The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

What Are Beau’s Lines and How Do They Affect My Toenails?

Posted by on Monday, October 22nd, 2012

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Did you know that fingernails grow faster than toenails? According to a study published in the Journal of the Academy of European Dermatology, fingernails grow about 3.47 mm per month, while toenails grow 1.62 mm per month (millimeters! that’s how we know it’s a European journal). I bet I don’t need to tell you, though, that the big toenail grows faster than the other toenails; you probably know that just from living with your own toenails.

These are normal things for toenails. Do you know what’s not normal? Deep grooves that run horizontally across your nails, otherwise known as Beau’s Lines.

Good heavens! I would never have imagined that my little toenails could have a problem with such an inscrutable name! Are you sure Beau’s Lines isn’t the name of a mountain pass in the Rockies named for a 19th century explorer? No, it is indeed the name of a nail condition, though I won’t discount the possibility of it also being the name of some obscure path traveled by an obscure explorer.

Beau’s Lines can occur on both your toenails and fingernails. A Beau’s Line, as described above, is a groove that runs across your nail; a person may have one or several on a nail. Don’t confuse these with the  faint vertical lines that you see on your nails (I bet you’re looking right now)–those are normal.

Why would grooves appear on my nails? My nails are not groovy, but rather staid. Well, that doesn’t mean they can’t bust out with something unusual once in a while. Beau’s Lines are often caused by an injury or repeated trauma to the nail that interrupts the growth of the nail.  Think dropping something heavy on your toenail (owww) or slamming it in a car door (ooowwww again…). Exposure to cold for a long period of time can do it, like if you’re an Arctic explorer. Athletes who put a lot of mileage on their feet can develop Beau’s Lines due to the repeated banging of their toenails against the top of the toe box of their shoes.

Beau’s Lines can also be indicative of another condition that’s affecting your whole body. This may be malnutrition, a lack of vitamins in a person’s diet (for example, zinc deficiency), or a chronic disease like diabetes, peripheral vascular disease, or myocarditis. They can also occur in a person who has had mumps, measles, or pneumonia.

I certainly do not want Beau’s Lines! What do I do about them? If you haven’t had any kind of injury that you know has caused trauma to your nail, then they probably are a symptom of a much bigger health problem, and you should see your doctor for an exam and diagnosis. If the lines are the result of an injury, then they will probably resolve themselves as your injury heals. If they don’t, or if you are not sure if you have any additional injuries to your nail, you should see a podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900) for a further investigation of this issue.

You can do some things to help your nails while you have Beau’s Lines, though:

  • Choose shoes with a roomy toe box that don’t press or push on your nails.
  • Soak your feet in a warm salt water solution. Make sure you dry your feet thoroughly, especially in between your toes.
  • Put moisturizer on your nails and cuticles before you go to bed.
  • Don’t overuse nail polish remover–the alcohol can dry out your nails. You can wear nail polish IF you’ve been given clearance by your podiatrist or doctor.
  • If your nail hurts, or is irritated by shoes, wrap it in a gauze bandage or other covering.

And by the way, who’s Beau? I’m so glad you asked! Beau’s Lines are named for Joseph Honoré Simon Beau, a French physician, who first described the condition in 1846. Thanks, Dr. Beau!

If your toenail looks funny, it’s not because it wants to amuse you–there’s probably a health-related reason for it. Always check your feet and toenails, and if something looks wrong, check it out!

 

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If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.