What are the white dots on my nails?

White spots on unhealthy fingernails.
Personal Hygiene ­Image Gallery A condition called leukonychia can cause white spots on fingernails. See more personal hygiene pictures.
© iStockphoto.com/Linda Steward

You finally finished repainting those end tables for the guest room. As you're washing up, you notice something on your fingernail. You try to scrub it off and realize the little white dots are not paint; they're actually part of your nail.

You show the spots to your roommate and he says it could mean you have a calcium deficiency. Or wait, is it zinc? It's definitely some sort of nutritional deficit, of that he's certain. But you start to wonder if he's right because just last month, he told you that washing your face in egg whites will decrease the size of your pores. However, when you mentioned that to your dermatologist, she said that nothing can actually shrink your pores. So what are these white spots and how'd you get them?


One of the most common causes for these little white spots, which can show up on both fingernails and toenails, is a condition called leukonychia [source: Tuzun and Karakus]. Although the name sounds pretty serious, the condition typically isn't. And while many people think they're caused by a calcium or zinc deficiency, that's generally not the case [sources: Sound Medicine, Weil].

In reality, these spots most often develop as a result of mild to moderate trauma to your nail. If you can't think of anything that would have injured your nail, consider the fact that nails grow very slowly, so the injury may have occurred weeks before the spots ever appeared [source: WebMD]. Another possibility is that the spots could be a sign of a mild infection or allergy, or a side effect of certain medications [source: Weil].

Whatever the source of the injury, these spots typically do not require any treatment and should go away as your nail grows out. And they should not return unless you suffer another nail trauma [source: Weil]. However, this generally applies when only a single or a few nails are affected. If all of your nails are showing white spots or streaks, the leukonychia could be related to another more serious condition such as anemia, cardiac disease, cirrhosis, diabetes or kidney disease [source: Bryant]. Overall, it's good practice to pay attention to changes and abnormalities in your fingernails and to consult your doctor if you're concerned.

What you've just read is just the tip of the discussion when it comes to nail disorders. For more information, visit the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). "Nail Fungus & Nail Health."
  • (Accessed 10/11/09)http://www.aad.org/public/publications/pamphlets/common_nail.html
  • Bryant, Rebecca. "Cures for some nail disorders more troublesome than others." Dermatology Times. August 2001. Accessed online via MasterFILE Premier, EBSCOhost (Accessed 11/10/09).
  • MedlinePlus. "Nail Abnormalities." (Accessed 10/19/09) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003247.htm
  • Rauh, Sherry. "Healthy Fingernails: Clues about your health." WebMD.(Accessed 10/11/09)http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/features/healthy-fingernails-clues-about-health
  • Sound Medicine. "Medical Myth: White Spots on Fingernails." Indiana University.(Accessed 10/11/09)http://soundmedicine.iu.edu/segment/204/redirect?seg=204
  • Tuzun, Yalcin and Ozge Karakus. "Leukonychia." Journal of the Turkish Academy of Dermatology. (Accessed 10/11/09)
  • Weil, Andrew. "Worried about White Spots on Fingernails: Q & A." DrWeil.com(Accessed 10/11/09)http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/QAA350576/white-spots-on-fingernails.html
  • WebMD "Nail Problems and Injuries." (Accessed 10/11/09)http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/tc/nail-problems-and-injuries-topic-overview