White Spots on Nails: This Is Why You Get Them – and How to Get Rid

Whether mid manicure or while tapping away on your keyboard, you may well have noticed white spots on your nails.

If, as a result, you’ve chowed down on a bag of kale or upped your diary intake in a bid to boost your calcium levels, then sorry to be the bearer of bad news – but that move won’t have made much of a difference. Why? Because those milky white flecks are not necessarily indicative of a deficiency.

To get to the real root of the issue, WH tapped up world-renowned nail expert and podiatrist Margaret Dabbs and Dr Rekha Tailor of Health & Aesthetics for their insight. Here’s what they had to say on what causes white spots and how to banish them.

What are white spots on nails?

‘Our nails are usually pink in colour with a lighter crescent at the bottom. Sometimes white spots appear on the nails. The medical name for these is punctuate leukonychia, and there are several types,’ says Dr Tailor.

  • Striate or transverse leukonychia – This is where horizontal lines appear across the nail
  • Longitudinal leukonychia – this is a white band down the nail
  • Punctate leukonychia – this is small white spots

    What causes white spots on nails?

    ‘White spots on your fingernails usually indicate nail bed damage,’ Dabbs tells WH. ‘You will often find people who bite their nails have white marks on the nail as it is a sign of trauma, a.k.a leukonychia.’

    This word comes from the Greek for white (leuko) and nail (onyx). According to the NHS, ‘frequent manicures and pedicures can also damage the nail beds.’

    ‘White spots on nails can be caused by a deficiency in certain minerals and/or vitamins. The deficiencies most commonly linked to this are zinc and calcium however these tend to be rare,’ explains Dr Tailor.

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    It’s not likely, but they can also be a sign of something more sinister. ‘Less common causes include heart disease, kidney failure, psoriasis or eczema, pneumonia.’ If you are worried about any of the above, head to see your GP.

    ‘The different types of white spots may indicate what caused them. For example, an injury may cause a large white spot in the middle of the nail. An allergic reaction could be lots of dots on the nail,’ explains Dr Tailor.

    ‘Some forms of poisoning or medication can also cause leukonychia. This cause is rare and often results in transverse leukonychia. If they are infrequent white spots and related to an injury to the nail, there’s no need to see a doctor. However, if the spots are persistent or getting worse it’s advisable to seek medical advice.’

    How can these white spots be prevented?

    ‘Aside from nail-biting, leukonychia is often caused by minor, unnoticed trauma such as knocking a finger against the door and these spots are more likely to occur if the nails are thin as the nail provides less protection to the nail bed,’ notes Dabbs.

    Nixing your biting habit (read up on how to stop biting your nails, here) is the first place to start, if you are prone.

    Are white spots on nails a sign of calcium deficiency?

    ‘A lot of people talk about white spots on the nails showing an underlying health problem, often related to a deficiency of calcium levels,’ notes Dabbs.

    But it’s not that clean cut. While it’s the trauma that causes the spots to actually appear, if your nails are weak, as a result of your diet, then you will be more susceptible.

    ‘It’s always a good idea to eat foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids as these will provide nourishment for the nail bed. Protein is also essential with every meal for strong, healthy nail growth.’

    Think: zinc-rich foods like pumpkin seeds, green and leafy veg like spinach, roots like carrots, plus plenty of lentils, beans, and nuts, for protein.

    Which age group tends to get white spots on their nails?

    White spots can appear at any age, especially if you work in a job that involves heavy-duty use of your hands.

    ‘However, we know that children often experience white marks on their nails and this is most likely due to the fact that their nails are thinner. This is because they are younger and of course more likely to knock the nails whilst playing. Many children also bite their nails which will be a contributory factor,’ explains Dabbs.

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    Can stress cause white spots on nails?

    It is possible. Dr Tailor says: ‘physical or emotional stress is can cause white horizontal lines to appear across the nails.’

    Are white spots on nails fungus?

    ‘A common nail fungus called white superficial onychomycosis can appear on the toenails and the first sign of this infection may be a few small white dots on the nails. The infection can grow and spread to the nail bed so seek medical advice if you spot these,’ says Dr Tailor.

    ‘Treatment will vary depending on the cause of the white spots but the doctor may send the nail clippings away to be studied, take a nail biopsy or do a blood test.’

    Is it safe to buff the white areas?

    ‘There is no treatment for white spots on their own because those are likely to have been caused by trauma and will grow out naturally in time,’ says Dr Tailor.

    ‘Sometimes you can buff white spots away, however, if trauma is the cause and it started deep within the nail, you’ll have to buff too many layers to truly wipe out the white, which will weaken the nail more. Also, when doing your nails or getting them done take extra care around the cuticle area in order to avoid stress on the nails which will cause more white spots,’ she adds.

    How do I get rid of white spots on my nails?

    So, how can we get rid of them?

    ‘Unfortunately, there is no real treatment for white spots – they will disappear on their own,’ says Dabbs. White spots grow out, so it depends on how long it takes for your nails to grow but you can expect them to disappear in around six months, whereas toenails can take up to a year to grow (which is one of the reasons why your polish always lasts longer on your toes.)

    ‘However, if trauma is the cause and it started deep within the nail, you’ll have to buff too many layers to truly wipe out the white, which will weaken the nail more. Also, when doing your nails or getting them done take extra care around the cuticle area in order to avoid stress on the nails which will cause more white spots,’ says Dr Tailor.

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    ‘If the white spots are caused by something else then it can be possible to get rid of them. The ease and effectiveness of treatment largely depends on the cause of the white spots. The cause can usually be established by either mycology, where fungi and nail clippings are sent away for study, a nail biopsy, where a small piece of tissue is removed for testing, or a blood test,’ she adds.

    ‘Depending on the outcome of the tests then the way to get rid of them will vary from taking antibiotics for a fungal infection, to vitamin supplements if it’s a deficiency, or changing your diet if that is found to be the cause,’ notes Dr Tailor.

    You can prevent them from appearing again by avoiding contact with irritants, avoiding excessive use of nail varnish, cutting nails short and using moisturiser to prevent them from becoming short.

    How to hide white spots on nails

    Feed your nails by using a nutrient-rich, nourishing serum on your cuticles and nails daily to ensure they grow strong and healthy.

    Disguise white spots on your nails with a bold, opaque nail polish shade, like this rich red from Essie.

    This is, hands down (pun intended), the best top coat you will ever use. It dries in less than 60 seconds to a high-shine, hard-wearing finish.

    Can fingernails show signs of illness?

    Yep. According to the NHS, splitting nails may indicate over-exposure to harsh chemicals (like you might find in cleaning products), psoriasis, and thyroid problems – as well as indicating that your nails might have dealt with repeated trauma, like biting.

    Yellow-tinged nails might mean that you’ve got a fungal infection. If you do notice any major changes, it’s wise to head to your GP and get them checked out.

    Are there any foods that can help to get rid of white spots on nails?

    ‘Although white spots that are caused by deficiencies are relatively rare, if you’re concerned that this is the cause then it may be worth visiting your GP for blood tests,’ says Dr Tailor.

    ‘There are also certain foods that can be eaten to help strengthen nails which contain protein such as fish, nuts, seeds and beans, which will help to promote keratin (the main nail protein),’ she clarifies.


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    About the Author: Tung Chi