What is it? Beau’s lines appear on the nails as horizontal ridges or grooves. The French physician Joseph-Honoré-Simon Beau is credited with the name because he was one of the first to document the relationship between physical indicators and systemic health problems. When the body suffers a trauma — internally or externally — there is often evidence of the trauma on the nails, sometimes in the form of Beau’s lines. Techs can identify Beau’s lines because they are not only discolored, they add the texture of a ridge or groove to the nail. When the issue is a systemic problem instead of the result of a local trauma, Beau’s lines can appear on multiple nails and may even show up on toenails.
How do you get it? Beau’s lines are caused when the body stops producing nail cells for a period of time — a day or longer. When the body starts producing those cells again, the nails begin to grow. As the nail grows out, Beau’s lines will appear and techs will be able to see where the nail’s development was affected. Most commonly Beau’s lines can be traced back to a high fever or an infection, but other systemic problems can also be the cause, such as chemotherapy. Local trauma (such as a hammer) can also stun the nail matrix and Beau’s lines can be produced on only one nail.
How is it treated? Because Beau’s lines are the result of systemic problems or local trauma, there is nothing clients can do to prevent them from developing. Once they appear, no treatment is required. Beau’s lines are entirely harmless. As the healthy nail grows out, the lines will grow out also, and techs will eventually be able to file them off when they reach the free edge.
What can a tech do? Techs can begin by educating the client about the condition. Ask the client if she has had any infection, fever, or illness in the past months. Let the client know that her body has experienced a trauma, and the lines are simply evidence that the body had a problem. Show her the healthy nail that is growing at the cuticle behind the Beau’s lines. Let her know that as the healthy nail continues to grow, the lines will grow out and will eventually be filed off. However, if techs see Beau’s lines recurring in the same client without the client being able to identify the reason, insist the client see her doctor to troubleshoot the cause. Nail enhancements are the ideal solution to the appearance of Beau’s lines, because nail products such as acrylic or gel can fill in the grooves and smooth out the nail. Take care to prep the area well so no air pockets form.
What else? Shock or a traumatic event can affect the body in strange ways, so don’t dismiss any explanation the client suggests. For example, Beau’s lines have been documented in the case of heart attacks and malaria. They have also been documented in divers and climbers, who have experienced the pressure of a severe change in altitude, which can disrupt the production of the nail cells.
Robert Brodell, M.D. contributed to this article.