Fingernails Look Like This? Then You May Be Unhealthy

Fingernails on display at a Hairdressing Exhibition held at Olympia, London the 1930s | Fox Photos/Getty Images

Fingernails on display at a Hairdressing Exhibition held at Olympia, London the 1930s | Fox Photos/Getty Images

Fingernails can say a lot about a person — their state of health, in particular. Yellow, discolored nails on blotchy, flaky skin? Probably not a good sign. Whereas someone with crisp, shiny, well-manicured fingernails is likely in relatively good shape, eating well, and generally taking good care of themselves. Our fingernails are like a cheat sheet to our inner health — though most of us probably don’t give them much thought at all, except as to when they need to be trimmed.

But our fingernails, as mentioned, can tell us a lot. Our nails can have many distinct and variable features, including ridges, discoloration, or even fungi or other growths, and each can be a warning sign that something is wrong.

Man clipping his finger nails

Man clipping his finger nails |

So, what are you fingernails supposed to look like? Basically, they should be featureless, bland, and ordinary. Everyone is going to have different nails, naturally, but an easy way to pick up on whether or not something is wrong is if there is something noticeable about them. If you look down and see something that wasn’t there before, or are experiencing pain or discomfort in the nail or nail bed, consider that to be a warning.

Fingernails and your health

Brad Pitt's fingernails are seen as he speaks on stage

Brad Pitt’s fingernails are seen as he speaks on stage | Jason Merritt/Getty Images for PSIFF

Again, there are any number of things that can affect the look and texture of your fingernails. There are external factors that can impact our fingernails, such as smoking. Also, if you work in a job that requires the handling of chemicals, that can cause certain reactions. Here is a quick rundown of some common signs and symptoms to watch out for:

Nail pitting – Pits in your nails look like someone has been hitting them with a tiny hammer. They’re almost like little dents in your nail — or pits. Nail pitting can be a sign of certain skin conditions, including psoriasis and alopecea.

Pale coloration – If your fingernails have a ghostly appearance, as in, they’re much paler than the rest of your skin, consider that a red flag. Pale fingernails can indicate some very serious health problems, including liver disease, anemia, or even heart disease.

Clubbing – No, we’re not talking about what you do with your boys on Saturday nights. Nail clubbing is a slow process, usually occurring over many years, that results with the ends of your fingers swelling and growing, and your nails rounding out to cover the additional real estate. It can be an indicator of kidney or liver disease, or even AIDS.

Yellow Nails – A yellow coloration of your nails can be a sign of many different things. Commonly, it’s associated with a nail fungus, which can be taken care of with over the counter medications. Other times, however, it can be more serious. If your nails are crumbling and cracking, it may mean you have lung or liver problems, or even a thyroid issue.

A woman shows her fingernails painted with different flags

A woman shows her fingernails painted with different flags | Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images

Spoon nails – You’ll probably be aware that something was up if you experience spoon nails, a condition in which your nails actually bend up from the bed, creating a cup-like appearance. If your nails are doing this, it may be a sign that you need more iron in your diet or have heart disease.

Rippled or ridged nails – Ridges along your nails is another fairly common occurrence, particularly if the ridges are vertical. Horizontal ridges, on the other hand, should be a bit more worrisome. They’ve been linked to reactions caused by certain drugs or medications, and some doctors think they mean that your body is diverting resources to combat other serious health issues, leaving the ridges as a telltale sign.

Dark stripes or streaks – This is a fairly serious sign which may indicate that melanoma, or skin cancer, is developing in or around your nail beds. If you start seeing dark streaks, don’t ignore it; make sure you’re getting an expert opinion.

These are just a handful of the many things that can afflict our fingernails. Obviously, some are more worrisome than others, and in all likelihood, anything you do notice is likely a result of trauma or something less serious. But don’t take your nail health lightly; our fingernails can be an indicator of other serious problems — and by simply paying attention, we might be able to get ahead of other health problems.

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