12 Disgusting Things That Get Caught Under Your Nails

If you have ever went a few days, or perhaps even weeks without showering and washing your hands, you have probably experienced the buildup of those discolored nasties beneath your fingernails. Don’t you just LOVE the browns, yellows, and dirt-colored deposits that are near impossible to clean out? Probably not!

Dirt particles build up under our nails for a variety of reasons. If you use your computer for hours each day on end, whether this be for school or work purposes, you probably find that your nails get dirty from tasks as seemingly clean as keyboard use. What you probably do not realize is that immense levels of oil, sweat, dirt, and even fecal matter might be the cause of your off-colored nails. If you are constantly backpacking, hiking, or visiting the beach, your explanation might be a bit more self-explanatory.

Think about all the activities our hands help us to perform on a daily basis, regardless of our jobs or specific habits. We use our hands to clean ourselves after bathroom use, touch doors and doorknobs that are far from clean, lift gym equipment that dozens of other sweaty people use within the same hour. All of the loose particles from these surfaces contribute to levels of hard to clean grossness under our nails.

Nonetheless, the buildup of germs, bacteria, dirt, and other disgusting stuff that lives below our nails has the ability to cause sickness and disease. Failing to clean underneath your nails is not only nasty, but dangerous!

Here are 12 disgusting things that get caught underneath your nails. Maybe now you will wash your hands more often!

12 E Coli


That’s right! Escherichia Coli, or the more commonly known abbreviation “E-Coli” is one of the many revolting bacteria that are found under human nails. According to the CDC, this bacteria normally exists in healthy levels in the human intestinal tract, helping us to break down and absorb nutrients from food. However, some versions of E-Coli are pathogenic, meaning they have the capacity to induce extreme vomiting, diarrhea, and other illnesses when found outside of the intestinal tract.

In one study measuring the effects of nail biting on the levels of bacteria carried in the mouth, scientists found that over 75% of participants who were habitual nail-biters transferred levels of the E-Coli to their mouths. Not only does this support the fact that this bacteria is often housed underneath dirty nails, but it shows that the act of nail-biting can transfer dangerous particles into our mouths, causing us to get sick.

11 Staphylococcus Aureus


Exposing yourself to this bacteria can yield some seriously nasty results, not limited to boils, rashes, abscesses, and other visibly unfavorable and often painful conditions. Staphylococcus is a bacteria that 30% of people carry in their noses, normally causing most people no harm. However, if this bacteria is transferred into the bloodstream it can cause extreme bodily harm and fatalities, inducing pneumonia, infection of heart valves, and heart failure or stroke. This bacteria is also the cause of the well-known Staph infection, known to cause boils, rashes, and other extreme skin conditions.

AHC Media found that people who have acrylic nails are at the highest risk for carrying this bacteria. In fact, people who have fake nails and cleaned with antibacterial soap still harbored up to 94% of this bacteria after washing. This can have dangerous implications, especially if individuals with artificial nails are working with newborns or sick people. This study also measured the levels of the same bacteria in normal nails, also finding significant levels of Staphylococcus.

10 Ear Wax


Think about this next time you shake someone’s hand: ear wax is another predominant ingredient to the lovely mixture of compounds found beneath your fingernails. Although most adults know that cleaning the insides of our ears with our fingers is not only unclean, but dangerous for your ear canals, a large proportion of the population does it anyway. Even if you think it’s alright to clean out your ears in the shower with your fingers, much of this substance gets lodged far below what is reachable by water and soap.

Ear wax is made up of an oil called cerumen, known for protecting the ear passageway from dust, dirt, and other things that could potentially harm our ear drums. According to most medical experts, trying to dig out excessive ear wax by yourself can be harmful to your hearing. Some even argue against the traditional cotton swabs, urging people to simply use water and baby oil instead to loosen up internal sediments.

9 Dead Skin


This one might be a more obvious item found underneath our nails, but it is gross nonetheless! Think of all the time you spend scratching your scalp, skin, or random parts of your body when you might not even be paying attention. We are constantly adding to the ever-growing amounts of dead skin beneath our nails which provide yet another reason why we always find them slightly discolored.

On average, humans lose between 30,000-40,000 dead skin cells every hour, effectively shedding almost a million skin cells every 24-hour period, according to This amount to almost 2 pounds of skin every year! The first layer of our epidermis is highly comprised of these dead cells, waiting for the friction of our clothing or hands to brush them off. Although dead skin does not pose any serious health risks to ourselves or others, we would rather not think about all of the dead cells that remain under our nails.

8 Sebum


Humans have millions of sebaceous glands, which are glands on the skin that secrete mixtures of fats, wax, and cellular debris. This compound is known as sebum, which is the substance that forms the slightly greasy surface film on our skin. The levels of the secretion of this compound differ between people, and are especially triggered by hormones. For males, testosterone is a major reason why boys who are going through puberty experience increased levels of sebum, and in effect, increases in acne.

Have you ever touched a napkin or kleenex to your face in attempt to remove excess grease? The oil stains that are left on your kleenex are probably caused by sebum. Like dead skin cells, every time we scratch or itch our skin we are transferring sebum into the crevasses underneath our nails. This is probably why the substances appear clumpy when we remove them while cleaning our nails.

7 Fungi


If you thought gland oil and dead skin were disgusting, try fungus on for size! According to the Mayo Clinic, nail fungus is a common condition among adults, the elderly, and children, causing nails to discolor and crumble at the edges. The specific condition is known as onychomycosis, and often renders nails dull, thickened, and causes the buildup of debris underneath the nail.

Fungi grows at rapid rates in damp, warm environments, and can be passed on to other people in close contact situations. Sweaty socks and shoes provide perfect conditions for nail fungus growth, so most health experts suggest changing socks and washing shoes regularly. Having nail fungus also puts people at a greater risk for other skin complications such as cellulitis. Although mild nail fungus is not necessarily a cause for health concern, we still try to avoid contact with this bacteria due to the discoloration and nasty smells it produces.

6 Candida (yeast)


This substance is known to cause a skin infection of the nails and fingers known as paronychia. Candida is a type of yeast or bacteria that is harbored under the nails, and has proven to have serious skin implications if not eradicated. Excessive nail biting, hangnails, and manicures are known to exacerbate this condition.

This often causes pus-filled blisters to develop in, around, and under the nail, which can be painful in some cases. According to MedicinePlus, some of the more serious areas of concern surround the possible fever, chills, muscle pain, and related ill feelings paronychia can cause. Some doctors treat an infection like this with antibiotics, both oral and topical. It is imperative that the condition be eradicated quickly, because it has been known to spread the infection to tendons, the bloodstream, and even to bones. Maybe now you will think about washing your hands more often!

5 Mold


You guessed it! These growths caused by bacteria and fungi known to cause illness and spread disease can also be found under our nails. How awesome is that? Just kidding - it’s pretty nasty. Like fungi and other bacteria, mold presents people with a whole set of problems, ranging from transmitting mold to other hosts if in close contact, to sickness and other more serious implications.

According to Livestrong, mold has the propensity to infect the nail bed of some of its hosts, causing the discoloration and brittleness people with nail fungus also experience. Mold differs from nail fungus because it does not look like the off-yellow color, but has darker brown pigmentation. Individuals who host these bacteria can also spread them to others, so it is important to seek treatment if you experience this growth. Prescription drugs such as Terbinafine can be used to combat moldy growths, and can also be used to fight fungal infections as well.

4 Pseudomonas


Another nasty bacteria found underneath fingernails, Pseudomonas is known to cause an infection called Pseudomonas Aeruginosa. This infection is most commonly found in hospital settings, people with weakened immune systems, and medical staff who work closely with individuals who have these infections. This bacteria can infect the blood, cause severe illnesses like pneumonia, and infections following surgical procedures can lead to death.

The CDC released an article measuring the active counts of Pseudomonas in neonatal intensive care units in several hospitals, testing the hypothesis that nails, especially fake and acrylic, are known to carry such bacteria. This study yielded finding that indicated significant levels of this potentially dangerous active particle in these units, the cause of which pointed to these fake nails. This raises serious causes for concern due to the fact that young babies, especially ones in intensive neonatal care units, have impacted immune systems, making them more susceptible to such bacteria.

3 Corynebacterium


These harmful molecules can cause inflammatory bodily responses and infections such as C. Diphtheriae, and lucky for us, this bacteria is known to live in our nail beds if we do not keep ourselves clean! This bacteria is most commonly associated with diphtheria infections, once regarded as a major cause of death for children and young babies. In 1921 alone, over 15,000 cases of child deaths were recorded due to this infection. Although better vaccines and treatments are now available, we still have to be careful to wash our hands to ensure we do not pass on these dangerous pathogens.

Due to the fact that bacteria can live independent from a host for a short period of time, individuals who carry them under their nails or on their hands can pass them on to other people simply by touching the same surfaces. However, the bacteria are most commonly spread through sneezing and sharing respiratory droplets.

2 Dander


Do you have a dog or cat at home? If you do, it is very likely that you carry pet dander underneath your fingernails. Dander is known to cause allergic reactions for some people, while others remain unaffected.

Dander is a combination of dead skin cells and hair from your pet, who shed these particles when you pet them or when they rub up against you. For most people, pet dander is not harmful and no serious cause for concern. However, some people simply cannot stand being around pets and experience moderate to severe allergic reactions that leave them coughing, congested, and unable to breath normally.

Similar to our own dead skin cells, if dander particles are left underneath our nails due to lack of habitual cleaning, it can cause them to look discolored and funky. Better play it safe and keep those nails cut short!

1 Blood


Have you ever accidentally closed a car door on your thumb, dropped a book on your fingers, or had your hands stepped on, causing bruising and dark discoloration to appear beneath your nails? This is due to subungual hematoma, or bleeding under the fingernails or toenails. It is most commonly caused by crush injuries that result in the damage of tiny capillaries and blood vessels below the nails.

In extreme cases some people experience intense throbbing and pain from the pressure building below the surface of the nail, requiring medical attention. Doctors use heated wires (cautery) or needles to penetrate the nail, releasing the built up blood. Although this situation might be a little less gross than the bacteria and dead skin cells above, it has the potential to call for some seriously urgent medical procedures in severe cases. Next time you go to close your car door, make sure you are paying close attention!

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