Q: Some of my nails have tiny white dots. What are they, and how do I get rid of them? A: Leukonychia, the technical term for the white etchings you see on your nails, can be caused by a number of factors—including physical stress, trauma to the nail bed (called the matrix), or even a recent high fever or illness. “If you were sick, you might have white spots showing up on your nails a month or two later,” says Long Island, NY dermatologist Marina Peredo, M.D. A really rough manicure, in which the cuticles are pushed back too far or too aggressively, may also result in specks. You can safely rule out dietary issues as a trigger though. “While nails do require certain vitamins and minerals for optimal health, dietary deficiencies don’t normally result in white spots,” Peredo says. “It’s almost always due to minor injury.” Sadly, there’s no quick fix other than waiting for the spot to grow out and eventually get clipped off. “You can always cover it up with a coat of dark polish in the meantime,” Peredo says.
Q: My nails are brittle and prone to splitting. Help! A: Like your hair and skin, nails contain keratin, a key protein that helps maintain their texture. Deficiencies in this protein can result in weakened tips. “In general, if your skin and hair tend to be dry, you’re more likely to have brittle nails as well,” Peredo says. First, make sure the issue isn’t hormonal. “It could be a sign of a thyroid problem,” Peredo says. “If your body is not absorbing vitamins correctly, your nails can become dry and weak.” Try taking a daily biotin supplement (available at most vitamin stores) to boost your vitamin B supply, as well as a multi-vitamin for other nails strengtheners such as calcium, vitamins A, C, and E. “You should see some improvement within a few months,” Peredo says. Moisturizers and cuticle oils can also help. “Always make sure to hydrate your hands after washing them, and apply a cuticle oil (or, even olive oil) to your nail beds before going to sleep.” Lastly, avoid using products and nail polish removers that contain harsh ingredients like acetone, which can compromise nail health over time.
Q: Why do my nails look yellow? A: Fall/winter runways may call for deep, vampy polishes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t lighten up. “Darker hues definitely tend to stain and discolor nails, especially if you always use them,” Peredo says. “Switch to more natural shades, or skip polish for a while and buff nails instead.”
Q: How do I avoid contracting a painful and unsightly fungus? A: The fool-proof way is to bring your own equipment. “If you want to use the salon’s, make sure they have a good sterilization process,” Peredo says. Ask your technician to push cuticles back gently, instead of snipping them off (snips can cause microscopic cuts in which bacteria can thrive). If you’re a gardener, make sure to wear proper gloves, since bacteria can live in soil, and always wear rubber gloves while doing any other household work that involves chemicals.
Q: I’m a runner, and my toenails show it, thanks to dark spots. What should I do? A: Those dark spots might actually be small pools of blood (yikes!) created from the impact of repeatedly pounding the pavement. “It’s important to first make sure these spots are a result of trauma, since certain discolorations can be a sign of melanoma,” Peredo says. Once you’ve determined the cause, have your shoes properly fitted to avoid exacerbating impact. If a nail has already been damaged, or worse, fallen off, “You’ll just have to wait for it to grow out and start fresh,” Peredo says.
Q: Ouch, my toenails are ingrown! A: Some women are more susceptible to this problem than others. Before squeezing into towering stilettos, make sure your shoes are not too small, and trim nails so that they have rounded edges. “Square shaped with sharp corners can grown inward and be very uncomfortable,” Peredo says.