Yellow Toenails and Fingernails – Causes and Effective Treatments

Yellow Toenails and Fingernails - Causes and Effective Treatments

Having yellow toenails or yellow fingernails is very rarely a cause for concern. However, many people are looking for natural ways to whiten their nails and prevent or reverse this nail discoloration. The yellow nail can also be thick, may be partly separated from the nail bed, be brittle and break easily.

Most of the time yellow nails are caused by using dark nail polish as the pigments used in nail polish can stain your nails over time and cause them to become yellow. However yellow nails can also be a result of fungal infection which can affect your toenails as well as your fingernails. Other causes of yellow nails include smoking, aging as well as other underlying health conditions such as diabetes.

In this article, I will look at the causes of yellow toenails and fingernails and I’ll explain why nails turn yellow. I’ll also look at natural home remedies to get rid of yellow nails and I’ll describe natural treatments to remove yellow stains from your fingernails and toenails.

It is important to know how to treat yellow nails because, if left untreated, the condition could spread to other nails and in some cases permanently disfigure the nail. In some cases, yellow nails can also be a sign of a more serious health condition.

What Causes Yellow Toenails and Fingernails?

Nail Injury

A nail injury can make the nail become yellow making it loose or become separated from its nail bed. The medical term for this is onycholysis. The American Osteopathic College of Dermatology says that this can be the result of injury and is often seen in women with long fingernails.1 This could also happen if a manicure has damaged the underneath of the nail. Also, excessive exposure to moisture can cause the part of the nail to separate and become discolored.

Fungal Nail Infection

Thick yellow nails can be caused by a fungal infection and this can affect both the toenails and fingernails. Mayo Clinic says that some signs of a nail fungal infection are:2

  • Thickened nails
  • Brittle or crumbly nails
  • Distorted shape
  • Yellow-brown discoloration
  • foul smell

To avoid fungal infections in toenails it is important to keep your feet as dry as possible and well ventilated. It is also good to avoid going barefoot in public places where you could pick up infections.

People with diabetes can also be more at risk from developing fungal nail infections.3

A fungal nail infection could also be a sign that you have a yeast infection in your body.

If you suffer from fungal nail infection, read my article about natural treatments for fungal nail infection.

Nail Polish

Using nail polish over a long period of time can also cause nails to appear yellow. Very often, nail polish manufacturers use iron oxide for the yellow pigment. Over time, the pigment gets absorbed into nail and it can stain the nail with a yellow color.4 Yellowing of the nails is more common when using a dark red nail polish.

To prevent your nails from yellowing due to nail polish you can try applying a clear base coat before applying a colored varnish. You could also switch to a lighter color of nail polish and avoid red and yellow colors.


As we age, it is not just our hair that changes color, our nails can also change color and become yellow. MedlinePlus says that with age, nails may become yellow and opaque.5

Of course, if nail discoloration is caused by aging, it won’t be possible to get rid of the yellow nails.


The nicotine and tar from cigarettes can cause yellow staining on the nails. This is usually noticeable in people who have smoked regularly for a long period of time. The color on the nails can range from light yellow to dark brown.

To remove yellow nicotine stains from fingers you should, of course, stop smoking. You, and those around you, will enjoy much better health.

You can also look at the end of this article, where I mention some home remedies to remove yellow stains from your nails.

Yellow Nail Syndrome

Yellow nail syndrome (also known as “primary lymphedema”) is a rare condition that can result in yellow nails. Dr. Melissa C. Stöppler says that yellow nail syndrome results in slow-growing, yellowing, discolored nails. It is accompanied by lymphedema, a severe swelling of the limbs caused by fluid retention, and lung disorders.6

Home Remedies for Yellow Toenails and Fingernails

There are a number of natural ways to get rid of yellow toenails and fingernails. These natural remedies for yellow nails can help to either remove stains from the nails or to treat the underlying cause of yellowing nails.

Lemon Juice

Lemon juice can help to remove yellow stains from the nails by helping to lighten the nail color.

To use lemon juice, you should squeeze the juice from a lemon into a small dish. Dab a cotton ball into the juice and work it into each nail for 30 to 60 seconds. Let the lemon juice absorb into your nail for 10 minutes before rinsing in water.

You should remember that lemon juice is very acidic and you shouldn’t leave the lemon juice on your nails too long.

Baking Soda

You can also use baking soda to cure yellow nails, especially if the nail discoloration is due to nail polish. Baking soda can help to whiten nails and also to exfoliate them.

To use baking soda to remove yellow stains from nails, mix in a small bowl 2.5 tablespoons of baking soda with 1 tablespoon 3% hydrogen peroxide. Using a cotton swab, gently rub the mixture into each nail and leave for 3 to 4 minutes. Rinse off.

You can also combine baking soda with lemon juice to whiten yellow nails. To do this, you should mix together in a small bowl 1 tsp. water, 4 tsp. baking soda, and 5-10 drops lemon juice. Using a soft toothbrush, gently brush your nails with the mixture. Leave for 5 minutes before rinsing off with warm water.

Tea Tree Oil

If you have yellow nails due to a fungal infection you can use tea tree oil to get rid of the fungus which causes the nail discoloration. Tea tree oil has proven antifungal properties. The journal Frontiers in Microbiology reported that “tea tree oil has been shown to be promising as a topical antifungal agent.”7

Tea tree oil has been shown to be just as effective in treating nail fungus as drugs that are commonly used to treat nail infections.8 The benefit of tea tree oil is that it doesn’t cause any side effects that are caused by medications.

To use tea tree oil to cure your yellow toenails or fingernails, you should apply a few drops of 100% tea tree essential to a cotton swab and apply to the affected nail. Do this twice a day for at least 2 months. The nail has to grow out for the fungus to be eradicated.

To find out more ways to cure a fungal nail infection naturally, please read my article about simple and effective natural cures for toenail fungus.

Whitening Toothpaste

You can also use the whitening effect of toothpaste to clean off yellow stains from your toenails or fingernails. To do this you can massage some whitening toothpaste into each nail and leave for a few minutes before rinsing off. Alternatively, you can use a soft toothbrush to gently brush your nails with whitening toothpaste to remove yellow stains.

Vitamin E

In some cases, vitamin E has helped to cure yellow toenails and fingernails that are due to Yellow Nail Syndrome. Some studies show that rubbing vitamin E oil into the yellow nail can help. Other studies have shown that vitamin E supplements can help improve nails that are yellow.9

Read these related articles:
1. Health Warnings Your Fingernails May Be Sending
2. Home Remedies to Get Rid Of Ingrown Toenails
3. Simple and Effective Natural Cures for Toenail Fungus
4. Thick Toenails: Causes and Effective Home Remedies
5. Black Toenail: Causes, Prevention, and Effective Treatments




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