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What Causes Green Nails?

By Marlene de Wilde
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Green nails are caused by a bacterial infection caused by Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Aspergillus. The bacteria nestles in the gap between the nail and nail bed where it produces a green pigment. It is more common in women whose hands are often in contact with soapy water or detergents but can also occur in professions such as bakers, beauticians and bartenders. Other causes are a condition called onycholysis, unclean nail care equipment and sharing of the same as well as the use of artificial nails.

Pseudomonas is a common household bacteria which can be found in plants, pets, soil and water. Normally the nail, or nail plate, and nail bed are not a hospitable place for the bacteria, but if they have become compromised in some way, then the pseudomonas can find a home. It feeds off the dead tissue in the plate of the nail and this is what causes the separation of the nail and nail bed. The green color is caused by the bacteria infecting the bed of the nail. As well as turning green, the nail may thicken and crumble at the edges and the finger may swell and be painful.

There are rare cases where a fungal infection known as onychomycosis is the cause of green nails. This condition becomes increasingly common as a person ages and it rarely affects children. Onycholysis occurs when a fingernail or toenail becomes loose and separates from the nail bed. This may happen because of repetitive trauma, damage due to manicure tools and a prolonged immersion in water, among others. As there are many causes, a doctor may want to check for skin problems or medical conditions like thyroid disease.

The application of artificial nails can also cause green nail syndrome. The technician applying the nail must clean and disinfect the nail surface before application. If an artificial nail is applied over a surface where there is pseudomonas bacteria, then the resulting virtual oxygen free environment will enable the bacteria to thrive. It then eats the oils and the byproduct is what causes the green color.

Green nails treatment is usually a topical antibiotic to treat the infection. Nails should be kept short to enable the medication to reach the nail more easily. Treatment should take about two or three weeks. The condition can be avoided by the wearing of gloves if hands are constantly in contact with water. Alternative treatments include plant-derived natural oils such as tea tree oil. Tea tree oil has anti-bacterial as well as anti-fungal properties so it is effective for both causes of green nails. Soaking nails in alcohol a few times a day may also help.

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Discussion Comments
By anon329958 — On Apr 13, 2013

I have had a quarter of a dark green nail, and I have been looking for a website that will show a cure. It is disgusting!

By anon307076 — On Dec 03, 2012

I have had to wear fake nails for years. In the last several months my fingernails have turned a dark green color. I have gone as far as soaking them in bleach but see no difference.

I try to take the fake nail off, but they are thin and then I want bite or pick my nails due to a habit from a young age. What would be the best way to clear this up.? I'm starting to get worried due to them getting darker green and deeper into my nail. Please help.

By anon240991 — On Jan 16, 2012

The application of acrylic nails does not "cause green nail syndrome." If it did, all persons wearing acrylic nails would have it, and few ever do. It would be more correct to say that green nail "can occur between acrylic coating and natural nail". Most often it occurs where the coating has lifted, resulting in moisture trapped between nail and coating. Otherwise there would be green everywhere and in fact, it is rare. I'm a manicurist.

By anon240989 — On Jan 16, 2012

Thank your for a sane discussion of "green nail". I had just read a Nails magazine article, and after saying the psuedomonas was found on many surfaces and in water, they make "green nail" sound like a dire medical condition caused by incompetent manicuring.

I've done nails for over 25 years, and I have seen a few green spots, always where the acrylic coating has lifted so water seeps in, and most often when the lift effects about a quarter, slight lifts dry out and areas that lift so the the coating is really loose. Also dry between washings. At no time has there been more required than a little alcohol (drying) and resealing the nail.

The worst of it is green spot that gradually fades as the nail grows out (unattractive under a light color). Perhaps those I had filed lightly has contributed to these not being a problem, when the nail surface is in good shape and there is no filing to the deeper layers of the nail, although I cannot imagine why soapy water (article above) would make a greater problem. It seems wetness is the problem since soap should inhibit bacterial growth, yes? Or why wash with soap at all? The most prone I have seen were two women who grew orchids. Interestingly, most can have a nail lift and never have green spots.

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