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Why do my nails look milky?

Having milky nails can be concerning, but it’s usually harmless. There are a few potential causes for nails that look opaque and whitish.

What causes milky nails?

There are a few possible reasons nails may take on a milky appearance:

  • Trapped air under the nail
  • Damage to the nail
  • Fungal infection
  • Changes in diet

Trapped air under the nail

One of the most common causes of milky looking nails is air bubbles getting trapped under the nail plate. As new nail cells grow, air can get caught between the different layers of keratin cells that make up the nail. This gives the nail a whitish, opaque appearance.

This is generally harmless, although the trapped air can make nails feel looser or thicker. The bubbles should grow out with the nail over time. Using nail polish or an acrylic manicure can make it more likely for air bubbles to get trapped under the nail.

Damage to the nail

Injury or damage to the nail can also cause it to look opaque and whitish. If you hit your fingernail directly, you may see a milky spot form where the impact occurred. This is from trauma disrupting the structure of the keratin fibers in the nail plate.

As the nail grows out, the milky spot should grow away from the nail bed. Severe injury can sometimes cause more persistent discoloration or deformity of the nail. See your doctor if the milky appearance does not improve over several weeks.

Fungal infection

A fungal nail infection is another potential cause of opaque, milky nails. The medical name for this is onychomycosis. It occurs when microscopic fungi overgrow on the nail.

Fungal infections often start at the tip of the nail and then progressively spread towards the cuticle. They can make nails look yellowish, brownish, or chalky white in appearance. You may also see nail thickening or crumbling of the nail plate.

See a podiatrist or dermatologist if you suspect an underlying fungal nail infection. Medications like oral antifungals or prescription nail lacquers are often needed to clear up the infection.

Changes in diet

Dietary deficiencies can sometimes show up as changes in nail color or texture. For example, inadequate protein intake over a long period can make nails more white and opaque looking.

Vitamin or mineral deficiencies, like lack of iron, zinc, or biotin, may also impact nail appearance. Brittle, splitting nails can be a sign of nutritional deficiency.

If dietary changes do not improve the milky appearance within 2-3 months, have your doctor check for other potential causes. Taking a general multivitamin may help improve nail health.

Are milky nails a sign of an underlying condition?

For the most part, milky nails are not linked to any dangerous underlying medical issue. Trapped air and minor trauma are harmless. Nutritional deficiencies can usually be corrected with diet and supplements.

However, some rare health conditions can potentially manifest with white discoloration of the nails:

– Liver or kidney disease: Severe hepatic or renal disease disrupts nail growth.

– Diabetes: Fungal infections are more common with diabetes.

– Psoriasis: Can cause nail changes like pitting, crumbling and discoloration.

– Anemia: Pallor and whitening of the nails may be seen.

– Circulatory disorders: Reduced blood flow impacts nail bed.

– Allergies: Allergic reactions affect nail growth.

– Medications: Some prescription drugs cause nail discoloration.

If you have additional symptoms like fatigue, weight changes or high blood sugar, make an appointment with your doctor. Have your nails examined and ask about diagnostic testing based on your medical history.

How to treat and improve the appearance of milky nails

Here are some tips to help treat and improve the appearance of milky looking nails:

Allow nails to grow out

If the milky color is due to damaged nails or trapped air, allow the nails to grow out over several weeks. Trim off discolored parts of the nail as it extends beyond the fingertip. The new nail growing in should have a more normal, clear appearance.

Use a nail hardener

A nail hardener or strengthener can help improve weak, fragile nails prone to damage and bubbles. Apply a coat over the entire nail and let it fully dry. This helps reinforce the nail and makes it less likely for air pockets to form within the layers.

Try a nail buffer

Gently buffing nails can thin down thickened nail plates and make them less opaque. Look for a fine grit buffer block and carefully file in one direction. Don’t buff too aggressively as that can further damage nails.

Get antifungal medication

If a fungal infection is the cause, see a doctor for appropriate treatment. Prescription oral antifungals are often required for several weeks to clear fungal nail infections. Topical nail lacquers with antifungals may also be used.

Improve diet

Make sure to eat a balanced diet with adequate protein and nutrients like iron and biotin that support nail health. A daily multivitamin can help fill any nutritional gaps while dietary changes take effect.

Use a nail whitener product

Whitening products are available that can temporarily give nails a more normal, clear appearance. However, these only mask nail discoloration and don’t treat any underlying cause.

Avoid excessive water exposure

Try to minimize water exposure and wear gloves during activities like washing dishes. Moisture under the nails can worsen fungal infections and other nail conditions.

Get regular manicures

Having professional manicures helps keep cuticles neat, which promotes healthy nail growth. Make sure salons sanitize tools properly to avoid infection.

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if milky nails do not improve with time or at-home care. Professional medical treatment is needed for:

– Persistent opaque, white coloration

– Discoloration worsens or spreads to other nails

– You have additional symptoms like pain or swelling

– You suspect you have a fungal nail infection

– Nail changes are impacting your daily life

The doctor can examine your nails and perform testing if necessary to diagnose any underlying medical conditions. For fungal nail infections, medications are required. Other conditions like psoriasis or nutritional deficiencies will also need to be managed under medical supervision.


Milky looking nails are usually due to benign causes like trapped air, minor damage, or thin nails that enable light to pass through. Allowing nails to grow out or using strengtheners often helps improve their appearance.

See your doctor if the milky discoloration persists or worsens, as it may be a sign of an underlying medical issue. Proper diagnosis and treatment can help restore healthy, clear nails. Pay attention to nail changes and take steps to keep nails strong.

Cause Signs Treatment
Trapped air
  • Whitish, opaque spots on nails
  • Bubbles under nail plate
  • Changes with manicures/nail polish
  • Allow nails to grow out
  • Use nail hardener
Nail damage
  • Milky white discoloration after injury
  • Spotting or bands on nail plate
  • Grow out nail
  • Buff nails
  • Nail hardener
Fungal infection
  • Yellow, brown or white nails
  • Nail thickening and crumbling
  • Changes start at tip of nail
  • Oral or topical antifungals
  • Prescription medications
Nutrient deficiency
  • Brittle, splitting nails
  • White spots or streaks
  • Other symptoms like fatigue
  • Dietary changes
  • Oral supplements
  • Multivitamin

When to see a doctor for milky nails

See your doctor promptly if you have:

  • Nail discoloration that worsens or spreads to other nails
  • Changes do not improve with home care
  • Suspected fungal nail infection
  • Additional symptoms like pain, swelling, or pus
  • Nail changes impacting your daily activities

The doctor can:

  • Determine if any underlying conditions are causing the changes
  • Prescribe antifungal medications if a fungal infection is found
  • Provide treatments for conditions like psoriasis
  • Address nutritional deficiencies with supplements
  • Monitor nails and manage any complications

With proper medical care, many causes of milky nail discoloration can be corrected. Seek prompt treatment for persisting changes or worsening nail appearance.


Milky discoloration of the fingernails is often harmless but can sometimes indicate an underlying health issue. Allowing nails to fully grow out helps improve their appearance in many cases. Using nail hardeners and buffing for thin or damaged nails may also help.

See a doctor if the milky appearance does not resolve on its own or spreads to other nails. Medical treatment is often needed for fungal infections and other conditions that can alter nail color and texture. Pay attention to changes in nail health and address any abnormalities right away for the best outcome. With proper care, milky nails can regain their healthy, clear appearance.