Worried about what causes white spots on your toenails? You’re not alone.
Most people think that a lack of calcium in your diet causes white spots on your toenails. Unfortunately an extra glass of milk in the morning isn’t going to help your nails recover from their white spots.
The problem is, white spots on toenails can be caused by a few different things. Working out which one caused your toenails go all white and spotty will be the first step to get them back to full health. As some treatments for spotty white toenails can take over a year of careful treatment you want to make sure you get it right. The last think you want is a wasted year treating the wrong thing!
Here’s the top 3 causes of white spots on toenails:
- Fungal toenail infection
- Leaving nail polish on too long
- Psoriasis of the toenails
Fungal toenail infection
Fungal toenail infections are incredibly common.
There’s 3 different fungi which can easily sprout and colonise your toenails causing a full on infection.
As the fungi feed off your toenail they can create white lines and spots within your nail. They can also cause different colours, usually yellows and browns to grow inside your nail too. If they get really bad, a fungal toenail infection can grow all the way into your nail bed and cause your toenail to grow out like a deer’s antler or ram’s horn.
There’s no quick fix for a deep fungal infection of the nail bed, but there are quick fixes for superficial fungal toenail infections. And the good news is that if you have white spots on your toenail caused by fungus this can be a much quicker fix.
Leaving nail polish on for too long
So how long is too long when it comes to toenail polish?
If you leave your toenail polish on for more than a month there’s a high chance that your toenails are going to be struggling to breath and dry out. As this happens small bundles of the cells which make up your toenail can fuse together.
These fused little bundles of nail cells (keratin) can dry out further and form white, discoloured spots called keratin granules.
Keratin granules look very similar to superficial white onychomycosis – a type of fungus that lives on the toenails. The difference is that keratin granules are not going to spread and they can’t cause severe damage to your toenail root in the same way fungus can.
It’s easier said than done when it comes to preventing white spots on toenails from nail polish. All you have to do is avoid leaving your toenails covered with polish for long periods of time. If that’s not an option for you – or – if you already have white spots on your toenails you can have them removed pain free by your podiatrist in just one session.
Psoriasis of your toenails
Psoriasis can affect your toenails just like your skin – and the end result is often white spots.
While we don’t really understand the whole disease process of psoriasis as well as we would like, there are some changes that can happen to your toenails and treatments to be mindful of.
If your toenails:
- Grow faster in some areas than others
- Become flaky and fragile and lift off your toe
- Have white lines and spots on the nail plate
Then there’s a good chance you have either psoriasis or a fungal nail infection which need further examination and diagnosis by a professional podiatrist.
Other causes of white spots on toenails (the very rare)
In my podiatry career of over 12 years consulting I have now been asked on 2 different occasions what causes white spots on toenails where the result was… ceiling paint.
I don’t know what that says about the DIY attitude around Pascoe Vale where both of these cases presented, but using a white ceiling paint on a foam roller can cause a few droplets of paint to fall.
And, if you were painting barefoot – those droplets could land on your toenails.
Why someone would be painting their ceiling barefoot was not clarified but twice now I’ve had to inform someone that their toenails are perfectly healthy, if just in need of a bit of turps to clean up.
Another, almost as rare cause of white spots on toenails is a zinc deficiency. It’s zinc (not calcium) that is the main building block of healthy toenails so a diet low in zinc has the potential to cause white spots on toenails.
Treating white spots on your toenails
Once you know the exact cause of the white spots on your toenails the treatment is simple.
If you have fungus, you need to treat your fungal infection with the most effective measures. If it’s from your toenail polish being left on too long, you need to see you podiatrist for a quick fix. Psoriasis in your toenails will need a plan with your podiatrist and GP to give your toenails their best chance at full health.
And if it’s from ceiling paint – Why were you painting barefoot?
About The Author
Podiatrist Tim Mulholland has seen many different causes of white spots on toenails in his career. From the very common (nail polish) to the very rare (ceiling paint). If you’re wanting to get your toenails assessed and treated you can book in with Tim and his podiatry colleagues at our podiatry clinics here.
Maybe you don’t have white spots on your toenails, the opposite, black toenails. Learn more here.