What Causes Yellow Fingernails and What You Can Do About Them

January 17, 2008 by Kristie Leong MD  
Published in Skin

Your fingernails are not only a barometer of your general health state but also reflect your habits and the way you care for your nails on a daily basis. Learn how to get rid of the yellowish ones.

Have you noticed that your fingernails have taken on a yellowish cast lately? Nails that are yellow in color can reflect an internal health disorder or can be a product of your habits or the way you care for your hands. Here are the most common causes of this as well as what you can do to get rid of yellow fingernails:

An Underlying Medical Problem

Fingernails that are yellow can be an indication of a medical disorder in some cases. These include liver disease, lung disease, diabetes, kidney disease, and nutritional deficiencies, most notably iron and zinc. Although most cases of yellow nails are not caused by an internal disorder, underlying medical problems should be ruled out if your nails have suddenly changed in color. Simple blood tests can generally rule out most causes of yellow fingernails.

Nail Fungus

One of the early signs of a nail fungal infection is a yellow or brown discoloration of the fingernails. Fungus once embedded under the nails can produce a variety of pigments which can color the nail yellow. Eventually, you may see more symptoms if the cause of your yellowing nails is fungal. These include flaking of the nail as well as an unpleasant odor as the fungus breaks down the components of the nail. If your fingernails are yellow due to a fungal infection, you’ll want to see your doctor to get an oral antifungal medication. Over the counter and topical medications don’t work as well as the ones your doctor can prescribe for you.

Smoking

Smoking can cause yellow fingernails. If you’re a smoker and you’ve ruled out other medical conditions and the possibility of a fungal infection, chances are your smoking habit is the cause of your yellow fingernails. The ideal solution for both your nails and your general health would be to quit smoking.

If this isn’t a possibility, you may want to try a few home remedies for whitening yellow fingernails. These include soaking your nails in fresh lemon juice. Lemon juice has a slight bleaching effect and may remove the discoloration. Some people swear by denture tablets to whiten yellow fingernails. Simply dissolve denture tablets in water and soak your hands in the solution for ten minutes. You can also buy cosmetic pencils at your local drugstore designed to whiten the tips of yellow nails.

Excessive Nail Polish Wear

If you constantly wear nail polish, you may be depriving your nails of the oxygen they need to maintain a natural color. Yellow fingernails can be the result. One solution is to let your nails go natural periodically instead of covering them with polish. Another option is to apply a clear base coat before applying your chosen nail polish. This appears to reduce the incidence of yellow fingernails.

These are some simple steps you can take to get rid of yellow fingernails, although it’s important to understand the underlying cause before using cosmetic methods to reduce their appearance. If there’s any doubt as to the cause of your own fingernails, see your doctor for evaluation and reassurance.

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26 Responses to “What Causes Yellow Fingernails and What You Can Do About Them”
  1. Mel x Says:

    I think its also when you’re not well or have cold/flu approaching. My fingernails as well as toenails can start going yellow and i’ve always looked at it as my immune system being down as it coincided with not totally feeling very well.

  2. Becky Says:

    My daughter has ulcerative colitis and she is on medication and taking Remicade IV infusions and recently her nails are starting to turn yellow!Does anyone know anything about this

  3. Kiara Carter Says:

    blah blah blah!

  4. Marissa Says:

    Becky, that is so weird that you said that – I was diagnosed w/UC in August and have noticed that I now am getting yellow nails. I’m on Lialda, though, not Remicade.
    Could it be caused by wearing acrylic nails?

  5. Jo Oliver Says:

    thank you for the info. My nails are yellowish, but i think it is because of the excessive fingernail polish entry.

  6. beth Says:

    I’ve been noticing my nails on one hand turning yellow more than on the other hand. I don\’t smoke and I don\’t think the cause is of a fungal nature. I first noticed it on my left hand a few years ago. I do wear nail polish, but I always wear a base coat and a very light color. I\’ve gone for periods of time with natural nails too, but the yellow has remained. I think my yellow nails (the yellow seems to be prevelent around the tips, not into the base) are caused by a topical vitamin C serum I use on my face. I\’m thinking that it gets under my nails while I\’m patting it on my face. If a drop of the vitamin C serum lands on my bathroom counter, it turns yellow-brown. The serum also stains the neckline of my robe to an almost rust color (I apply the serum to my neck from time to time). Can anyone else comment on this? If so, have you found anything to help?

  7. Jannice Says:

    with regards to beths comment –
    That could quite well be true as my nails have gone yellow since I started putting tinted moisturiser on my arms and legs, maybe it gets under my nails?

  8. Fannie mae Says:

    I think you are all crazy. Try not to self diagnose and see a qualified medical doctor. These articles give generalizations and not patient specific advice based on an exam and blood tests.

  9. Kelly Says:

    well i do smoke, and my finger nails are all going yellow, but i also constantly wear nail polish, and my nails are peeling aswell

    what do i do?

  10. kyla Says:

    well my finger nails started going yellow when i puted a yellow color nail polish on and it was a Excessive nail polish and i dont smoke or any drug and i dont know what to do or how to get rid of it :/

  11. Brooklyn Says:

    I recently also noticed my nails turning yellow.. but I can also see where the clean, clear nail is growing out. I was very sick a few weeks ago, and I had suspicions that I was developing ulcers again… so it\’s weird that you say it could be caused my ulcerative colitus….(spelling?)

  12. Steffy Says:

    My nails has recently started turning yellow for the past week or so. However I agree with Fannie Mae, instead of trying to dianois this situation myself or have someone write a comment on what they may think it is I am going to the doctor to get a blood test ran! I mean what can it hurt, at least I will have a piece of mind! It could be a million reasons, I dont smoke, I take my vitamins, I eat healthy and yes I wear CLEAR nail polish all the time! So again I’d think going to the doctor to have blood work done is the BEST way to determine what is wrong! Because it is clearly something wrong, having yellow fingernails is not normal!!!!

  13. suzanne Says:

    Some of my nails (on left hand only) go through phases where they are brownish on the tip…as though I stained it with mustard (which is what I thought had happened when it started). This first started about 4 or 5 years ago. It clears up for a long while, and then occasionally will return. Blood tests reveal nothing, doctors don’t know what it is. Very strange and a bit concerning. Ideas?

  14. brandy Says:

    wow fannie mae, you must be very wealthy or have great insurance. For most of us \”free americans \” though we are broke as your joke and search for the answers on our own.

  15. lynn c Says:

    It soo doesnt mean something is wrong with you, i have been experiencing yellow fingernails, i know it is because ov nail polish but i have no idea why it does it..!?

  16. gub Says:

    well mine have only started going yellow iam pregnant and may have diabetes so that may be the cause or i do get spray tans once a week so im hoping thats the problem

  17. Paulien Says:

    Soak fingernails in lemon essential oil to help get rid of the yellow color and keep your fingernail moisturized.

  18. Lavinia Says:

    i need to know if wearing nail polish makes your sugur leval go up ??

  19. mimi Says:

    Don’t smoke. If you wear nail polish constantly then give your nails a break for a couple weeks, and then after that always apply a base coat with nail strengtheners and one that specifically helps stop yellowing. Also take a daily multivitamin, specific vitamins and minerals in your daily multivitamin will also make a difference in your overall health, not just your nails.

  20. megan Says:

    well, i dont smoke and im worried. only ONE of my nails on the right hand turned yellow around the eges and the middle i do wear alot of nail polish but not always constant and i also have a cutical that got riped off somehow i also chew my nails out of habbit… is their something wrong with me?? also if so how can i fix it ive been stressin PLEEEAAAASSSE SOMEONE HEEEEELLLLP MEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!

  21. shauna Says:

    My nails are not yellow my nails are orange and i am only 12 on the 21th of April. I always wear nail polish to cover it up because i dont want people to see it. Does anyone know what i should do quickly because it is my conformation in a few weeks and i dont want orange nails but i am getting my nails done for it but that is just putting more nail polish on. Does anyone have any ideas.

  22. James Says:

    Yesterday, I was burning carboard and inhaling in a lot of smoke, I touched some of the chard remainder of the carboard and this morning when I woke up my left indext finger was slighly yellowish on the nail and on the top of the finger, please any ideas?

  23. shauna Says:

    its ok i got it off and it was my confo 2 day xxxx

  24. Nisha30 Says:

    There is one nail on my right hand my index finger that always turns yellow but why doesn’t it effect the rest of the nails when i use the same clear polish on alk my nails? I wonder what specialty doctor i need to go to?

  25. Donna Says:

    My nails also have started turning yellow and I believe it is the vitamin C that I have been putting on my face It also turns what ever clothing it touches to turn yellow I never had the problem until I started using the vitamin C.


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