Candida is a naturally occurring fungus that everyone has on their body. Under certain conditions, some types of Candida can grow too fast and cause an infection to develop. This infection is called candidiasis, and it can affect the skin or nails specifically.
In this article, we explain what Candida is, the symptoms of candidiasis of the skin and nails, and how to treat and prevent this infection.
Candida is a yeast that is present on the skin and the mucous membranes, which line the inside of many of the structures in the body.
It is usually harmless, but if changes occur in the body to create the right environment, it can cause an infection.
There are about 150 types of Candida.
More than 20 types, including the most common species Candida albicans, can cause infections in humans. These infections can occur in the nails, skin, and mucous membranes throughout the body.
Candidiasis is an infection with Candida.
Chronic mucocutaneous candidiasis (CMC) refers to a group of disorders that feature persistent, debilitating, and recurrent infections of the skin, nails, and mucous membranes.
CMC results from an immunodeficiency problem, which occurs due to genetic factors.
Thrush, or oropharyngeal candidiasis, is another type of Candida infection, which affects the mouth or throat. It is also possible to have a Candida infection of the vagina, which people tend to refer to as a yeast infection.
Invasive candidiasis is a more severe condition that is different than candidiasis of the skin and nails because it is not localized. Invasive candidiasis can affect the blood, brain, eyes, and other organs in the body, and it can be life-threatening.
Candida thrives in a warm, humid environment, and a reduced immune response or other conditions can allow an infection to develop.
The following factors make infection more likely:
- hot or humid weather
- poor hygiene
- infrequent diaper or undergarment changes
- tight clothing that rubs
- synthetic fabric that does not breathe well
- antibiotics that alter the body’s natural Candida balance
- frequent exposure to irritating substances
- doing a job that involves spending time in the water
- having an inflammatory disease, such as psoriasis, that occurs in skin folds
- immunosuppression due to the use of corticosteroids or specific medications
- health conditions that affect the immune system, such as diabetes and some hormonal conditions, including particular thyroid problems, Addison’s disease, and Cushing’s disease
Candidiasis affects the skin and nails differently.
In the skin
Candidiasis of the skin can lead to:
These symptoms often occur in areas of the body that are more difficult to keep dry and in places where skin touches skin.
Some examples of these sensitive areas include:
- in folds of skin
- under the breasts
- the groin
- the armpits
- the spaces between fingers and toes
- the foreskin of an uncircumcised penis
In some people, the infection can also affect the mouth and throat.
The infection tends to itch and feel uncomfortable, but treatment can relieve the symptoms.
In the nails
Candidiasis of the nails can result in the following symptoms in the fingernails or toenails:
- brittle, easily breakable, or splitting nails
- white, brown, or yellow discoloration
- debris collecting under the nail
- thinning nails with a dry, powdery surface
- the nail lifting up and becoming detached
- the nail splitting or crumbling
Without treatment, the affected nails can become thicker and more discolored.
This condition is not usually painful, but, if the infection progresses in the toenails, it may hurt to wear shoes.
Treatment for nail and skin conditions is often essential to prevent an infection from spreading to other parts of the body and other people.
People who already have another health condition, such as diabetes, should seek prompt treatment if they develop a skin or nail infection, as it is more likely that complications will arise.
Treatment for nail infections
Nail infections can be challenging to resolve.
Dr. Phoebe Rich of the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends the following three steps to treat Candida of the nails:
- Investigating and resolving any possible underlying medical causes.
- Keeping the nails dry and away from harsh substances or water, for example, by wearing gloves.
- Strengthening the nails with petroleum jelly or thicker-based lubricants rather than watery lotions.
If treatment for a nail infection does not resolve the problem, surgical nail removal may be the best option. A new nail will grow, but it takes time.
However, the United States Office for Dietary Supplements (ODS) note that more research is necessary to confirm the safety and effectiveness of biotin supplements.
If the condition persists, a specialist may prescribe an oral medication to help with the problem.
Treatment for skin infections
Over-the-counter (OTC) antifungal treatments for the skin include:
Keeping the skin dry increases the chance of a quick recovery from the infection. This may be more difficult in some regions of the body. Powders can decrease moisture during and after treatment.
When to see a doctor
If the condition does not improve with OTC remedies, it is vital to see a doctor or dermatologist.
Prescription medication may be necessary, or there might be an underlying cause that needs addressing.
The doctor will ask about the person’s medical history and examine any symptoms. For skin infections, they may also take a skin scrape for testing in a laboratory.
They may prescribe:
- a drying agent if necessary, such as miconazole powder
- a topical antifungal agent to apply directly to the skin
Treatment for CMC usually involves a topical antifungal medication, but some people may need a long-term oral medication instead. If an underlying condition is responsible, such as an antibody deficiency, this may require specific treatment.
Some measures can help reduce the likelihood of infection.
It is essential for people to keep the skin and nails dry and clean. Changing sweaty or wet clothing, washing with soap, and drying well will help avoid the growth and spread of yeast.
When visiting a beauty salon, people should choose a reputable one with established hygiene standards where it is less likely that bacteria will move from customer to customer.
In public pools and showers, wearing flip-flops can help stop infections from spreading.
People with a weakened immune system, diabetes, or other health conditions should see a doctor if they develop symptoms of candidiasis.
I have heard that avoiding sugar can prevent candidiasis. Is this true, and what should I do about it?
Eliminating excessive amounts of sugar is beneficial to your health overall, but there is no scientific evidence to suggest that avoiding sugar can prevent candidiasis.
Eliminating sugar is a way to cut down on excessive calories, lose weight, and lower your risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and fatty liver disease.
People generally report feeling better when they eliminate sugar from their diet, but there is no scientific link between candidiasis and sugar consumption.
Alana Biggers, MD, MPH Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.