In some cases, striped nails are small imperfections that signal the presence of a trivial ailment; other times, this anomaly is indicative of more or less significant pathologies.
The surface of the scratched nails appears crossed or furrowed by annoying lines and streaks. Relative to the nail growth line, these marks can be horizontal or vertical.
To deal with the problem correctly, it is important to consult a dermatologist : a careful examination of the nail and an adequate medical history are essential for a precise diagnosis and to understand how to deal with the disorder with the appropriate remedies and/or treatments.
Nails are a clear indicator of physical well-being : if they have lines or streaks crossing their surface, they can be the indicator of a local disorder ( onychopathy ) or a general malaise of the organism.
This abnormality manifests itself as a sign or symptom of multiple conditions, including: aging, trauma , immune-based disease, metabolic disorders, infections, and malnutrition .
Nails: Key Points
- Nails are skin appendages on the tips of the fingers and toes . Their function is to protect the exposed phalanges and limit their distortion following mechanical stress .
- The main constituent of nails is keratin , a filamentous protein, rich in sulfur , found in hair and in the outermost layer of the epidermis , the stratum corneum . The keratin tissue is divided into several layers and gives the nail plate elasticity, flexibility and resistance .
- From an anatomical point of view, the nail is anchored to the underlying nail bed and creeps into the periungual groove that surrounds it (perinichium), but separates from this at the level of the free edge (hyponychium). At the opposite end is the nail root, an epithelial area that is not visible on the surface, as it is covered by the nail fold. The stratum corneum covering the first portion of the lamina, which emerges from the root, forms the so-called cuticle or eponychium.
- Cell growth occurs towards the free edge for 1-2 cm per month, varying from subject to subject.
The underlying causes of scratched nails are many.
Sometimes, the symptom is to be attributed to the onset of onychopathies ( diseases of the nails ). In other cases, however, it signals the presence of disturbances and pathologies affecting different areas of the body , organs or tissues, the effects of which, however, are also manifested at the level of these skin annexes.
Pathologies and disorders that can affect the nails by altering their appearance include:
- Dermatological conditions (including psoriasis , alopecia areata and lichen planus );
- General disorders of the organism: nutritional deficiencies , metabolic pathologies of various entities, anemia , allergies , thyroid disorders , vascular diseases, etc.
Bad lifestyle habits can also affect nail health. Prolonged contact with water and the repeated use of solvents, soaps and detergents deplete, in particular, the keratin of the nails, making them drier and prone to breaking.
Smoking and nail biting (onychophagia) often make the situation worse. Finally, striped nails can depend on an excessively frequent and aggressive manicure.
The appearance of streaks on the nail surface is the common expression of various local and systemic conditions. Usually, speaking of this problem, the term onyrrhexis is used, a phenomenon that can affect the nails of the hands, as well as those of the feet.
The most common causes include:
- nail fragility ;
- lichen planus;
- Chronic eczema ;
- Rheumatoid arthritis ;
- Vasculopathies (they alter the vascularization of the matrix);
- Digestive problems ;
- Deficiencies in vitamins (A, E, C and B6 ) and minerals ( iron , zinc , selenium , copper , phosphorus and calcium );
- Thyroid disease;
- eating disorders ( anorexia nervosa and bulimia );
- Particularly debilitating drug treatments.
Less often, this manifestation signals the presence of tumors affecting or compressing the matrix.
Nails with thin vertical lines are also common in older people. The wrinkling is, in this case, a phenomenon linked to the natural aging process , related to the atrophy of the nail matrix. Another possible cause of scratched nails can be the prolonged use of semi-permanent nail polishes , a treatment which weakens them in the long run.
If the streaks are horizontal, however, the cause could be the use of particular drugs, such as antibiotics or a lack of calcium and vitamins A and B.
Finally, if in addition to the lines, the nails also have a yellow color , it may be that we are dealing with a mycosis or a case of nail psoriasis .
Onychomycosis is one of the various problems that can affect the nails and cause streaks. This infection is caused by some pathogenic fungi , which invade the nail plate forming small asymmetrical white patches . The nail plate, in addition to being fragile, can become wrinkled, yellowish and have one of the two edges raised. In some cases, the fungal infection can lead to the nail peeling off.
The triggering factors are many and include: trauma, reduction of the immune system and predisposing pathological conditions, such as diabetes .
The fragility can present itself with streaks and vertical cuts ( onychorrhexis ) or with progressive flaking of the more superficial layers ( lamellan onychoschizia ). In the latter case, the lamina appears friable and undergoes a real fragmentation starting from the free edge of the nail, which takes on a jagged appearance.
Onychorrhexis and onychoschizia are common in females and the elderly .
At the origin of scratched and brittle nails there may be:
- Repeated micro-traumatisms;
- Psoriasis, alopecia areata and lichen planus ;
- Contact with chemical substances with a very acidic or alkaline pH for professional reasons (e.g. chemists, healthcare personnel, photographers and painters);
- Deficiency states, incorrect eating habits or drastic diets;
- General deterioration of the organism.
Aging is also a common cause of scratched and brittle nails, especially if environmental factors are added that favor nail dehydration .
Symptoms And Complications
Striped nails show up with more or less pronounced parallel streaks, which run horizontally or vertically.
At the same time, the nail plate can be thinned and fragile, as well as presenting incisions of the free edge or fissures.
Striped nails can be a transient manifestation (due to the action of external or temporary factors) or persistent (when they represent the symptom of a more severe nail or systemic pathology).
The alterations in structure and shape make the nails lacking in elasticity and prone to breakage.
When scratched nails appear, it is essential not to underestimate the problem and contact a specialist doctor who will be able to provide the patient with all the necessary information.
The dermatological visit consists in the observation of the nail, also making use of sophisticated tools such as video microscopy .
If an infection is suspected, a small portion of the nail is taken which will then be subjected to microbiological examination .
The dermatologist can also indicate more in-depth analyzes to investigate the causes at the origin of this anomaly and establish the treatment for the resolution of the underlying pathological conditions.
The solutions to the problem of scratched nails are different depending on the triggering factors or pathologies. The most appropriate treatment or remedy is therefore indicated by the doctor in a strictly individual way.
If the streaks depend on a problem of nutritional origin, it is necessary to intervene on the diet. The first step consists in maintaining a balanced and varied diet , especially rich in fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables , in order not to risk deficiencies in essential nutrients , such as proteins , minerals and vitamins (particularly group B ). In these cases, always with medical advice and supervision, the use of specific food supplements for nails and hair may also be useful , according to the doses on the packs, approximately for 2-3 month cycles. To know more:
- Diet and nails
- Nail supplements
Physical and mental fatigue causes the loss of energy and compromises the correct functionality of some organs, such as the intestine , causing the formation of striated nails through the loss of vitamins and mineral salts . If this symptom depends on stress, therefore, it is advisable to slow down the pace to recover a state of psycho-physical well-being, alternating one’s daily activities with small moments of relaxation.
In the event that the cause of scratched nails is a real pathology, such as a fungal infection or psoriasis, it becomes essential to consult a doctor, who will prescribe the most appropriate therapy.
Onychomycosis requires treatments based on antifungal drugs and supportive treatments, useful for speeding up healing. For example, some nail lacquers create an environment on the nail that is hostile to the growth of the fungus.
In the case of psoriasis, on the other hand, the dermatologist must indicate the most suitable therapy, even with the use of specific nail polishes.
Protective Manicure And Nail Polish
A valid rule for all types of striped nails is to perform the manicure and pedicure correctly. These attentions are important to always have perfect hands and feet.
First, the length and shape of the nails are adjusted with a nail file (when adjusting a few millimeters) or scissors.
For the cuticles, there are special wooden sticks or, alternatively, pens that release healing and restructuring formulas. After applying and massaging an emollient product for cuticles, dip your fingers in warm/hot water for a few minutes. When the cuticles are softened they can be gently pushed towards the hairline with the special tool.
At the end of the manicure and pedicure, it is possible to use a polishing file on the nails, to smooth them and make them more brilliant.
Regularly, it is advisable to apply a hand cream rich in phospholipidsand ceramides, or urea and vegetable oils (e.g. jojoba or sweet almond ). Alternatively, massaging a nourishing oil is helpful. Finally, it is possible to use a protective and reinforcing nail polish .
Nails are skin appendages that need specific attention.
As for the hands, it is essential to use gloves to protect them from cleaning products during household chores. Likewise, direct contact with any substance that could be harmful to the nails should be avoided (e.g. hair products such as dyes or perms, aggressive nail polishes or various detergents, etc.).