Yellow Toenails: Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

Toenails are typically transparent, appearing to look pink because of the pink flesh underneath. Yet, it is possible for toenails to turn yellow. While using nail polish frequently or having a fungal infection are the most likely causes, it could be a sign of an underlying medical condition.

In this article, you’ll learn about yellow toenail causes, treatment options, and prevention strategies.

Causes of Yellow Toenails

Yellow toenails can occur for the following reasons.


As people age, their nails naturally tend to change in color, thickness, and shape. This can often result in a yellow color on the toenails and fingernails.

Nail Polish

The frequent use of red or orange nail polish can cause the nails to become discolored. So, let the nails breathe. Taking a break from using nail polish should make the yellow go away. To prevent discoloration from happening, you could apply a base coat, which acts as a barrier between the nails and polish.

Medical Condition

Yellow toenails on their own are not dangerous. However, they could indicate there’s an underlying medical condition, such as:

  • diabetes, 
  • jaundice,
  • psoriasis,
  • thyroid problems,
  • or tuberculosis.

In rare cases, yellow toenails may be a symptom of yellow nail syndrome (YNS), a disorder in which the nails yellow, thicken, and have a strong curve. The nails often stop growing and may fall off the nail bed. It usually appears in people over 50, but it’s estimated to occur in fewer than 1 in every 1 million people.


One of the most common causes is onychomycosis, also known as nail fungus. It’s more prevalent in adults than children and can make the nails turn yellow, turn black, or develop yellow spots or white patches.

Onychomycosis is primarily caused by dermatophytes, a group of fungi that feeds on keratin for growth.

Treatment for Yellow Toenails

In most cases, yellow toenails are treatable.

Home remedies that may help include:

  • including a sufficient amount of foods rich in vitamin E,
  • applying oil such as coconut oil, olive leaf extract, or tea tree oil to the affected nail multiple times a day,
  • soaking the affected nail in a mixture of hot water and baking soda,
  • and using over-the-counter antifungal nail creams or powders.

Be sure to see a podiatrist if your nails are painful, change in shape or thickness, or experience any bleeding, discharge, or swelling. What treatment the doctor recommends will depend on your underlying cause. For example, you’ll need an antifungal medication to treat a fungal infection. A common prescription is ciclopirox, which is applied to the nails like nail polish.

Prevent Yellow Toenails

Preventing yellow toenails from recurring may not be possible, but the best approach is to practice proper nail care and regularly inspect your nails.

Be sure to:

  • cut toenails straight across with clean nail clippers,
  • keep nails clean and dry,
  • wear clean socks,
  • wear properly fitting shoes,
  • and air out your shoes after use.

Keep Your Toenails Healthy

Our expert podiatrists are here to help you overcome a wide range of foot and ankle ailments, including toenail fungus. At The Foot & Ankle Center, we provide thorough evaluations and personalized treatment plans, offer safe and effective treatments that provide fast relief, and have same-day appointments available.

Call us today at (314) 487-9300 or request an appointment with us!