You’ve probably learned how to spot a potential breakout before it happens. When something’s off with our skin, we can usually feel it before we see it. Our bodies are funny like that.
Though they’re often overlooked, our nails hold clues about our health, too. Nails are made up of keratin, the same material in our skin and hair. But in the nail, the keratin is more compact and has multiple layers, which is what makes the surface hard.
Some of the first visible signs of bigger issues with your overall health can appear in the nails. Let’s look at a few of the most common ones.
A half-moon at the base of your nail
The technical name for that white, half-moon shape just peeking out from your cuticle is a lunula. A small lunula isn’t cause for concern. If, however, it begins to grow and takes over half of your nail or more, it may be an indication of a systemic illness.
Keep in mind, the lunula is different from a tiny white line that may appear toward the bottom of the nail bed and work its way upward. That’s likely the result of physical damage to the nail bed.
There are a number of potential causes in this instance, including vitamin deficiencies, stress, poor nutrition, over-consumption of alcohol, and general aging. Vitamin B and D deficiencies can contribute to weak, dry nails, but an iron deficiency is the most common.
Stress is perhaps the next most common culprit of brittle nails. When the body’s under stress, it sends its limited supplies of nutrients to the vital organs, like the heart and brain, first, leaving less for the hair and nails.
Raised ridges that run horizontally across the nail, not the underlying nail bed, are often caused by trauma to the nail itself, such as slamming your finger in a car door, but they can also be an indication of malnutrition, psoriasis, or a thyroid problem.
Brown or black stripes
Maybe most critically of the signs highlighted here to keep watch for is a black- or brown-pigmented stripe that starts at the cuticle and extends toward the opposite end of the nail bed. The technical term for it is melanonychia, and it can be a sign of melanoma, the most lethal form of skin cancer.
In most cases it’s benign. But if you notice one forming, consult a dermatologist right away.
In fact, if you spot anything out of the ordinary with your nails, spare yourself from some unnecessary anxiety and schedule a visit to a board-certified dermatologist rather than fall down an internet rabbit hole. A board-certified dermatologist can rule out more serious health conditions and offer guidance on how to prevent the issue from arising again.