Nails can take on a dark color due to a variety of factors, such as pigmentation problems, wearing the wrong shoes, being knocked over, or suffering from fungal infections.
Here we will focus on this last cause, why it occurs, what its effects are and what treatments exist.
Onychomycosis, popularly known as nail fungus, is a fairly common condition that can occur due to different factors:
- History of related conditions, such as athlete’s foot.
- Walking barefoot in humid environments, such as locker rooms or gyms.
- Excessive sweating.
- Injury to the nail or surrounding skin.
- Having skin diseases, such as psoriasis.
- Have poor circulation.
- Having a weak immune system.
These types of fungal infections can affect part of the nail, the entire nail, or multiple nails, causing:
- Deformation of the nail, which can lead to detachment of its nail bed.
- Thickening of the nails, at the same time that they become brittle.
- Bad odor coming from the affected nail.
Does fungus turn nails black?
Experts explain that onychomycosis usually causes white or yellow spots on the nails. However, these can take on a darker shade (between brown and black) when debris accumulates under them.
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Another response to the dark hue of the nails due to fungus is found in the pheohyphomycosis, a group of fungal infections caused by dematiaceous fungi, that is, they are characterized by the presence of abundant melanin in their cell wall (which causes a darkening) .
The main genera of fungi involved in this type of infection are alternate, bipolaris, Cladophialo-phora Y exophiala.
Although this type of infection does not develop in the nails, it can spread to them when it affects the skin of the fingers.
When phaeohyphomycosis is responsible for the darkening of the nail, a doctor will need to evaluate the case and determine the best treatment.
Currently, there is no standardized therapy for this type of infection, although the use of products such as voriconazole, posaconazole, and itraconazole have proven to be effective.
How to treat nail fungus
After making a diagnosis about the fungal infection, a health professional can recommend different options to treat it, such as nail polishes against infection (ciclopirox), antifungal pills, creams and even surgical procedures.
Traditional medicine also highlights the use of home remedies for their antimicrobial properties for mild fungal infections:
- Natural oils and extracts: tea tree, ageratin, jasmine, lavender, petitgrain, castor, sage, or ylang, helps eliminate nail fungus. They should not be applied directly to the nail, as there is a risk of causing irritation. It is advisable to dilute the drops in a carrier oil, such as olive, soy or almond oil.
- Garlic and onion: they contain a compound called allicin, which gives them antiseptic, fungicidal and bactericidal properties. Chop them, mash them and then boil them in water. Let the preparation cool, strain, and apply to the damaged nail.
- Sodium bicarbonate: mix it with water (not very diluted, since a pasty consistency is sought) and apply it on the affected area. Let sit for at least 10 minutes before rinsing. Repeat this operation several times a day until the fungus disappears.
- Lemon: you must apply it on the affected area with a cotton or swab and let it act. You can also dilute abundant juice in a container with water, to make foot or hand baths.
- Vinegar: Although they are all powerful antifungals, it is advisable to opt for the apple one, mix it with water and dip your hands or feet in the preparation daily. This dressing contains acetic acid, a compound with great antiseptic and fungicidal power. Another option is to apply the solution directly to the nail with a cotton pad.
To prevent the appearance of fungus and strengthen nail growth, try to incorporate enough keratin, vitamins, mainly A, B, and C, minerals, such as zinc, iron, iodine and calcium, and sulfur amino acids into your diet.
You can get these nutrients by eating a diet rich in plant and animal protein, fruits, seeds, grains, fish, and vegetables.
It’s also important to keep in mind that even if you get rid of the fungus, it can come back. Therefore, you should prevent it by maintaining good hygiene of your hands and feet:
- Keep your nails short and dry them very well (including the area around them).
- Avoid shoes or socks that are too tight, as they can cause moisture and create an ideal environment for fungal growth.
- Benign proliferation of a type of cell called melanocytes, which is known as a matrix nevus.
- Malignant proliferation of melanocytes, which is known as malignant melanoma.
- Continuous pressure against the toenail, usually caused by shoes that are too small.
- Bumps between fingers and toenails, usually caused by shoes that are too big.
- Direct blows on the nails.
In addition to fungal infections, nails can turn black from:
Until there is meaningful scientific evidence from human trials, people interested in using herbal therapies and supplements should be very careful.
Do not abandon or modify your medications or treatments, but first talk to your doctor about the potential effects of alternative or complementary therapies.
Remember, the medicinal properties of herbs and supplements can also interact with prescription drugs, other herbs and supplements, and even alter your diet.
Sources consulted: Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, US National Library of Medicine, Mayo Clinic, “Gomez LV, Cardona-Castro N. Pheohyphomycosis, an emerging opportunistic fungal infection”, National Institute of Complementary and Alternative Medicine.