Why Are My Toenails Yellow: Causes, Prevention, and Treatments

Have you ever looked at your feet and noticed that your toenails are yellow? While it may not seem like a big deal, yellow toenails can actually signal different problems that need attention. Toenails are like silent messengers of our health. Yellowing can occur for a variety of reasons, from everyday causes to a sign of more important health problems. Let’s explore why toenails turn yellow, discover the causes hidden beneath the surface, as well as learn how to prevent this condition from occurring.

The causes of yellow toenails

Fungal Infections

One of the most prevalent causes of yellow toenails is fungal infections, particularly those caused by dermatophytes. These fungi thrive in warm and moist environments, making toenails susceptible, leading to discoloration.

Nail Polish

Constant use of dark or vibrant nail polish without proper breaks can result in toenail discoloration. The pigments in the polish can stain the nails over time, leaving them yellow, brown, or even black. Additionally, the harsh chemicals in some polishes can damage the nail bed, leading to brittleness and even infection. 

Trauma or Injury

When you hurt your toe and there’s bleeding under the nail, it’s called subungual hematoma. This can be really painful. Luckily, most times, the blood will soak back into the body, and the nail will go back to its usual color. But if the injury is really bad or there’s a big blood clot, it might be needed to go to the doctor to remove the blood.


As individuals age, toenails may naturally become thicker and more prone to yellowing. This happens because nails grow slower, and there are changes in how the nails are made. So, if you notice your toenails changing color as you get older, it’s pretty normal.


When you smoke or use tobacco, your toenails can turn yellow. This happens because the substances in cigarettes can make your nails yellow and unhealthy. Therefore, try to quit smoking to protect your overall health.

Poor Foot Hygiene

If you don’t keep your feet clean and dry, you might get fungal infections, and your toenails could turn yellow. So, it’s important to make sure your feet are always clean and dry to stop these problems from happening. Taking good care of your feet by washing them and keeping them dry can help you avoid yellow toenails.

Systemic Conditions

Certain health problems such as diabetes and respiratory problems can affect your nails. Your toenails turning yellow could also be a sign that something is wrong with your overall health. So you should talk to your doctor to find out what’s going on with your body.

Nail Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a kind of skin problem that sticks around for a long time. It can also make your nails change color and feel different. So, if you have psoriasis, it might be why your nails look a bit odd, and it’s something to chat about with your doctor.

Yellow Nail Syndrome

This rare condition is characterized by yellow, thickened nails and can be associated with respiratory and lymphatic issues.

How to get rid of yellow toenails

Most times, yellow toenails happen because of a fungal infection or using too much nail polish. If it’s because of nail polish, stopping using it for at least a week can make the nail go back to normal.

Fungal infections are not too hard to treat. You can use special medicine, either as a pill or put it right on the nail. But, it might take a long time, even up to a year, for the medicine to work.

If someone has another health problem causing yellow toenails, treating that health problem is the best way to fix the nail issue.

There are also some things you can try at home to help with yellow toenails:

  • Mixing tea tree oil with a carrier oil and applying it to the affected nail
  • foot soak for toenail fungus, soaking the affected nail in hot water mixed with baking soda
  • applying vinegar to the affected nail
  • including a sufficient amount of vitamin E in the diet
  • soaking the affected nail in a mixture of hydrogen peroxide and hot water

How to prevention yellow toenails

Preventing yellow toenails involves simple yet effective steps for good foot health. Firstly, maintain proper hygiene by regularly washing your feet and keeping them dry, paying special attention to the spaces between your toes. Additionally, choose well-fitting shoes that allow your feet to breathe and avoid prolonged periods of wearing damp or tight footwear. Trim your toenails straight across to reduce the risk of ingrown nails. Moreover, take breaks from nail polish to prevent discoloration, and if you use a nail salon, ensure they follow sanitary practices. Finally, be cautious in public places like swimming pools and locker rooms, where fungal infections can spread. By following these preventive measures, you can go a long way in keeping your toenails healthy and free from yellow discoloration.

When to see a doctor

If you notice persistent yellow toenails that don’t improve with home remedies or if you experience additional symptoms like pain, swelling, or a foul odor, it’s advisable to seek medical attention. A doctor or podiatrist can help determine the underlying cause of the yellowing and recommend appropriate treatment.

Additionally, if you have diabetes or any other health condition that affects circulation or immune function, it’s essential to consult a healthcare professional promptly. Early intervention and proper diagnosis can prevent potential complications and ensure the most effective management of yellow toenails.


1. Do yellow toenails mean diabetes?

If you have diabetes, you might be more prone to a fungal infection called onychomycosis, especially in your toenails. This infection can make your toenails turn yellow and get fragile.

2. Are yellow toenails serious?

Depending on the case, it may or may not be serious. Some situations are not too severe, like old age or using nail polish with harsh chemicals. However, in some cases, it could mean there’s a more serious health problem that requires a doctor’s help.

3. What do unhealthy toenails look like?

If your toenails look yellow or brown, it’s often a sign of a fungal infection. This usually starts with a fungal infection in your foot, and then it spreads to your toenail. When your toenail gets infected, it can become thick, dry, and crumbly along with turning yellow.

4. What is a healthy toenail color?

Just like your fingernails, a good toenail should be a light pink color. If you see yellow or a bit of black, that’s a sign something might be wrong. For example, if your toenails turn yellow, it could mean you have a fungal infection. Yellowing might also happen if you have diabetes, liver issues, or if you smoke.

5. What color is a bad toenail?

If your nails are turning yellow or brown, it’s a good idea to see a doctor. They can check your nails and start treating the issue. If your nails are more brownish-gray and don’t seem like a fungal infection, it might mean you lack B12. You could think about taking a supplement or talking to your doctor if the problem doesn’t go away.


The yellowing of toenails is a common occurrence with a range of potential causes, from benign factors like aging or the use of certain nail products to more serious issues such as fungal infections or underlying health conditions. Understanding the root cause is crucial for effective prevention and treatment. Additionally, seeking timely medical attention when needed ensures proper diagnosis and targeted intervention. By staying informed and adopting proactive foot care practices, individuals can promote the health and appearance of their toenails, fostering overall well-being. Remember, a yellow toenail may be a small sign, but paying attention to it can lead to significant improvements in foot health and overall quality of life.