Nail markers – what do they mean?

Ever looked at a chipped, brittle, or black-lined nail and wondered why it looks that way? Well, it turns out that nail health is closely associated with how well your body is functioning in other areas.

For the general population, nail health is most often an indicator of poor nutritional intake or poor digestion. Brittle, weak, and peeling nails are the most common concerns I see in my Naturopathy clinic and these symptoms are more often the result of a poor diet than of systemic disease.

Healthy nails are considered to be smooth with no discoloration, but if there’s something amiss with the texture and colour of yours, there is a guide below to give you an idea of what may be going on

What’s causing your nails to change the texture?

Also here’s a trick to figuring out whether it’s an internal or external cause: Are your toenails also peeling? If so, it might be an internal cause, such as iron deficiency; if not, it’s probably external.


nail health

Rough, splitting nails that may also crack easily is one of the most commonly reported nail problems. They’re also more often seen in women. Officially called onychoschizia, brittle nails are usually caused by repeated wetting and drying of your fingernails, so you should use gloves when getting your hands wet, such as when doing dishes.

We also see this in diets that are low in protein and or iron. Hypothyroidism can also cause weak, brittle nails,

The fix: You can try applying lotions that contain alpha-hydroxy acids or lanolin.  Increase your protein intake. If this doesn’t seem to get thing under control it could be iron or thyroid, which we need to test.

Soft or weak

nail health

These nails break easily or bend before snapping. Soft nails might be caused by overexposure to moisture or chemicals — think detergent, cleaning fluids, nail treatments, and nail polish remover. It is also linked to vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

The fix: Avoid having chemicals around your nails. Go natural to give your nails a chance to recover. Weak nails are most likely associated with a deficiency in B vitamins, calcium, iron, or fatty acids. It’s best not to take iron as a supplement unless you know you’re deficient via a blood test. Instead, start taking a multivitamin that includes calcium and B vitamins.


nail health

This is likely caused by external trauma to the nail itself — by using your nail as a tool, pressing into the nail too firmly or removing acrylic nail polish. Nails can also peel if you soak your hands too long in sudsy water.

The fix: If you think it’s internal, add iron to your diet with lentils, red meat, fortified cereal, or baked potato skins. You can also take biotin. If the cause is external, keep your nails moisturized by applying lotion after any activity that might dry them out. You can also wear protective gloves while doing the dishes.


nail health

Have you ever noticed ridges that look like little horizontal or vertical waves on your fingernails? Vertical ridges generally appear later in life and run from the tip of your fingernail to the cuticle. As long as they aren’t accompanied by other symptoms such as changes in color, they’re considered benign. On the other hand, horizontal ridges, also called Beau’s lines, are a sign of a more serious symptom.

Longitudinal ridges are often seen in a diet with low essential fatty acids. This is often coupled with dry cuticles.

The fix: Check the diet and if you have and digestive complaints as these are often linked. If your gut isn’t quite right (bloating, diarrhoea, constipation) it can point to a deeper problem of absorption and assimilation of nutrients.

Vertical ridges could be indicative of iron deficiency anaemia while horizontal lines could point to an underlying condition such as kidney disease, which can actually stop nail growth until the problem has been treated.

Why are your nails changing colour?


nail health

Yellow nails are, believe it or not, relatively common, and usually caused by one of two factors: an infection or a reaction from a product you’ve been using, such as nail polish.

The fix: Your new nails should grow in clear again, but there are many natural treatments such as tea tree oil or vitamin E to help tackle infections.

You can try these before consulting a doctor, but if the color remains, it might be a sign of a larger issue.

Black lines

nail health

Also called a splinter hemorrhage, black lines (which can appear brown or dark red) look like splinters. They can appear multiple times. The most likely cause is a trauma to your nail, such as accidentally slamming a door on your finger.

The fix: The line is the result of blood vessel inflammation under your nail and should disappear over time as your nail grows.

White spots

nail health

Scattered white spots on the nails, which usually start appearing around the teen years, can signify a zinc deficiency. Usually, 30 milligrams per day of zinc for three months will alleviate it.

We also see white bands in excess consumption of refined sugar.

Other possible causes include:

  • an allergic reaction
  • a fungal infection
  • injury to your nail

No half-moons

nail health

You know those little rounded white curves at the base of your fingernail? Those are called fingernail moons, based on the Latin word lunula (little moons! So sweet!). But not everyone has them. What does it mean if you don’t? Most of the time, this means nothing and they could just be hidden under your skin. If they seem to have disappeared, it could be a sign of:

  • malnutrition – in particular vitamin C, antioxidants, vitamin E
  • depression
  • anaemia

But you should see a doctor if they start turning red and you experience:

  • dizziness
  • anxiety
  • lightheadedness
  • weight loss or gain
  • unusual cravings
What next?

A Naturopath can assist with nail health by taking a holistic approach to address the underlying causes of any nail-related issues. As a Naturopath, I aim to support the body’s natural healing mechanisms and promote overall wellness. If you’re looking for naturopathy support to help balance hormones, clear acne or improve overall health, book an appointment.

Lindsay Carter Nautropath

Naturopathy is a holistic approach to wellness and health. Lindsay works to support women experiencing PCOS and acne.


About Sanatio Image

The information contained throughout this website is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information provided on this site is not intended as a substitute for advice from your physician or other healthcare professional. Please consult with a healthcare provider before making any changes to diet, supplements, medications, lifestyle, or if you suspect you might have a health problem.