Nail & Skin Disorders

What Is Onycholysis?

Onycholysis is when the nail separates from the nail bed. It’s a very common condition, and one that, if treated quickly, poses no danger to clients.

Onycholysis makes nails vulnerable to a pseudomonas
bacterial infection, as seen here.
<p>Onycholysis makes nails vulnerable to a pseudomonas<br /> bacterial infection, as seen here.</p>

Secondary infections from onycholysis are not uncommon, so it’s important to catch and treat onycholysis early. Techs may be tempted to apply product over a healthy nail bed once the unattached nail has been removed, thinking that it’s similar to applying to be cleaned away. Once removed, the nail bed could reveal wrinkled, moist skin. Do not apply product, regardless of how much pleading and bribing you hear from the client. Instruct the client to keep the nail dry and clean, and examine the nail on the next appointment. If the skin is not dry and healthy, refer the client to a doctor. She may product on a nail biter whose nails lack a free edge. And while it may be similar, it’s not the same, and it shouldn’t be treated the same. Water will easily find its way under product that has been applied to cover the look of onycholysis, creating ideal conditions for big problems. Techs can educate clients and protect themselves by encouraging clients to let their natural nail grow back over the nail bed completely before applying enhancements.


Fungal infection of the nail, also known as onychomycosis, appears first as onycholysis. Dermatologists estimate these fungal infections account for 50% of all nail disorders they treat. Recent studies suggest that as much as 13% of the U.S. population has a fungal infection of one or more nails. Onychomycosis is much more common on the toenails than the fingernails, and often is accompanied by athlete’s foot (tinea pedis). As the fungal infection advances, the separated nail appears yellow and opaque, then appears crumbled and can brown.

In addition to being a common cause of onycholysis, onychomycosis also is easily diagnosed. All that’s required to make the call is a skin scraping that can be examined under a microscope in a doctor’s office. While once many physicians regarded onychomycosis as primarily a cosmetic problem, more recently dermatologists and podiatrists have been using oral and topical treatments that, particularly in combination, are quite effective.


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