NOV 02, 2017 05:47 AM PDT

What are the white marks on my nails?


Have you ever wondered about those small, white lines that you sometimes see on your nails? What's going on with those? Well, don't worry, those marks are most probably normal, and there's only a small chance that they mean you are deadly ill.

The official name for the lines is punctate leukonychia or milk spots, and contrary to popular belief, they are not usually a sign of calcium or zinc deficiency. The high majority of nail lines are benign and are caused by some sort of trauma to the nails, be it getting your finger stuck in a window (did that once, ouch!) or banging yourself instead of the nail with a hammer (10 points if you caught that pun). But because your nails grow so slowly (only about 3.5 mm per month), you might have long forgotten about that bump to your nail by the time the milk spot shows up. And in most cases, it's just as well, because really, you'll just clip it off in about another month or two. No harm done!

Except when there is. In rare occasions, deformities to the nails can indicate a fungal nail infection or an infection with a high fever, like measles, malaria, or leprosy. But most likely a line on your nail wouldn't be the only tip-off that something was wrong in these cases! For lines that run across all your fingernails, on the other hand, (called Mee's Lines), you might want to check your arsenic and lead intake, to make sure that you haven't been unknowingly poisoned! Want to know more? Watch the video!
About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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