a few days
- Don’t ignore a dark toenail that begins to pull away from the nail bed
Why Are My Nails Pale or White?
Your nails don’t necessarily have to turn dark to signal a problem. People who have toenails that turn white or pale often suffer from nutritional deficiencies. One of the most common issues is anemia, which is an iron deficiency. A zinc deficiency can also lead to a pale overtone of the toenails.
Because nails are such a great indicator of general health, nails that have turned whiter in color are usually a sign that your body is missing out on something it needs. If you’re not getting the proper nutrients, your nails can be one of the first things to let you know.
Thankfully, the easiest way to treat this problem is by making a few lifestyle changes. It’s important to get an official diagnosis from a doctor if you’re worried you may have an underlying health issue. But, adding vitamins and nutrients to your life can make a big difference.
If you aren’t getting what your body needs through your diet, consider taking a supplement or a daily vitamin. This problem is one of the easiest to treat by making a few simple changes.
Why Do Toenails Change Colors?
The problem with toenails changing color is that there are so many possible causes. To treat each problem correctly, you’ll need to know what the cause is. So, it’s vital to be able to recognize extra symptoms.
Here are some other possible reasons why your toenails might be discolored:
- Extreme cold
- Certain medications
- Medical conditions like heart disease, kidney disease, or asthma
- Bacterial infections
- Pigmentation changes
- Skin conditions
All these causes come with other symptoms. That makes it easier to pinpoint the problem and treat it as needed. Sometimes, the color change will occur on the entire nail. Sometimes, it may just affect the tips of the nail. Paying closer attention to your feet will help you find the cause of discoloration faster, so you can treat it sooner.
How to Clean Discolored Toenails
Once you know what’s causing your nails to be discolored, you can treat them correctly based on the condition. But, there are a few things you can do to help whiten and fix discolored toenails no matter what state they may be in. If you have a medical condition, it’s important to treat that first.
But, if you’re embarrassed about your unsightly toenails, try some of these natural methods for getting them clearer and cleaner:
1) Baking Soda
This is a natural abrasive and whitening agent. It will help to make your nails brighter and will ‘soak up’ any stains that could be lurking on the surface.
Make a paste with three tablespoons of baking soda and one tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide. Using a nail brush, apply the solution on and underneath the affected nails. Let sit for up to five minutes before rinsing and drying your nails.
2) Lemon Juice
Some people try to bleach their nails to get them clean, but this can be extremely dangerous. Instead, use lemon juice as a natural bleaching agent.
You can either rub lemon juice directly on your nails or fill a small bowl with it and dip in a nail brush. Use that brush to scrub on and underneath the nails gently.
3) Denture-Cleaning Tablets
This help to brighten up false teeth. So, it’s not surprising they can have the same effect on your nails! To use, dip your feet into a basin of warm water and add two denture tablets.
Soak your feet for about 10-15 minutes, then dry them thoroughly. You can repeat this process two or three times a week. Teeth-whitening products also work.
4) Nail Whitening Kits
There are some products on the market, such as Omiera Podiazole Toenail Fungus Treatment, that are designed to whiten your nails and get rid of discoloration. These kits can be effective, but it’s important to read and understand the ingredients.
Stay away from bleaching agents that could damage your nail or the surrounding skin. If you have sensitive skin, using over-the-counter products with chemicals could irritate.
5) Orange Peel
Citrus is often used in nail-whitening products. This is because it contains natural bleaching properties, as well as vitamin C.
The vitamin C that’s found in oranges will help to restore your nails to their natural color. You have to rub the peel over the affected nail – no need to rinse away. Just make sure the nail is dry afterward.
Best Way to Get Rid of Discolored Toenails
There is no one ‘perfect’ way to keep your toenails from turning yellow, black, or any other color. Prevention can be hard when it comes to discolored toenails because there are so many possible causes.
Because of this, it can also be challenging to find the right treatment until you know what’s caused your discolored toenail. If you have a health problem, treating that first should help the side effects to go away or lessen.
If you drop something heavy on your toe, time and rest may be the best ‘treatment’ solution. If you have a fungal infection, a home remedy or over-the-counter antifungal product may work best for you.
The best way to treat your discolored nails is to determine why they have changed colors in the first place. If you don’t believe you have a health problem and you want your nails brighter for cosmetic reasons, use some of the whitening tips listed above.
A discolored nail can tell you a lot about what’s going on within your body. It shouldn’t be ignored, but in most cases, it can be treated and will eventually go back to normal.