Keratin Buildup under Toenails


Keratin Buildup under Toenails

We all know that hairs and nails are predominantly made up of protein especially Keratin. Depending on the type of protein it is build up off the hairs and nails can be soft and pliable. Keratin basically is a fibrous protein that is found in nails, hair and the outer layer of skin. It is usually hard, but tends to become soft when the nails are there in the presence of moisture. Therefore nail disorders generally rise often due to keratin debris that spreads within the nail bed. Some conditions, like fungal infection result into the break down these proteins.

When it is destroyed or eaten up by fungi it turns into keratin debris. This fibrous protein keeps the nail strong and hard. But when a buildup of keratin under the nail takes place it makes nail discolored, brittle and distorted. Keratin buildup under toenail is very common.

So here in this article you will get the causes, treatment and precautions to avoid keratin buildup under toenails so as to keep your nails gorgeous, strong and healthy. One should be glad that these dead cells are building up and the remnants of their protein are being put to good use. But, if you say keratin is natural then why would one worry about it becoming a debris?

Keratin Identification

Keratin protein encompasses the part of the nail known as the nail plate. It is made up of many layers of dead and flattened skin cells. When they die, the keratin inside the cells converts into the nails that cover the fingers and toes. In this way one can identify the deposition of keratin under toenails.

During a manicure, you can observe the softened keratin debris will look like cottage cheese on the manicure tool. Nail fungal treatments therefore help in softening the keratin debris and exfoliating it away.

Keratin debris seem to be associated with ear infection called as otitis. There are certain solvents that can be used to dissolve the debris buildup from the ear canal or site of infection.

What is Keratin Debris?

Keratin debris is formed due to infection in the keratin-rich areas. Keratin debris caused by a fungal infection is technically known as Onychomycosis. Fungi that generally infect the nails are known to destroy small amounts of keratin, resulting in the formation of keratin debris. It is the result of the nails being physically broken down which is due to the fungi.

Toenails being rich in keratin are definitely prone to break down causing problems. When you have a toenail fungus, it deteriorates the keratin in your nails and it is one of the symptoms. If you have a toenail fungus, then your nails will start to crumble easily. And when you see the small particles underneath the nail, it is considered to be debris. Because of the excess of buildup of debris of keratin, the nail gets separated from the nail bed.

The best way to prevent keratin buildup is to prevent fungal infection. And the treatment for the same depends on the underlying cause like one can go for regular topical application of anti-fungal cream to combat fungus in nail getting rid of excess of keratin.

Causes of Keratin Buildup Under Toenails

Keratin is present under the nail plate. These keratin cells are pushed forward which is the direction for the nail growing in the forward direction. The accumulation or excess of keratin, leaves white spots on the nail.

There are several causes that may lead to excess of keratin under the toenail. One of the main causes is the known fungal infection in toe nail. Nail fungus destroys the keratin of the nail resulting in debris under the nail. The process is very gradual and causes no pain therefore patient may not detect it until the nail becomes fully discolored or get separated from the nail bed.

Trauma to the toe nail or certain health conditions that include lichen planus, thyroid disease, or may be side effects of certain medicines and chemical contact may also result in the nail damage and subsequently result into the buildup of keratin beneath the nail. Usually, keratin debris develops only in one toe nail but it is not mandatory for sometimes more than one toenail is also affected.


Since keratin debris are trapped between the nail and its bed, the detachment of nail causes discoloration. The discoloration is either dark or yellow in color where the nail no longer looks clear and transparent. A pocket of debris forms and gets deeper if it is left untreated.

The discoloration is generally around the edges. This debris may be yellow or white. The debris formation makes nail to become thickened and yellow, and may begin to separate from the nail bed.

Another noticeable symptom that may come to your notice with keratin debris is the crumbling of your nails. It is the most common one and it is not necessary that the crumbling of nails is only due to keratin debris.

Sometimes infection or unhealthy diet may also result in breaking off the nails from nail bed. If nails break off easily or look jagged around the edges, there are chances that the keratin is being chipped away.

And once the debris manages to get underneath the nails it will eventually build up quickly. Often, this will cause the nail to turn yellow or develop black spots. When this happens, you may need to remove the nail for proper treatment.


Prevention is always better than cure. And the best way to prevent keratin debris deposition or accumulation under the nails is by preventing the fungal nail infections. And to prevent this it is important to keep your fingers and toes clean by washing it every day and doing proper care. In addition, people that feel prone to fungal infections should try to prevent fungal nail infections by removing the dirt from under their nails and keeping the nails closely trimmed and clipped.

Tips for Preventing Debris under the Toenail

Technically preventing deposition of keratin debris from getting underneath your toenail requires the same effort as preventing a fungal infection. Practicing excellent hygiene of your toe or feet is a great place to start with. Apart from this there are certain tips that you can follow to get healthy toenails.

  • One should avoid using public places (showers, pools, etc.) when bare feet is exposed.
  • Be sure your feet get enough time to breathe each day. This can be ensured by wearing shoes that fit correctly. Also it is important that you avoid wearing shoes for continuously long hours.
  • You also get antifungal socks in the market that make sure that you are not letting sweat get blocked in.
  • Also when you are walking around your home with bare feet at that time make sure your nails are clean and trimmed.
  • To reduce the chances of fungus and debris it is important that you keep dirt and moisture away from your toenails.
  • Finally, but not last you should be careful of the tools that are used around your feet. If you regularly enjoy and go for pedicures, the smallest error with a tool that is not been properly sanitized is likely to create a toenail fungus. Instead one can depend on home kits available for pedicure.


If keratin debris build up in your case is a result of a fungal nail infection of your toe, then topical creams that are capable to combat the fungi can be applied to the affected areas. Keratin debris can also be removed using a manicure tool, but creams can also be applied to soften the nails thus it makes debris to be removed easily by scraping the debris out from under the nail.

Treatment for keratin debris buildup in the nail can also be treated using oral antifungal treatment drugs that include terbinafine or itraconazole or topical gels, lacquers and liquid solutions applied topically to the site of infection.

How to Get Rid Of Keratin Buildup under Toenails?

Treatment of keratin buildup under the toe nail as discussed depends upon the underlying cause which in most cases it is due to fungal infection in the toenail.

So here are some tips and tricks that will help you to get rid of the keratin buildup that is taking away the beauty of your nails.

  • As discussed above topical creams can be an effective solution to this debris. But these creams need to be applied for long duration because the infection is very stubborn and does not go easily. After when you regularly apply it, the debris becomes soft and is easy to remove it. You can then gently scrape the buildup with a manicure tool.
  • Keratin gives your nails the hard exterior so when you treat keratin debris, it is important to soften it up as much as possible. An antifungal cream (prescribed by the doctor) can help to soften the exterior of the nail and treat the fungal infection.
  • Manicure tool are another option to treat keratin build up when the buildup is tough. Again, using the cream to soften the keratin before attempting to remove the debris is must and can be done manually.
  • But in case you are uncomfortable in using manicure tools option, and an antifungal cream is also not working then you should consult your podiatrist for other treatment options.

Apart from all this, one should make sure that you never dig at the nail with manicure tools or your fingers, etc. This is also one of the sole reason for the infection that could make you end up doing more harm than good. In case if you see that your nail has started to separate from the nail bed due to debris then getting help from your doctor is the last and the best option. In rare cases the nail might need to be removed due to the fungal infection to heal.

Home Remedies to Treat Keratin Debris

There are home remedies available as well to soften the keratin buildup. Tea tree oil and apple cider vinegar are a few most trusted options.

  • Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is a natural remedy for toenail fungus infection. Regularly following the procedure for a week is effective in killing the germs.

Pour small amount of warm water in a bucket. Add few drops of apple cider vinegar to it. Now place your foot in the bucket for 10 minutes. Dry the foot with hair dryer once you remove out your foot. In some cases it may take few more days or week to treat the infection.

  • Tea tree oil

Tea Tree Oil is another tested home remedy for toenail fungus infection.

Put few drops of tea tree oil over the affected toe nail. You can dilute it with any carrier oil, since tea tree oil is irritating if used alone.

  • NONYX -Fungal Nail Clarifying Gel

Apart from all this you get a very famous gel Nonyx available in the medical stores that clears out yellowing keratin debris. NonyX Fungal Nail Clarifying Gel (pronounced Non-X) clears out yellowing keratin debris buildup in toenails and as well as in fingernails. Keratin debris to be precise is the food supply and habitat for the nail fungus therefore promoting fungal infection. Once keratin debris is exfoliated, nails become clear and attractive again.

Application- Apply Nonyx Fungal Nail Clarifying Gel twice daily to dark or yellowing toenails and fingernails.

  • Details – Nonyx was proven effective in a 9-month, placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical study.
  • NonyX Nail Gel is safe, even for diabetics with healthy feet.
  • A choice of doctors – used by podiatrists and clinically tested by dermatologists.
  • One 4 oz. bottle is a six month supply.
  • Money-back guarantee.
  • Free of preservatives and parabens.
  • Ease to apply for its convenient applicator cap can be squeezed to get a few drops over the surface. And on the edge of discolored nails twice daily, especially after bathing.
  • Dermatologist-tested

Wrapping Up!

Debris is another ugly side of your toenails and keratin debris or keratin buildup is one of that. Fortunately it is not that hard to notice thus can be treated fairly easily. When it comes to how to remove keratin buildup under toenail then treating it with anti-fungal creams is the safest option.

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