Derm DMs: What Causes Yellow Fingernails?

March 24, 2020
Genesis Rivas
By: Genesis Rivas | by L'Oréal
Derm DMs: What Causes Yellow Fingernails?

Next to our nighttime skin-care routine, giving ourselves a manicure is one of our favorite ways to indulge in self-care. But have you ever noticed that after a while of painting your nails, especially in dark colors, your natural nails begin to appear stained with a yellow tinge? Although yellow fingernails are a common concern, not that many people talk about it openly. We were curious to find out the truth behind yellow-appearing fingernails, including its causes , what you can do if you get them and what, if anything,  you can do to help prevent them. Here to give us the lowdown is board-certified dermatologist Dr. Jason Miller of Schweiger Dermatology Group

What Causes Yellow Fingernails?

According to Dr. Miller, yellow fingernails can have several underlying causes. “One of the most common causes is a fungal infection of the nail,” he says. “Other common causes include smoking, staining from self-tanners or certain nail polishes, especially darker shades.” He explains that when dyes in the nail polish interact with the keratin in the nail, it can lead to a yellow discoloration. Acetone (a common nail polish remover) can also make yellow fingernails worse as “it causes the dissolved polish to adhere directly to the nail,” he adds. Some less common causes of yellow discoloration of the nails are certain medical conditions such as thyroid disease, liver disease and diabetes. “If your nails become yellow and there is no explanation, be sure to visit your doctor to help figure out the cause.” 

Can You Prevent Yellow Fingernails?

“While there are several genetic or medical causes that cannot be prevented, many of the underlying reasons for yellow nails can be avoided,” says Dr. Miller. For instance, avoiding smoking, prolonged use of dark polish and being very careful when self-tanning can help prevent the discoloration from happening. “It also helps to start your manicure with a base of clear polish, minimizing the use of dark polish and using a non-acetone remover,” he says. 

How Can You Get Rid of Yellow Fingernails?

“The first step is to treat the underlying cause,” says Dr. Miller. If there is a fungal infection, topical or oral medications may help. But, ultimately, if you’re ever unsure, make sure to visit your dermatologist for help.

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