In and of itself, onychauxis — or thick nails — poses no danger to a client, but it often indicates a larger problem.
What is it? Onychauxis is simply the medical term for an overgrowth or thickening of the nail. A natural part of aging, the condition can be harmless; however, onychauxis can be a secondary symptom of a larger problem, so it shouldn’t be dismissed too easily.
How do you get it? Onychauxis can be caused by something as memorable as blunt trauma or as innocuous as micro-trauma (from tight shoes, for example). However, onychauxis can also be caused by more serious issues that affect the nail bed and skin. Fungus, yeast, and psoriasis will all thicken the nail plate. Rarely, onychauxis may also indicate a more serious systemic problem, such as diminished circulation.
How is it treated? Depending on the cause, onychauxis can sometimes be cured. When a nail is thick because of a fungal infection, for example, treatment of the infection may cure the nail. In cases like this, the nail may be able to grow in healthy after the primary condition has been resolved. However, if onychauxis is caused by blunt or micro-trauma and the matrix is damaged, it’s more likely that the thickness will need to be maintained through regular manicures or pedicures, because the nail may likely continue to grow in thicker than normal. Since a doctor must determine a cause before treatment is recommended, there is not a standard treatment for onychauxis.
What can a tech do? Once a doctor has ruled out larger problems, such as a skin condition, fungus, or melanoma, techs can do what they do best: make the nails look beautiful. The nails may take more time because of the thickness and possible deformity of the nail. With perseverance, techs can often make a client’s natural nail look thin and healthy. Sometimes onychauxis will be so severe that no amount of filing will make the natural nail beautiful. In situations like that, adding an enhancement to cover the damaged fingernail or toenail can greatly improve the look of the nail, and the confidence of the client. As long as the skin is healthy surrounding the nail, adding an enhancement is an excellent remedy to the often unattractive look of onychauxis.
What else? Left untreated, the nails affected by onychauxis can begin to curl. The nail may also become discolored, turning white, yellow, red, or black. Though onychauxis isn’t necessarily a dangerous condition, thickened and discolored nails should be evaluated by a doctor. A black spot on the nail could be dried blood, but it also could be melanoma.
Dr. S. A. Schumacher contributed to this article.