Are White Toenails a Sign of Trouble? Causes and Symptoms

White toenails might not be uncommon, but they often trigger concerns about underlying health issues. While these changes can sometimes be harmless and temporary, they can also indicate more serious health conditions that require attention. Understanding why toenails turn white is crucial for determining the best course of action, whether a simple change in cosmetic habits or seeking medical treatment for a potential disease.

White toenails can manifest in several ways, from white spots scattered across the nail to the entire nail turning a pale or stark white. Each pattern of discoloration can hint at different underlying causes, from cosmetic effects to infections and systemic health issues. By paying close attention to your toenails’ appearance and accompanying symptoms, you can get a head start on addressing any potential health concerns.

What Causes White Toenails?

White toenails can result from several factors, ranging from minor to severe. Here are some common causes:

  • Nail Polish and Pedicures: Frequent use of nail polish, especially darker shades, can cause a minor chemical reaction with the nail itself to discolor the nail bed. Similarly, aggressive pedicures can sometimes damage the nail bed, leading to white spots or streaks.
  • Fungal Infections (Onychomycosis): Fungus is a prevalent cause of white toenails. Fungal infections can lead to the nail lifting off the nail bed, creating white patches. These infections thrive in moist environments, like shoes and locker rooms.
  • Injury or Trauma: Dropping something on your toe or stubbing it can cause immediate white spots or a gradual change in nail color as it grows.
  • Health Conditions: More serious conditions, like psoriasis or diabetes, can cause changes in nail color. Psoriasis can lead to abnormal nail growth, while diabetes can cause various circulatory issues that affect nail health.

Symptoms Accompanying White Toenails

If other symptoms accompany whitening your toenails, it might indicate a deeper issue. Be on the lookout for the following:

  • Thickening of the nail
  • Changes in texture or shape
  • Pain or discomfort around the nail area
  • Foul odor

These symptoms can help diagnose the cause of the discoloration, indicating whether it’s a fungal infection or other health concerns.

Identifying additional symptoms accompanying the change in nail color is key to understanding the severity and cause of white toenails. Here are some common symptoms to watch for:

Changes in Nail Texture

Changes in the texture of the nail may often accompany white toenails. This could include thickening or thinning of the nail, brittleness, or crumbly nails. Such textural changes are especially common in fungal infections and psoriasis.

Alterations in Nail Shape

Another sign to look out for is a change in the shape of the nail. Nails may become warped or curl up or down, a condition known as onycholysis, in which the nail begins to separate from the nail bed.

Pain and Discomfort

Any pain, tenderness, or swelling around the nail area should be noted, as these could indicate an infection or an inflammatory condition. Pain might not always be present, but its occurrence is a strong indicator that a visit to the healthcare provider is necessary.

Foul Odor

A bad smell from the toenail is often a clear sign of an infection, particularly a fungal infection. Fungi can produce a distinct odor as they break down the keratin protein that makes up the nail.

Nail Lifting

Notice if the nail starts to lift off the nail bed. This symptom, combined with the white discoloration, is typical of nail fungus infections and other nail disorders.

Spread of Discoloration

If the white color spreads or you notice the appearance of yellow or dark-colored streaks, this could indicate a worsening condition or a deep-set infection that might require medical intervention.

Associated Skin Symptoms

Sometimes, symptoms are not limited to the nail but also affect the surrounding skin. Look for signs of redness, rashes, or scaling on the skin around the nail, common in conditions like athlete’s foot or eczema.

Diagnosing and Treating White Toenails

It’s advisable to consult a dermatologist or podiatrist if:

  • The white color spreads or changes the nail’s structure
  • You experience pain or swelling
  • Home remedies fail to improve the condition

A healthcare provider can offer a precise diagnosis and suggest appropriate treatments.

Common Treatments for White Toenails

The treatment for white toenails varies depending on the cause:

  • Fungal Infections: Antifungal topical or oral medications are commonly prescribed to treat nail fungus. The nail may need to be removed in severe cases for effective nail bed treatment.
  • Injury-Induced Discoloration: If trauma is the cause, the nail will usually return to normal as it grows out. However, protecting the nail and keeping it clean is crucial.
  • Underlying Health Conditions: Managing the root cause, such as controlling diabetes or treating psoriasis, is necessary to see improvement in nail health.

Preventive Measures and Home Remedies

Prevention is always better than cure, especially regarding toenail health. Here are some tips:

  • Maintain Nail Hygiene: Regularly clean and trim your toenails. Ensure your feet and nails are dry, especially after exposure to moisture.
  • Wear Appropriate Footwear: Choose breathable shoes and change your socks daily to prevent fungal growth.
  • Use Foot Powders: These can help keep your feet dry and less hospitable to fungi.

Home Remedies for Minor Cases

For non-severe cases, such as those caused by nail polish or minor injuries, consider the following:

  • Vinegar Soaks: Soaking your feet in vinegar and water can sometimes help with minor fungal issues.
  • Tea Tree Oil: Known for its antifungal properties, applying tea tree oil to the affected area can aid in treating mild fungal infections.
  • Buff and Moisturize: Gently buffing the nail and applying a moisturizer can help improve the appearance of superficial white spots.


White toenails aren’t always a cause for alarm, but they should not be ignored, especially if accompanied by other symptoms. Whether it’s a cosmetic issue due to lifestyle factors like nail polish use or a sign of a fungal infection or chronic illness, understanding the cause is key to effective treatment and prevention. Always seek professional advice if you’re unsure about the cause of your white toenails to ensure appropriate care and treatment.


  • Michael Reed

    Michael Reed is a medical writer at Sumlab, focusing on dermatological studies and treatments. His articles help demystify complex clinical results for a broad audience.

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