Onychomycosis: Types of Nail Fungus, Causes, and Symptoms

Onychomycosis describes a fungal infection of the nail, which can be caused by dermatophytes such as the fungus Trichophyton rubrum.

Symptoms: Signs that there is a fungal infection taking place include:

What to Do When You See It

How to Prevent It

There are 4 Main Types of Fungus:


1.) Distal subungual onychomycosis (DSO): DSO is recognized by the thickening and yellow discoloration of the nail. The infection usually begins in the skin just under the free edge and then moves backward towards the lunula (moon). Once it has infected the entire nail, it’s called total dystrophic onychomycosis. Since it’s underneath the nail, topical anti fungals cannot be used; a doctor must prescribe oral medication.

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2.) Proximal subungual onychomycosis (PSO): A less common type of onychomycosis is when nail nearest the cuticle becomes infected with fungus, and then grows out towards the free edge of the nail. Note the lunula part of the nail plate will first appear white.

[Image: iStockphoto/Thinkstock]



3.) White superficial onychomycosis (WSO): Seen largely on older adults, WSO affects the top surface of the nail and appears white and powdery, like the tips of the nails here. It can sometimes be treated with topical medication.  

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4.) Chronic muccocuaneous candidiasis: A type of yeast infection, it creates a very thick hyperkeratotic nail. Usually this is caused by a nail that was already damaged or infected in some way. It is especially easy for yeast to breed under a nail with

What to Do: If you see symptoms of a fungal infection (or any other nail infection for that matter) on a client, do not attempt to rectify the problem. It is safer for both the client and your salon if you simply recommend them to a dermatologist that can culture the fungus or bacteria and prescribe a medication that will clear it up completely. Knowing a dermatologist in the area can be helpful, so that you can refer your clients to a specialist who has a respect for the nail industry.

How To Prevent It: Onychomycosis is best prevented by ensuring all of your instruments are sterilized before using them to apply artificial products to nails. Additionally, proper application that ensures the products don’t lift is essential to making sure fungus on the skin’s surface doesn’t wedge into the crevices on or around the nail and become a problem. For a client who has had fungal infections in the past, and is trying to prevent recurring ones, recommend he or she avoid prolonged contact with water. Using gloves while washing the dishes or wearing gloves at work to reduce hand washing (for those in the medical field) can be helpful.

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