Got White Spots On Your Nails? This Is What It Is

by Sara Farrell Baker
Originally Published: 
spots on nail
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When you have a cosmetology license, much like when you are a doctor or a dentist, your friends ask you to look at a lot of weird shit. Yes, I am comparing myself to someone with a medical degree, and this is the only instance in which I get to pretend that we are remotely equal, so back off.

“You used to do nails, right? Can you look at this thing on my foot? I think it’s a fungus.”

Having friends is fun.

One of my friends was worried about the color of her toenail and was mildly freaking the fuck out when she asked for my professional opinion. I’ve seen some gross foot stuff, so I got myself ready and figured it had been enough time since I ingested my last meal that I could probably take a peek without gagging.

She pulled off her sock and showed me her big toe. There were some white spots on her nail. Her brow furrowed as she watched me study the toenail in front of my face for a fraction of a second before I laughed.

It wasn’t a fungus. She had leukonychia. And despite it’s funky and scary name, it’s pretty common and not serious at all.

The name leukonychia is Greek for “white nails” because, yes, there are white spots on the nail. They are most commonly caused by a small injury to the matrix, the base of your nail where your nail is actually formed and grows. At some point, my friend probably dropped something on her toe or stubbed it or went running and her matrix got dinged. That’s it. The reason you don’t see the white spots right away is that it can take weeks for the spots to grow out onto your visible nail from the matrix. By then, you’ve long forgotten your tiny toe injury.

There is no treatment for leukonychia. The spots simply have to grow out. So slap some dark polish on your digits and learn to deal.

If the white spots are larger and seem kind of chalky or patchy, you are likely dealing with some form of dehydration. Either you have not been drinking enough water, or you are drying out your nail bed by wearing polish too long or not moisturizing your nails after removing old polish. Nail polish sucks the moisture out of your nail when left on too long and 100%-strength acetone is too strong to use on your natural nails. Give your poor nails a break and let them breathe for a few weeks while the white spots grow out and spend a little time moisturizing the living hell out of them.

If your nails are getting thicker, becoming unusually brittle, smelling funkier than normal, or turning yellow, get yourself in to see an actual doctor stat. And if you’re my friend and reading this, stop showing me things that might be a fungus. Best practices in friendship, okay?

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