A quick trim and some mindless filing may be all the time you spend on your nails, but it’s worth taking a closer look at them. Your nails can be a good indication of the health of your skin as well as your overall well-being.

“Fingernails and toenails can change texture, color, quality or shape to signal your current health status as well as how your health may have changed over the past six months,” says Chris Adigun, MD, a dermatologist in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, who specializes in nail health.

Don’t give your nails short shrift. Here are 6 common conditions and what may be behind them.

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According to the Cleveland Clinic, stress can be the cause of lines that run from side to side on nails.

Dark lines that run from the tops of nails to the bottoms may signal something more serious. A brown line may indicate a benign mole, especially if it spans the length of the nail, stopping at or before the cuticle.

A line that runs into the cuticle, however, could be the beginnings of melanoma. “Because brown, black or grey bands can be an early sign of skin cancer, it’s important to see a dermatologist. A biopsy may be necessary,” says Adigun.


Often the reason nails break and crack easily is because of frequent hand washing or exposure to harsh chemicals in polish, acrylics or gel wraps.

Certain nutritional deficiencies can also contribute to brittle nails — particularly a diet low in protein, zinc or biotin (a B vitamin found in eggs, especially yolks, brewer’s yeast, sardines and nuts). An all-organic food plan may be one solution: A recent Dutch study found that people who ate a strict diet of organic, minimally processed foods had improvement in hair and nails .

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In most cases, nails take on a yellow tint because of frequent polishing. “Pigments in nail polish, especially those in the red spectrum, can discolor the outer layer of the nail plate, leaving a yellow glow behind,” explains Adigun.

Other likely causes of yellow nails are smoking and psoriasis. If nails, particularly toenails, are painful as well as yellow, the problem could be a fungal infection.

White spots

Small whitish dots on the surface of nails sometimes form after a blow to the nail — stubbing a toe, for example, or jamming a finger. Prolonged polish wear also can create white areas to form on the nail’s surface.

“An infection due to fungus also may cause white spots that can be powdery in consistency,” adds Adigun. In this case, the fungus actually is digesting the outer layer of the nail.

Spoon-shaped nails

If your nails are lifting up around the edges and taking on a concave shape, too little iron or a thyroid abnormality may be to blame. Both high and low thyroid levels can cause nails to spoon — a condition known medically as koilonychia.

“But most of the time soft, bendy nails are normal and don’t require intervention,” Adigun says. In other words, some folks simply have spoon-shaped nails.

Rapid growth

You can thank that bun in the oven if you’re finding yourself reaching for your manicure kit more frequently.

Nails tend to grow faster when you’re expecting, although they aren’t necessarily stronger,” explains Adigun. Hair growth speeds up during pregnancy as well. Experts aren’t sure why hair and nails go into overdrive during pregnancy, but suspect it has to do with the hormonal shifts that bring on so many other changes.

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Jennifer Kelly Geddes is a New York City-based writer and editor who specializes in parenting, health and child development. She’s also the mom of two teen girls.