Nail & Skin Disorders


Onychatrophia is a wasting away of the nails that is generally permanent.

What is it?

Whether the result of damage to the matrix or a larger health issue, the nails can atrophy. This condition is called onychatrophia. When a nail is atrophied, it loses its healthy look, begins to shrink in size, and may eventually wither away all together. There are varying degrees of onychatrophia. A person may have only one nail that has partially atrophied but will never worsen because the condition that caused it was identified and treated early. On the other hand, sometimes the primary cause is ongoing and damage to the nails is so severe a person may lose all her nails. Though the condition affects both men and women, it is not limited to adults. Children and infants can be born with, or suffer from, diseases that cause nails to atrophy. Onychatrophia is not likely to cause pain or discomfort.

How do you get it?

Onychatrophia is evidence of a larger health problem. Because it’s a secondary effect, not a primary condition, onychatrophia can be the result of a wide range of health problems. Some of these issues include trauma, such as burns or damage to the matrix, genetic diseases, vascular problems, thyroid issues, skin diseases such as lichen planus, Stevens-Johnson syndrome, and Lyell’s syndrome.

How is it treated?

Doctors can determine if a nail has atrophied simply by looking at it. They will attempt to treat the condition that caused the atrophy, but no treatment is available to improve onychatrophia. The reason for this is that the problem isn’t in the nails; onychatrophia can’t be treated in isolation. At times, a patient may respond to treatment and recover from the larger health issue. However, though the cause is removed, once the nails have atrophied they will not return to normal.

What can a tech do?

Because many people are unfamiliar with onychatrophia, the condition can be confused by the casual observer with a fungus. While it’s tempting to imagine all the ways enhancements could improve the look of atrophied nails, doctors caution against applying product over the damaged area if there is no more nail. If some of the nail remains and it is clean, free from infection, and sturdy enough to hold an enhancement, techs may be able to work with the client and a dermatologist to come up with a compromise on ways to beautify the nail. It may be that enhancements can be applied to a nail without harm, even only for a short time, such as for a special event, but a technician won’t want to make that decision without the approval of a doctor.

What else?

Even in the case of a natural nail manicure or pedicure, certain risks are inherent when you work on nails that have atrophied. Since the nail is likely to be thin and damaged, the tech is likely to buff the surrounding skin while caring for the nail. This could irritate or tear the skin, leaving it open to infection. Techs should proceed with caution, using common sense and protecting themselves and their clients by working within the scope of their license.

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