Why Are My Toenails Yellow

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Yellow Nails

Nails can tell you a lot about your overall health. When they become discolored, it usually means that you’ve picked up an infection or nail fungus. It can also mean that your nails have been stained by a product like nail polish, or that you’re having an allergic reaction. Occasionally nails might turn yellow as a symptom of something more serious, such as chronic lung conditions, internal malignancies, lymphatic obstructions, and even rheumatoid arthritis. Read on to find out more about what causes yellow nails and how to get rid of this condition.

If your nails have been damaged by dyes or harsh products, new nail growth should be a healthy, clear color. If your nails continue to be yellow, there may be something else going on in your body. Sometimes having yellow nails can be an indication of something more serious. Vitamin or mineral deficiencies can cause nails to appear yellow, and introducing a multivitamin supplement to your regiment may stop the problem.

In some cases, nails that remain yellow despite repeated treatment can be a symptom of thyroid conditions, psoriasis, or diabetes. In rare situations, yellow nails can indicate the presence of skin cancer. A condition called yellow nail syndrome (YNS) is indicated by continually yellow nails and respiratory or lymphatic problems.

Treatment of yellow nails will depend on the cause. Most likely, your nails have become discolored because of an infection you have or a product you used. These home remedies are based on those causes of discoloration. However, it is important to be aware that home remedies are not always effective. See your physician if home remedies aren’t helpful in eliminating discoloration. If you don’t already have a doctor, our Healthline FindCare tool can help you connect to physicians in your area.

Tea tree oil

If your nails are discolored because of a bacterial infection or fungus, tea tree oil is any easy treatment you can try. Mix a drop or two of tea tree oil with a carrier oil such as olive oil, coconut oil, or jojoba oil, and swab the mixture on the affected nail. A study has shown that tea tree oil can effectively stop common strains of nail fungus from growing.

Baking soda

Fungus can only grow in an environment where the pH level is acidic. Soaking your feet or toes in hot water mixed with baking soda may prevent the fungus from spreading. Baking soda creates an alkaline environment and, over the course of a few soaks, may leave your nails much clearer.

Oregano oil

Oregano oil has been found to have antimicrobial properties. It’s effective against bacteria and fungi, which makes it a great treatment if you’re not sure what’s causing your nails to become yellow. Similar to using tea tree oil for treatment, oregano oil should be mixed with a carrier oil before being applied topically to the affected nail or nails.

Hydrogen peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide has been proven to help whiten teeth effectively when combined with baking soda, and it’s a common ingredient in whitening toothpaste. Hydrogen peroxide has “oxidizing” abilities, which makes it a stain remover. This means it’s a great treatment for nails stained by product use. The dye from dark nail polish can seep into the nail enamel, leaving them permanently stained. Hydrogen peroxide goes deep into the nail and lightens the coloring, similar to the way that bleach strips the color out of hair. Mixing hydrogen peroxide into warm water and soaking the nails may improve the appearance of stains, and adding baking soda will make it even more effective.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is known to help cells retain moisture and look healthier. Your skin, hair, and nails all take on an appearance of vitality when you have plenty of vitamin E. Vitamin E has also been clinically studied as a successful treatment for yellow nail syndrome. Yellow nail syndrome is exactly what you’d think — a condition that causes nails to become discolored, ridged, and thick. Since vitamin E stimulates healthy nail growth, it can be applied topically or taken orally to help your nails grow in quickly.

Prescription drugs

If your yellow nails are caused by a yeast or bacteria, try some of the treatments above to help clear it up. When yellowing is caused by fungus, oral prescriptions such as terbinafine (Lamisil) or itraconazole (Sporanox) can be effective. Both of these drugs have been flagged by the FDA as potentially dangerous to the liver for long-term use. They do present some common side effects, such as diarrhea and abdominal pain. You may want to request ciclopirox (Penlac Nail Lacquer) as an alternative prescription treatment. Ciclopirox is applied to the nail much like a nail polish. All of these prescriptions take weeks to months to be effective. Healthy nail growth will gradually replace the yellowed appearance of your nails. Be aware that no oral or topical antifungal is 100 percent effective and recurrence of nail fungus is common.

You can prevent nail discoloration by being careful about nail hygiene. Be mindful of nail salons and spas that could spread fungal infections and disease to customers. A good manicurist will use a clean or new manicure kit on each person. Don’t use nail polish remover on your nails more than once a week, and use a remover that is less harsh by choosing one that does not contain acetone.

Trim your nails frequently, and sweep dirt out from underneath your nails with a nail brush once or twice a week. Always wear fresh socks, and expose your feet to fresh air frequently to avoid toenail infections like athlete’s foot.

After attempting to treat yellow nails at home, your condition should begin to improve. If it doesn’t improve over the course of 10 days to two weeks, make an appointment with your doctor. Your doctor will be able to run tests that will determine whether your yellow nails are being caused by fungus, yeast, bacteria, or something more serious.

If you develop new darkly colored streaks in the nail, you should see your doctor right away. You may need to be referred to a dermatologist.

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Yellow nails are common. There are plenty of home remedies that you can try to treat the condition. Sometimes yellow nails are a symptom of a bigger issue. Yellow nails are not to be ignored, and finding out the underlying cause will lead to healthier nails and better general health.

Last medically reviewed on April 3, 2017

How we reviewed this article:

Healthline has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy.

  • Ahrari, F., Hasanzadeh N., Rajabi O., & Forouzannejad, Z. (2017, March 1). Effectiveness of sodium bicarbonate combined with hydrogen peroxide and CPP-ACPF in whitening and microhardness of enamel. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Dentistry, 9(3), e344-e350
    ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28298972
  • Chaftar, N., Girardot, M., Labanowski, J., Ghrairi, T., Hani, K., Frère, J., & Imbert, C. (2015, November 14). Comparative evaluation of the antimicrobial activity of 19 essential oils [Abstract]. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, 901, 1-15
    ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26566647
  • Jiang, Q. (2014). Natural forms of vitamin E: Metabolism, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities and the role in disease prevention and therapy. Free Radical Biology & Medicine,72, 76-90
    doi.org/10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2014.03.035
  • Lambert, E. M., Dziura, J., Kauls, L., Mercurio, M., & Antaya, R. J. (2006, July). Yellow nail syndrome in three siblings: A randomized double-blind trial of topical vitamin E. Pediatric Dermatology, 23(4), 390-395
    ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16918641?dopt
  • Flores, F. C., de Lima, J. A., Ribeiro, R. F., Alves, S. H., Rolim, C. M., Beck, R. C., & da Silva, C. B., (2013, April). Antifungal activity of nanocapsule suspensions containing tea tree oil on the growth of Trichophyton rubrum [Abstract]. Mycopathologia, 175(3-4), 281-286
    ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23392821
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. (2015, July 21). Nail fungus: Prevention
    mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/nail-fungus/basics/prevention/con-20019319
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. (2015, July 21). Nail fungus: symptoms
    mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/nail-fungus/basics/symptoms/con-20019319
  • Toenail problems: nails. (2003, February)
    health.harvard.edu/skin-and-hair/toenail-problems

Why Are My Toenails Yellow?

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If your toenails are turning yellow, it could be a result of aging, nail polish, or due to an infection.

Healthy nails are usually clear in color and don’t have any major issues like cracks, indentations, ridges, or abnormal shapes. If your toenails are turning yellow, it could be a result of something less serious, like aging or nail polish. Or it could be due to a more serious issue, like an infection.

Aging

Aging can be a natural cause of yellow toenails and fingernails. As people grow older, the color, thickness, and shape of their nails tends to change. Aging individuals will often have a more yellow color to their nails.

Nail polish

If you paint your nails frequently with nail polish that’s red or orange in color, your nails can also be discolored as a result of the polish. Taking a break from painting your nails should make the yellow go away.

Medical condition

Having yellow toenails isn’t dangerous by itself. However, if the cause for the yellow toenails is an underlying medical condition, it may be a sign that something is wrong. For example, yellow toenails can be caused by an infection, fungus, or medical disorder.

In rare cases, yellow toenails can actually be a sign of a disorder called yellow nail syndrome (YNS). Doctors don’t know what exactly causes YNS, but people who have it have yellow, curved, thickened nails that grow slowly, along with other symptoms like respiratory problems. Their nails also may have ridges or indentations in them and can also turn black or green.

Go see your doctor if your nails also have any of the following:

  • change in shape or thickness
  • any bleeding
  • discharge
  • pain
  • swelling

Infection

One of the most common causes of yellow toenails in an infection by a fungus that attacks the nails. This is called onychomycosis, and it happens more in adults than children. It can lead the nail to turn yellow, have yellow spots, white patches, or even turn black.

The fungal infection is caused most often by dermatophytes, which eat keratin to grow. Keratin is found in skin and nails. According to American Family Physician, onychomycosis occurs in about 10 percent of the adult population, and the risk of getting it increases with age. About half of people over the age of 70 get the fungal infection.

Some people are more prone to getting yellow toenails or catching a fungal infection. If you have a medical condition that causes poor blood circulation in the legs, like diabetes, peripheral vascular disease, or other autoimmune disorders, you’re more prone to foot disorders in general.

Athletes or people who spend a lot of time in hot or moist conditions are also more prone to getting a foot infection.

In most cases, yellow toenails are treatable. There are some medications and home remedies that might help cure yellow toenails or help lighten the yellow color. What treatment your doctor recommends will depend on what’s causing the yellow nails.

For example, if your yellow toenails are being caused by a fungal infection, you’ll need antifungal medication to treat it. One of the most common prescription antifungal medications is ciclopirox 8 percent solution, which is applied to the nails like nail polish.

Other medications that can help cure yellow toenails include applying vitamin E, zinc, and a topical corticosteroid with Vitamin D-3.

One study found that using antibiotics, such as 400 milligrams of clarithromycin, cleared up yellow toenails. Using antibiotics is especially helpful if there’s an infection present somewhere in the body, like pneumonia.

Two nonprescription home remedies that’ve been studied to treat yellow toenails are Vicks VapoRub (a topical mentholated ointment) and tea tree oil.

Studies suggest that tea tree oil isn’t really effective in fighting off a fungal infection, but that Vicks VapoRub did work completely in over a quarter of people with yellow toenails and helped cure some of the infection in over half.

You may not be able to prevent yellow toenails from ever happening again, but your best bet is to practice proper nail care and regularly inspect and monitor your nails for any signs of an issue, especially if you have poor circulation or are prone to nail disorders. Be sure to:

  • Always wear properly fitting shoes. Have your shoe size fitted by a professional if you’re unsure of your correct shoe size. Feet can change in shape and size with weight gain, loss, or pregnancy.
  • Cut toenails straight across with clean nail clippers.
  • Keep nails clean and dry.
  • Be careful when choosing a salon for a pedicure and check to make sure that they’re changing water and sanitizing stations between customers.
  • Regularly air out your shoes after sports or other outdoor activities to ensure that they’re not wet while you wear them.
  • Always wear clean socks.
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In general, yellow toenails are a sign that something may be wrong. In some cases, yellow toenails may just be a result of nail polish or the normal aging process, but just to be on the safe side, you should always regularly monitor your nails for any changes.

Most cases of yellow toenails are caused by a fungal infection that’s treatable. If you notice that your nails are turning yellow — and especially if you have any other issues like a change in shape or thickness or any bleeding, discharge, pain, or swelling — you should see your doctor.

Last medically reviewed on June 26, 2017

How we reviewed this article:

Healthline has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy.

  • Abdullah L, et al. (2011). Common nail changes and disorders in older people: Diagnosis and management.
    ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3038811/
  • Nails. (n.d.).
    aad.org/media/stats/prevention-and-care/nail-care
  • Suzuki M, et al. (2011). A case of yellow nail syndrome with dramatically improved nail discoloration by oral clarithromycin. DOI: .
    doi.org/10.1159/000334734
  • Westerberg DP, et al. (2013). Onychomycosis: Current trends in diagnosis and treatment.
    aafp.org/afp/2013/1201/p762.html

Why Are My Toenails That Color?

If Toenails Could Talk

Whether you’re washing your hands or admiring a manicure, you spend a lot more time looking at your fingernails than your toenails. Maybe it’s time to focus on your feet more often (and not just during sandal season). Toenail color changes — from a big blue spot to a thin brown line — could signal health problems. Here’s what you need to know.

Black Toenail: Common Causes

Black Toenail: Common Causes

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If your toenail turns black, it’s most likely a bruise under the nail, technically called a subungual hematoma. You can get it from stubbing a toe or from footwear that cram your feet into the front of the shoe. The bruise usually starts out red, then becomes purple, dark brown, and finally black when blood beneath the nail pools and clots. Expect your black toenail to grow out in about 6 to 9 months or longer.

Black toenail: Rare causes

Black toenail: Rare causes

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Say you’re not a runner, your shoes are roomy, and you’re sure you haven’t hurt your toe — yet you have one or more black toenails. Check to see if it’s just that dye has rubbed off from a pair of shoes. If not, head to the doctor. You might have a rare cause of black toenail, such as:

  • Malignant melanoma, a serious form of skin cancer
  • Fungal infection
  • Chronic ingrown nail
  • Other health problems

All-yellow Toenails

All-yellow Toenails

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When toenails turn yellow, a fungus is usually to blame. This type of fungal infection is so common that you might not even need to see a doctor for treatment. Try an over-the-counter antifungal cream. If your nail is yellow and thick, gently file down the surface so that the drug can reach deeper layers. If at-home treatment doesn’t work, a doctor visit is in order.

Got Green?

Got Green?

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Unless you’re wearing green nail polish, this is a color you don’t want to see on your toenails. It could be green-nail syndrome (chloronychia), which is caused by an infection. The culprit is usually bacteria that thrive in damp or wet conditions. Think hot tubs, sponges, even tight-fitting shoes that you’ve worn for a long time. The color is underneath the nail, so don’t try to scrub it off. Visit your doctor instead.

Shades of Blue

Shades of Blue

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If you stub your toe and it turns blue, you might not think twice about the color. But if you get a blue spot or a blue toenail for no clear reason, play it safe and see a doctor. You may have a blue mole beneath the nail. It’s probably harmless. But in very rare cases, a type of blue mole called a cellular blue nevus can become cancer.

White Spots and Streaks

White Spots and Streaks

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Stubbing your toe doesn’t always lead to a bruise. That’s because the blood vessels under the nail might not break and leak blood. Instead, you might get a white spot on your toenail. It won’t don’t disappear like a bruise, but it will grow out in time. Toe trauma can also cause a white streak — though you might not know you hurt yourself. For example, it can happen when sneakers are too small and your toe hits the front of the shoe.

White All Over

White All Over

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Do you have a toenail that’s turned white, or has large powder-like patches? You could have a fungal infection, most likely one called white superficial onychomycosis. If possible, see a doctor as soon as you notice it. This infection spreads across the toenail. White superficial onychomycosis can cause the entire nail to become rough and crumbly.

Whitish or Yellowish Patch

Whitish or Yellowish Patch

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Another type of fungal infection is called proximal subungual onychomycosis. It looks like a whitish or yellowish patch that starts at the base of the toenail, near the cuticle. The infection is rare in healthy people. More often, it happens in people with weakened immune systems. It can also be a sign of HIV.

Candy Cane Stripes

Candy Cane Stripes

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When toenails have red and white stripes, there are usually problems elsewhere on your body. These lines and V-shaped nicks are a hallmark of Darier disease. It’s an inherited disease, mostly affecting the skin and causing greasy, warty, foul-smelling blemishes.

Brown Streaks

Brown Streaks

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The term for brown and sometimes black color on your toenail is melanonychia. Brown usually appears as a line or streak going up and down the nail. Possible causes:

  • Injury
  • Melanoma
  • Inflammatory conditions
  • Fungal infections
  • Certain medications

Because there’s a small chance your brown toenail streak could be a sign of something serious, play it safe and get checked out.

Show Sources

IMAGES PROVIDED BY:

1) Daiva Boguckiene / EyeEm / Getty Images

2) amesy / Getty Images

3) Manuel Faba Ortega / Thinkstock

4) SandroSalomon / Thinkstock

5) benstevens / Thinkstock

6) poco_bw / Thinkstock

7) RoniMeshulamAbramovitz / Thinkstock

8) ISM / Medical Images

9) Gary Ombler / Getty Images

10) Bhownit Singh / EyeEm / Getty Images

11) DR P. MARAZZI / Science Source

American Osteopathic College of Dermatology: “Green Nail Syndrome,” “Subungual Hematoma.”

The Australian Journal of Dermatology: “Subungual and periungual congenital blue naevus.”

American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons: “White Toenails,” “Black Toenails.”

American Family Physician: “Treating Onychomycosis.”

U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Darier disease.”

Mayo Clinic: “Nail fungus.”

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Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for his studies of ageing, genetics and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics NAS of Ukraine. His scientific researches are printed by the most reputable international magazines. Some of his works are: Differences in the gut Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio across age groups in healthy Ukrainian population [BiomedCentral.com]; Mating status affects Drosophila lifespan, metabolism and antioxidant system [Science Direct]; Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum Increases Lifespan, Stress Resistance, and Metabolism by Affecting Free Radical Processes in Drosophila [Frontiersin].
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