We spend so much time trimming, filing, and painting our nails, but how often do we really stop and take a good look at our tips. Although nails may serve as canvas for a rainbow of colors and designs, if we take a moment every so often to peel back the polish to notice any changes in their appearance, it may help improve our overall health. Nails that develop abnormalities in shape, texture, or color may be trying to send us a message that there’s something bigger going on with our bodies.

While nothing can compare to an official diagnosis from a doctor, knowing how to spot warning signs is helpful in early detection and treating potential medical issues. InStyle spoke with Dr. Julia Tzu, founder and Medical Director of Wall Street Dermatology in New York, to learn how some common abnormalities our nails form may be signals for underlying health concerns we can’t see on the surface.


Breaking a nail after you’ve spent time and money on a manicure is not only a major bummer, but if your nails are splitting often it could be a message your body is trying to send you. "Splitting at the distal end of the nail plate can be associated with an inflammatory skin disorder known as Darier's disease,” explains Dr. Tzu.

Indented/Curved Nails

Otherwise known as "spoon nails” Dr. Tzu says that this deformity can be caused by an iron deficiency.

Clubbed Nails

Clubbing can happen naturally, but it’s rare and is more often a sign of something bigger going on. "It can be associated with heart, lung, or liver problems and infections,” says Dr. Tzu.

Yellow Nails

If your nails are frequently yellow, it could be associated with "fungal infections, a lung problem, or lymphedema,” says Dr. Tzu. If there’s no sign of improvement, you should make a visit to your doctor.

White Nails

This abnormality depends on what is perceived as white. "If the nail plate is white, it can be associated with specific types of fungal infections that affect the top portion of the nail plate. If the nail bed appears white (but becomes pink with pressure), it may be sign of a kidney problem,” explains Dr. Tzu.

Green Nails

If your nails have a green tint to them, Dr. Tzu suggests that it may be due to an infection associated with pseudomonas, a specific type of common bacteria that produces the green pigment.

Ridges & Bumps

No one’s nails are perfect and the unsightly ridges you see on your tips may just be regular variants in texture, but Dr. Tzu warns that it can also be associated with Lichen Planus, an inflammatory skin disorder depending on the ridges’ exact appearance.

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