What Causes White Spots on Toenails?

A concerned young woman looking at her toe nails through a magnifying glass.

If you noticed white spots on toenails after removing polish, you may be concerned. While it may look strange, this is a common occurrence. There are several possible causes of white spots on finger or toenails. Let’s look at what causes white spots on toenails and solutions.

Nutritional Deficiency

One of the possible causes of white spots on toenails or fingernails is nutritional deficiency. If you are not getting enough of certain minerals in your diet or minerals are not being absorbed properly, you may have white spots on your nails.

Low levels of calcium or zinc may create white spots on your nails. If you see flecks of white on your nails, it may be a sign you need more minerals. You could take mineral supplements or add foods high in these minerals. Dairy products and seeds are high in calcium. Zinc foods include:

  • Meat, red meat in particular
  • Shellfish
  • Legumes
  • Seeds
  • Nuts
  • Dairy products

Since seeds, nuts and dairy are high in both calcium and zinc, adding more of these to your diet may help increase these minerals and decrease white spots on toenails.

Nail Polish Reaction

If you notice white spots on toenails after removing polish, it may be due to the nail polish. If you constantly wear polish on your toenails, it can suffocate the nails. This can cause white spots to appear, which are not noticeable until you remove the polish.

If the polish is causing the white spots on your toenails, you may want to give your toenails a chance to breathe. Take the polish off once a week and leave them bare for a few days. If the polish is causing the spots, this may allow fix the problem. If the spots continue, you may have a fungal infection.

Nail Fungal Infections

Some white spots on toenails can indicate a fungal infection. Fungal infections on the toenails are common. Fungus grows best when the nail does not get enough oxygen, which occurs when you wear toenail polish or tight shoes. Fungus also grows when the feet are often sweaty or moist.

If you have a nail fungal infection, you will likely have other symptoms. Infected nails will usually become thicker and brittle. The nail spots may turn yellowish or even green as the infection becomes worse. The infection may be on more than one toe as the infection spreads.

Nail fungal infections can damage the nail bed and you could lose your toenail. It is important to get treatment for a nail infection to prevent toe damage. There are oral and topical treatments that can be used to stop the infection, which can spread to the other toes.

If your white spots are from a fungal infection, prescription medications from your doctor may be needed to overcome the infection. It can take months of consistent treatment to completely kill the fungus and ensure the infection does not return.

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Injuries to the Nail

If you stubbed your toe or dropped something on your foot, you may have damaged the nail bed. Injuries to the nail can result in white spots on toenails – think of it like a bruise on the skin. Unlike bruises, it can take several days or more for the white spots to appear.

When there is only one toe with white spots or maybe two toes next to each other, they may have been injured. Impact to the toenail or pressure from tight or narrow shoes could cause injury or damage to the nail bed. The injury usually heals on its own and the white spots disappear.

Health Conditions

While it is more likely that white spots on toenails are caused by injury, fungus, polish or mineral deficiency, it is possible it is a sign of a health condition. Certain organ diseases or failures can result in white spots on the nails, but likely there will be other symptoms. These conditions include:

  • Heart disease or failure
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Pneumonia

If you have health problems with the lungs, kidneys, heart or liver, you may have white spots on your nails. These spots are a minor symptom, but they may alert you to an underlying health problem.

When to See a Doctor

Most white spots on toenails are not caused by serious conditions. If you can discover the cause, you may be able to remove white spots on your own. However, when white spots on toenails do not disappear in a few weeks, you may want to see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.
A doctor examining patient's toenails.
In most cases, white spots on toenails are not a reason to be concerned. If you think they are related to a toenail infection or other health issues, make a visit to your doctor for diagnosis of your toenail spots.

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