What It Really Means When Your Fingernails Smell

Have you ever prepared a meal, thenĀ washed your hands, only to discover that the smell of the ingredients seems to linger on your fingers? This isn't uncommon when dealing with foods with a particularly pungent aroma. Think: onions, garlic, or hot peppers. The smell may be especially strong if during the cooking process traces of these items may have gotten lodged up under your fingernails (via Livestrong). If you've noticed that your fingernails have begun to give off an aroma that's unrelated to cooking, the answer may be surprisingly simple.

Experts at Livestrong explain that our nails can sometimes emit a sulfur-like smell after having been cut. The keratin proteins in our nails contain sulfur compounds, and once cut, that smell can be released. Additionally, when trimming our nails, we literally cut short the nail growth process by damaging the proteinase enzyme (via Traction Beauty). In response, nail growth springs into action. If this occurs too quickly, friction from the nails rubbing together can also produce a sulfur odor.

If the cause of your nail smell is a fresh trimming, experts explain that the odor will generally subside following the trimming (via Livestrong). If fingernail odor persists, it could be due instead to a health condition.

Fungal infections can cause fingernail odor

A fungal infection can also be the source of fingernail odor. While more commonly experienced in the toenails, fungal infection can also occur within the fingernails. Nail infections are exceptionally common. So much so, that Dr. Raza Aly, professor emeritus of dermatology at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center, explains via LiveScience that 50% of the population experiences nail fungus by the time they reach the age of 70.

Dr. Anna Chacon, Miami-based board-certified dermatologist, states how nail fungus, medically referred to as onychomycosis, can leave fingernails with an ongoing cheese-like odor (via Livestrong). If you suspect you may be experiencing a nail fungus infection, be sure to consult with a physician so they can assess for any underlying medical conditions. Those with nail fungus may experience different levels of success with different treatment options. According to experts at the Mayo Clinic, some may find over-the-counter creams to be helpful if the infection is relatively mild. Others may require prescription antifungal drugs, nail polishes, or creams involving repeated applications over a period of time.