A mysterious bruise is enough to turn anyone into a hypochondriac on the spot. From that misshapen black-and-blue splotch on your shin to the unexplained white flecks on your fingernails — go down the Google path, and you're likely to be worrying about an underlying medical condition all day.
While we can't help you with the lower-leg shiner (which probably came from a painful run-in with your coffee table), we can give you a little insight on the latter: nail bruising. We asked the pros to help us suss out the root cause of those teeny-tiny white speckles — and what we can do to get rid of them.
What causes white spots?
From a medical standpoint, dermatologist Ellen Marmur, MD, founder of Marmur Metamorphosis skin care, tells us that you can tell a lot about a person's health by examining their nail beds. "White spots may be a result of health issues, such as an allergy, fungal infections, mineral deficiencies, or a side effect from medication," she says. "Most commonly, though, they're a consequence of mistreatment of the nails." In fact, your weekly manicures may be the issue: Dr. Marmur tells us that polish can chemically damage the nails, leading to discoloration and divots. Improper or rough gel or acrylic removal is another common cause of bruising.
Dermatologist Lamees Hamdan, MD, the founder and CEO of holistic skin-care brand Shiffa, agrees that finding white spots on your nails usually means you've been too rough with them. "I find that white dots are usually due to an injury to the nail bed and shouldn’t be a cause for alarm," she explains. "That is, unless you have them a lot — that indicates that you need to be more careful with your nails to avoid bruising."
Though it's likely that your bruise is, well, just a bruise that will fade with time and healing, it's never a bad idea to consult your doctor if you're worried to confirm what's going on.
What's the most effective treatment plan?
Of course, your prescribed treatment and prevention plan will depend on the root cause. "If the spots are a result of an allergic reaction, you will need to find out what could be causing it, and then avoid the ingredient," Dr. Hamdan says. "In most cases, common allergens are hiding in the nail polish, or the polish remover. If the cause is mineral deficiencies, you should consider a multivitamin with zinc and calcium. If it’s a fungal infection, like or psoriasis or eczema, that should be treated by a doctor."
If you suspect your spots may be related to a shoddy gel or acrylic removal, you may want to pay closer attention to your salon. "It's important that your manicurist removes your gel polish properly," says nail pro and Olive & June founder Sarah Gibson Tuttle. "This includes allowing the acetone to soak into the nail for at least ten minutes before trying to remove the gel. Then gel should be lifted up, and not filed down to the bare nail plate."
Unfortunately for those loyal to the long-lasting gel manicure, if you're worried about white marks, it may be safer to lay off the gel polish altogether. "For damage prevention, it's best to skip gels for a while and allow the nail to grow out," says Tuttle. "In the meantime, try applying cuticle oil to encourage healthy nail growth, and help them grow as quickly as possible."
So, if you're finding little white dots on your fingernails (or toenails, for that matter), your best bet is to keep an eye on them, give the nail beds some extra TLC, and, if you're concerned, have your doc take a peek at your next appointment. Even if the best cure is to skip the cow nails for a few weeks, your healthier nails will be so worth it in the long run.