7 Gross Things That Can Happen To Your Nails

by Teresa Newsome

I'm newly an expert at gross things that can happen to your nails. I purchased, what I now know to be a questionably legal hard gel, from a store in a faraway country with, let's just say, less strict regulatory policies. And wouldn't you know, now my nails are literally separating from my fingers. It's gross and painful, and I can't believe it all happened from a few (spectacular, if I do say so myself) at-home gel manicures.

But nails separating from the nail beds isn't even as bad or gross as some of the other things that can happen to your nails if you're not careful (and sometimes even when you are careful). There are fungi and bacteria and all kinds of injuries that are enough to make any nail lover pee in their pants a little when they imagine it happening to them.

Some of them are permanent, but most can be treated. Luckily, I'll be back to painting my nails (and being more selective about the products I use) in three to six months. But while I'm out of the nail art game, I'm going to research everything else that can go wrong with my nails, partly because anxiety, and partly so you can learn from my fails. You can thank me by keeping your nails out of the proverbial wood chipper of damage and trauma, if you can. OK, hang on to your topcoats, kids, because this might get messy.

1. Onycholysis (Nail Lifting)

This is what happened to me. It's caused by trauma to the nail caused by chemicals, injury, or illness. Basically, when you use a harsh chemical, when burn your nails under a heat lamp while you're getting gels, when you file the surface of your nails too much, when you get the wrong size nail tips, or when you hit your nail really hard on something, the nail separates from the nail bed underneath, according to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. If you keep your nails healthy and dry, the nails will usually re-attach as they grow out. But if you're not careful, you could end up with a fungus or bacterial infection (see below) which can cause permanent discoloration and damage. Your nails could even stop growing forever. Scary stuff.

2. Median Nail Dystrophy (Deep Nail Ridge)

All you cuticle pickers, this one's for you. If you pick at your cuticles, or compulsively push them back with the other fingers on your hands, you can damage the whole nail growth system to the point where you end up with a mini grand canyon down the center of your nails. This usually happens in the thumb from people who pick and push at their thumbnail cuticles with their index fingers, according to DermNet. I don't want to gross you out against your will, but you can see a picture of this deep nail ridge here. It usually also comes with red, swollen, inflamed cuticles. With treatment, according to the Journal Of The American Medical Association, you can get your nails looking much better, but they may not ever fully heal without some type of groove or dip in the nail plate. Better to get a stress ball.

3. Onychomycosis (Nail Fungus)

Nail fungus is the most common nail complaint, according to It happens when you come in contact with fungus, such as yeast, that live in abundance all around us. The nail fungus takes hold if you have nail trauma, your nails are always moist, or you run into a particularly strong strain. They're also common among people who wear fake nails because sometimes fungi and moisture get trapped under fake nails, according to MedicineNet's Nail Salon FAQ. Nail fungus turns your nails yellow and thick. They can seem cakey, almost like they're disintegrating, especially underneath. You can treat nail fungus with anti-fungal medication. If you don't treat it, you could end up with very disfigured, discolored nails for life.

4. Paronychia (Nail Infection)

If you like to bite your nails or pick at your cuticles, you're introducing all the bacteria in your mouth (there's a lot) to all the bacteria on your hands (there's a lot). It's bad. And it can cause a really gross, really painful infection, according to the National Institutes of Health. What this infection basically looks like is a giant, swollen, puss-filled area on the side of your nails. It can cause your nails to lift from the nail plate (see #1) and it can spread, causing a more serious blood and skin infection, according to the American Academy of Family Physician's If a few days with some antibacterial ointment don't help it, you might need to get some antibiotics from your doctor. And did I mention all the pain, and all the puss?

5. Koilonychia (Spoon Shaped Nails)

There is a nail condition that causes your nails to curve in the opposite direction, basically creating nail spoons. Spoon-shaped nails look really painful, but in most cases, they don't hurt. They can happen because of iron deficiency, caused by malnutrition, gluten intolerance, or intestinal disorders, according to The Permanente Journal. But they can also happen because of nail trauma. Like shutting your hand in a car door, dropping something heavy on your nails, ripping your nail off, or other things clumsy people are only moments away from doing at any given moment. To that end, if you don't want spoon nails, it's important to learn how to live in the world without using your nails as tools, as demonstrated by the video above, and without severely injuring them. I know, right? Like you get injured on purpose... But it's important to at least try to be safe when it comes to your hands, or manifest positive nail intentions or something, because, you know, pain and injury can cause misery that's much worse than gross nails, according to the American Society To Surgery Of The Hand. Also, that organization exists, and that scares me.

6. Discolored Nails

Discolored nails are nothing to blow off or paint over. They're one of those medical conditions that plague hypochondriacs like myself, because they can either mean nothing is wrong, or that something is seriously wrong. White nails, for example, can mean you just hit your nail, or the nail is separating from the nail bed a little. Or they can mean a fungal infection. Or they can be a symptom of liver disease or lymphoma, according to Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD. in an article for MedicineNet. Yellow nails can mean a fungal infection, simple nail staining, too much smoking, or lymphoedema, according to Stöppler. Black nails can mean bruising due to injury, a treatable B12 deficiency, or skin cancer. Green nails are the hallmark of a pseudomonal infection, which happens most commonly when bacteria get trapped under acrylic or gel nails, according to Nails Magazine. Oh, and you can get blue nails if you take medications to treat or prevent malaria. Or if you like blue polish. Because it likes to stain your nails. Long story short: you have to take off your polish once in a while to make sure things look how they're supposed to, according to the Mayo Clinic. And I probably need more anxiety medicine.

7. Peeling Nails

Peeling nails happen to the best of us. It's usually because your nails are dried out or because they have microscopic tears or cracks in the tips. It can also happen if you spend too much time with your hands in water. Peeling nails isn't really gross. At least, I don't think it's gross. Probably because I'm used to it. But if you peel at them all the time, then you open yourself up to infections that can lead to the gross stuff, according to the National Institutes of Health. Like the infections, discoloration, and the warping. You can prevent peeling in a couple of ways. First, use lots of hand lotion and cuticle oil to keep them hydrated. Avoid prolonged water exposure, and paint your nails if you're going to be at the pool or in a long bath to keep out some of the water. File your nails once a week (in the same direction) to keep them smooth. And, of course, keep them out of your mouth!

Oh, and did you know you can get, like, warts and tumors and stuff on, around, and under your nails? For serious. Bottom line: Be careful out there, nail art lovers, and happy manicuring.

Image: Andrew Zaeh for Bustle