White Spots

As far back as I can remember, people have asked me a specific question. The wording is only ever slightly different and I dread hearing it. I usually know when someone is about to ask it, because they do a double take on my hands or stare at them for a moment longer than is normal. A few look up to meet my eyes before they speak, but most never glance away when they as, “What’s wrong with your fingernails?”

People ask that question because my fingernails are often covered by white spots, like tufty clouds in a pink sky. Many people have had a single white spot on one of their fingernails at some point, but my nails are positively littered with them. I have no idea what they look like without them.

I have the same involuntary reaction every time someone asks that question. I pull my hands back in to fists, slip them in my pockets, or hide them under the table. Part of the reason I like cargo pants is because I can do all three simultaneously. I know I can’t end the query by hiding them, but I try every single time anyway.

“There’s nothing wrong with them,” I protest.

“Then why are you hiding them?”

“Because, uh, you can’t handle the exquisite appearance of my nails.”

“So what’s really wrong with them?”

“You want the truth?”

“Of course.”

“Are you sure you can handle it?”

“Yeah, how bad can it be?”

“I have Punctate Leukonychia.”

An intake of breath, then,” That sounds horrible.”

“Oh, it’s worse that you know.”


“Yes, Punctate Leukonychia means white spots on nails.”

“Wait, what?”

Here’s my problem: the medical term simply describes the condition (a word which makes it sound far worse than it is) and doesn’t offer any explanation for it. An explanation is what the questioner wants and is something I can’t provide because most cases of Punctate Leukonychia have no known cause.

That doesn’t stop conjecture, of course. My mom has always been convinced my spots were calcium deposits caused by a zinc deficiency. I’m convinced that is not the case because I spent middle and high school taking supplements with enough zinc to coat the noses of at least a thousand life guards. The spots never went away.

Others have assured me that it’s a calcium deficiency that causes them, or simple trauma to the fingers, or several actually horrible things. My favorite of course is that they are caused by eating too much mayonnaise. Not just any mayo though, it has to be Hellmann’s mayonnaise. Apparently, it’s a brand name thing. I can assure you that it is not that, because I rarely use mayo now and used it even more rarely when I was younger.

Whatever the cause, I have to live with them. I also have to live with the inevitable question every time it’s asked. I’ve learned to accept my Punctate Leukonychia. But I”ll still pull my hands back if you notice it.

© Leighton Brown and Stories Now Told, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Leighton Brown is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Leighton Brown and Stories Now Told with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. For more information, please see the Copyright page.

About leighton

I could be considered a true Renaissance Man after having a long and storied (seriously, people actually tell stories about it) college experience and varied careers. I am also a shameless self-promoter (who did you think was writing this anyway?) who is prone to flights of fancy, an abundance of passion on any given subject, ,obsessive behavior, spontaneous storytelling (whether anyone listens or not), and making parenthetical references. I would also be thrilled if I heard someone use the word "raconteur" to describe me.
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2 Responses to White Spots

  1. Allison says:

    I’ve also always had these white spots on my fingernails. They seem to originate from the nail beds and move outwards to the tips as the nails grow. I used to have lots of them on each nail, but over the years several fingers have cleared of them to become completely (and beautifully) pink; only my middle fingers on both hands have them now. I’m the only one in my family with them, and I can’t recall meeting anyone with them either. Well, I recently looked it up in my Surgery textbook and learnt they are jusr air spaces in the nail bed; nothing pathologic at all. Well, at least I finally have an idea what they could be. Forget the deficiency theories, really. Thanks for sharing, though. 🙂

  2. When the skin loses the pigment melanin that is responsible for determining the color of your eyes, hair and skin, it results in white patches also known as vitiligo or leucoderma.

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