When was the last time you gave your finger and toenails a good, hard look? It's probably been a while, especially if you keep them covered in polish. But your nails can be an important indicator of what is going on in your body.
"Nails are great for providing clues to our overall health, because nail growth is very sensitive to things like nutrition, stress levels and even internal diseases," dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe says in the above video from the Oprah.com web series #OWNSHOW.
Brown or black bands than run down the nail plate can be a warning sign, Bowe says.
"That's definitely a cause for concern. If you do see a band that's developed, it can be something as simple as a mole that actually just lives in the base of the nail. It can also just be hereditary or genetic; they can run in families, especially people with skin of color -- African American heritage, Japanese, Indian families can actually have these dark streaks in multiple different fingers or toenails. However, the brown streak can also be a sign of a melanoma, which can be fatal if it's not caught early," she says.
To know if your nail discoloration is more than a genetic trait, Bowe lists a few red flags. "One of the warning signs would be if the band is new or of it's changing -- changing in size, changing in color. Also, if the pigment actually bleeds from the nail plate onto the nail cuticle or the surrounding skin. That's a sign called Hutchinson's sign, and that can also be a sign that's also concerning."
"You're looking out for things that are changing; evolution is a cause of concern," she says. "Multiple colors': blue, black red, if something suddenly bleeds, if it itches -- those are all things to look for."
Bottom line: Check your nails regularly for changes. Bowe says this is especially important for women who treat themselves to a weekly mani/pedi and rarely see their naked nails. "Put the magazine aside and just take a peek to make sure you don't see any pigment or irregularities," she advises.
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