Who hasn’t removed their nail polish from their toenails only to reveal a discolored yellow nail with chalky white spots? This is a common occurrence we find after leaving the nail polish on for a little (lot) too long or constantly exposing your nails to harsh chemicals. Unfortunately, the damage has already been done and you can either leave the nails bare of polish to “breathe” and restore them back to normal color and health or continue in the vicious cycle of nail polish wear to hide the appearance.

Many of the common nail polish brands on the market have harsh chemicals that can cause excessive drying to the nail, resulting in keratin deposits on the nail plate producing the chalky-looking appearance. There are a few polishes on the market free of these chemicals and made of more natural products, such as, Dr.’s Remedy or Olive and June.

However, the other culprit could be a superficial fungal infection. The main fungus causing this type of infection is called Trichophyton mentagrophytes. It is the second most common dermatophyte that infects the nails.  Dermatophytes are fungi that require keratin for growth (i.e. nails and skin) and can expand throughout the nail plate to infect adjacent nails and skin. This type of fungus is common in our environment and easily transferable from public surfaces where you may walk barefoot or from unsanitized pedicure tools. Often a trauma or injury to the nail will create a portal for the fungus to enter.

So how do you know if your discoloration is caused from nail polish or fungus? You could first discontinue your nail polish wear and applying any harsh chemicals to the nails that will cause excessive drying. If the discoloration begins to resolve after a few weeks then it’s likely caused by the chemicals; however, if it seems to be worsening or spreading to other nails then it is likely due to a fungal infection. Treating nail fungus can be a long and tiresome process so you should see a podiatrist for evaluation and treatment options. It can take a full year for the nail fungus to clear, so if you want to prep your nails for next summer start NOW!

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