Ask a Derm: Understanding the Link Between Yellow Fingernails and Vitamin Deficiencies

A lot of people blame vitamin C—but is that accurate?

woman holding lemon against pink background

Stocksy

Normally our nail beds are light pink, but have you ever glanced down while texting or picking something up and noticed that your nails suddenly appear to be a yellow-ish hue? If so, this is pretty common and not a reason to drop what you're doing and panic. But yellow nails can be a sign there's something going on with your health.

Yellow nails can happen for many reasons—sometimes it's as simple as wearing dark nail polish that stains your nails, or coming in contact with a self-tanner. But yellow nails are also associated with fungal nail infections, lung conditions, and a whole lot more.

Some people also worry that yellow fingernails can arise due to a vitamin deficiency. If you've ever wondered this, fear not—we asked a few of the top board-certified dermatologists in the country to separate fact from fiction. you can Ahead, everything you need to know about yellow fingernails, if vitamin deficiencies can cause them, and the best home remedies for yellow nails to try at home.

Common Causes of Yellow Fingernails

  • Wearing Dark Nail Polish Frequently: The dye in your nail polish can interact with the keratin in your nails, leading to yellow discoloration and brittle nails. “Applying a clear base coat and avoiding consistent use of dark colors are helpful tips to help prevent yellow nail discoloration,” says Dr. Allawh, a board-certified dermatologist in the suburbs of Philadelphia.
  • Smoking: Nicotine can stain and discolor your nails. 
  • Having High Levels of Pigment Beta-Carotene in Your Blood: This condition is also known as carotenemia and is most common among children. 
  • Fungal Nail Infections: “Fungal infections can lead to thickening of the nail plate and accumulation of debris beneath it, both of which can lead to a yellow hue,” says Rachel Maiman, who is a board-certified dermatologist at Marmur Medical. 
  • More Rarely, Liver Disease: Hepatitis, Cirrhosis, or another form of liver disease
  • Even More Rarely, Yellow Nail Syndrome: Yellow Nail Syndrome is also associated with severe lung disease such as COPD, chronic bronchitis, pleural effusion, pleuritis, or lymphedema.
  • Self-Tanner: “This can be caused by staining from the product, so it’s best to wear gloves when applying,” says Debra Jaliman, who is a board-certified dermatologist and assistant professor of dermatology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
  • Nail Plate Separation: called onycholysis, where the nail separates from the underlying nail bed. This typically occurs as a result of trauma, chemicals, medications, inflammatory conditions like psoriasis, and autoimmune conditions like hypothyroidism, Maiman says.

Are Yellow Fingernails Ever a Sign of Vitamin Deficiency?

Vitamin deficiencies can lead to a ton of different symptoms, but yellow fingernails are not among them.  “Some articles claim that deficiencies of vitamin B-12 and zinc can cause this, but that is not a common manifestation,” Maiman says. “In fact, vitamin B12 more commonly causes entirely blue nails, bluish-black pigments with wavy longitudinal dark streaks and/or brownish pigmentation, not yellow.”

lineup of vitamins on pink background

Getty

The Most Important Vitamins, Minerals, and Supplements For Nail Health

Eating a well-balanced diet is one of the most important things you can do to support a healthy body, including your nails and hair. That said, here are a few vitamins, minerals and supplements that may boost your nail health. 

  • Biotin: Biotin is frequently recommended to strengthen weak nails, but it’s important to be careful with taking this supplement, says Tsippora Shainhouse, who is a board-certified dermatologist at SkinSafe Dermatology and Skin Care. Shainhouse points out that there are no randomized control scientific studies that show that biotin strengthens our nails. Secondly, we only need a small amount of biotin, and a deficiency is extremely rare. And that's not all: "Supplementing with biotin can affect other lab results, so you must tell your provider if you are taking it, and must discontinue it at least 1 week prior to blood tests,” Shainhouse says. “It can falsely lower cardiac enzymes (so that you might miss a diagnosis of heart attack), falsely elevate certain thyroid hormones, and potentially alter the results of certain pregnancy tests.
  • Gelatin and Collagen: These are proteins that may help strengthen your nails, hair, and skin. Consuming enough protein in general each day may help with nail health, but there’s not enough data at this point to know if consuming collagen or gelatin will help even more, Shainhouse says. 
  • Magnesium: This mineral helps with protein synthesis, which is needed for nail growth. 
  • Zinc: Zinc helps our cells grow and divide, which are both critical to nail growth. “A steady supply of zinc is needed to promote the healthy growth of nails,” Maiman says. 
  • Vitamin B-12: “B-12 plays a role in iron absorption which is also key to a healthy nail,” says Michelle Henry, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City.

Try These Home Remedies For Your Yellow Nails

Soak Your Nails in Diluted White Vinegar

“If [your yellow nails are] related to a fungal infection, soaking with a half cup white vinegar in a bowl with water will help eliminate the fungus,” recommends Lily Talakoub, who is a board-certified dermatologist and a fellow of the American Board of Dermatology. “Often if that doesn't help, topical nail medication is necessary.”

Shainhouse suggests soaking your nails in the diluted white vinegar and treating your nails and the surrounding skin with an anti-fungal cream for one month. You’ll want to see a board-certified dermatologist for evaluation and management of the condition, too.

Use a Hydrogen Peroxide Solution

This technique works best if your yellow nails are caused by staining. Jaliman recommends mixing the hydrogen peroxide with warm water (try one part hydrogen peroxide to two parts water) and soaking your nails for five minutes.

Take a Breather From Wearing Nail Polish

If you keep experiencing yellow nails after wearing nail polish, take a bit of a break from the polish. If you’re not ready to take a break from the polish, another option is to apply a clear base coat & to choose lighter colored nail polishes.

The Takeaway

Yellow nails are pretty common and can arise for a whole lot of different reasons, but dermatologists agree that yellow nails are not a sign of a vitamin deficiency. That said, while yellow nails don't signal a vitamin deficiency, there are still a number of vitamins, minerals, and supplements that may help boost your nail health.

Related Stories