What Is Keratin Debris?

If your toenails are discolored, look unhealthy or have soft, gummy material trapped underneath them, you’re suffering from the unpleasant effects of keratin debris buildup. Fortunately, this material can be cleared away with a good nail fungus treatment and your nails can be normal and healthy again.

It takes some time to clear up yellow, brown, cracked or otherwise damaged toenails, but it’s absolutely possible after you get rid of keratin debris. But what is this strange-sounding substance and where does it come from? We have the answers you need.

Understanding Keratin Debris

Keratin debris is what’s left behind after the fibrous protein in hair, skin and fingernails starts to break down. Keratin itself is a hard substance found in these parts of the human body as well as in animal hooves and feathers, and the soft stuff left behind is the result of keratin being damaged. Some compare the look of it to cottage cheese.

When you’ve had a bacterial or fungal infection or some other kind of damage to a toenail, keratin debris can build up between the nail bed and the nail , keeping the nail from adhering properly.

Like fungal infections themselves, keratin debris is most likely to form in the presence of moisture, so airing out your feet is a smart strategy for maintaining health.

As this substance ages, it turns yellow or brown, and that discoloration can be seen through the nail.

To return your toes to a healthy appearance, you must remove keratin debris, then you must wait while new, healthy toenails grow out and properly adhere — and all of the old, damaged stuff is cut away. This can take from several months to a year or more. Nails grow more slowly as we age, so the older you are, the longer the process will take.

You can have a small pocket of keratin debris or the entire nail bed can be covered in it. In some cases, toenails actually pop off because there is no longer anything to which they can attach. But unless the problem is treated, the new nail that grows out won’t properly attach either.

This isn’t just a problem for toenails. The same substance can build up under damaged fingernails too. In addition, it can build up from a breakdown of skin cells related to an ear infection, worsening ear pain. When present in the ear, special solvents are available to break it down and wash it away.

Keratin Debris Treatment

If an active infection is still present on the foot, that must be treated first. Antibiotics can clear bacterial infections while drugs like terbinafine or itraconazole can get rid of fungus.

Special nail fungus treatments are available that contain acids formulated to soften keratin debris and allow it to be washed or gently scraped away with manicure tools. In many cases, nail fungus treatments come with tools that help you remove the gooey, softened material.

Once the infection is gone and the keratin debris is cleared away, the slow process of normal nail growth begins. It requires some patience to see good results, but it’s worth it — because keratin debris is useless sludge that needs to go.