Dark spots on the toes and feet are both a cause of concern for many patients we see and treat here at My FootDr. From wondering if they’re a sign of something serious, to being aesthetically displeasing, patients often ask us how they can get rid of the discolouration, fast.

To help, our podiatry team has shared the common causes of dark marks we see on the feet and toenails, what they mean, and what can be done to remove them.

Dark Spots On The Toes And Feet

Tinea Nigra

What is it: Tinea nigra describes a fungal infection that affects the surface layers of the skin, causing black or brown discoloured patches to appear on the feet. The darkened patch is flat, and tends to be darker around the edges. Anyone can be affected by coming in contact with the particular strain of fungus, though it’s uncommon in Australia.

How to get rid of it: Topical anti-fungal medications are your best friend here. As the infection only affects the outer layer of the skin, they’re particularly effective – just make sure you have the right diagnosis. This is where your local My FootDr team can help.

P.s. feel like this term sounds familiar? You may be thinking of tinea pedis, better known as an Athlete’s foot fungal infection.

Bleeding Beneath Callus, Cracked Heels & Skin

What is it: When thick callus builds up on the soles or sides of the feet without being reduced and managed, the pressure to the skin beneath the callus build-up can cause damage and bleeding, resulting in a dark spot developing from the dried blood.

When callus becomes too thick and dry on the heels, cracks can form. The cracks can extend to the healthy skin beneath, breaking the skin, and resulting in bleeding which then leaves dark spots.

How to get rid of it: Have the callus and cracks safely removed by your podiatrist. If the bleeding has occurred within an outer layer of callus, we may be able to remove the dark spots in one appointment. If the bleeding is recent, it may take a little longer or multiple debridements spaced 8 weeks apart.

Vein Disease or Damage

Healthy veins keep blood flowing one way through a series of valves that stop it from going back down the legs under the pull of gravity. When veins are diseased or damaged, blood may be allowed to pool in the veins instead of travelling back to the heart. This builds pressure in the vein, and blood can leak into the surrounding tissues, causing dark skin discolouration in the areas.

How to get rid of it: While treating vein damage or disease is usually part of a larger overall management plan for venous health, you can help promote healthy venous flow by staying active, hydrated and wearing compression stockings.

Dark Spots On The Toenails

Subungual Haematoma

What is it: This means blood that is trapped beneath the toenail. It can be caused by a range of things – having your toe stood on in sports, dropping something heavy on your foot, stubbing your toe, wearing tight shoes that press on your toes, and the like.

How to get rid of it: Blood that is trapped beneath the toenail will generally grow out with the nail itself. As the blood separates the nail from the nail bed, trimming the nail back when safe can help the dried blood exit from the space beneath the nail, leaving a white separation mark instead. Be careful – this space can trap dirt and bacteria, so make sure to keep the toe clean and dry.

Fungal Nail Infection

What is it: Fungus that has affected the nail itself, causing changes to the colour and integrity of the nail. While fungal nail infections are usually white or yellow, when debris builds up by the infection, black discolouration can result.

How to get rid of it: Keep the nail clean, dry, and treat the fungal nail infection effectively. We highly recommend using laser treatment – it has shown superior results compared to both pharmacy creams and medications, as well as oral medications.

Melanoma

What is it: Skin cancer presenting as a black/brown mole or a spot or streak beneath the toenail. While this is significantly rarer, it’s worth a mention as it is also very serious and if you suspect this may be the cause of the black mark on your nail, needs urgent attention.

How to get rid of it: You don’t – just make an appointment with your local My FootDr podiatrist so we can check the integrity of the mark against other potential causes and refer you appropriately – or book in with your GP.

Worried About Dark Spots?

We’re here to help. Our podiatry team can help you identify the cause of your discolouration and form an evidence-based treatment plan to help you get the best results. We’ve been caring for Australia’s feet for over 15 years, and are proud to be Australia’s leading podiatry team, committed to delivering exceptional service, every time. 

Book your appointment with us online here or call us on 1800 FOOT DR.

As having black spots beneath our toenails is far from the norm for most people, it’s not surprising that they can ring alarm bells and cause concern. Especially when we think back to favourites like Bob Marley who passed away at age 36 from a melanoma (which appears like a dark patch under the nail) that started beneath his toenail.

The truth is that there are a variety of causes for dark spots beneath the nails. Most of these aren’t pretty to look at, some of these can be associated with discomfort or ongoing problems, some are harmless, and in the least common but most extreme cases, some may be a sign of cancer.

To help, your My FootDr podiatry team have shared the top six causes of black spots beneath the toenails.

1. Blood Beneath The Nail 

This is what we call a subungual haematoma which translates to blood beneath the nail. There are many reasons why you may get bleeding beneath the nail, and before you worry, most of these are harmless and comparable to getting bruising beneath your skin.

Examples include impact injury, like having your toe stood on in sports or dropping something heavy on your foot, stubbing your toe, wearing tight shoes that press on your toes, keeping your nails too long so that they’re constantly buttressing against the end of the shoe, and the like.

Depending on the size of the bleeding and the spot, you may lose your toenail. If this happens, it’s likely that the nail will simply grow back with little harm done, though as toenails grow slowly, it may take anywhere from 9-18 months.

2. Toenail Fungus

While we traditionally know and recognise fungal nail infections as having a yellow discolouration, it may also be green, brown and black, too. You may distinguish toenail fungus from other causes of black discolouration by looking for other common features like brittle, crumbly or thickened nails. 

Again, fungal nail infections are not a cause for alarm bells, but they do require treatment to stop the infection from spreading to your other toes, and to others within your household. We highly recommend using anti-fungal laser to treat fungal nail infections as it has superior effectiveness over traditional methods like creams, lacquers, powders and tablets.

3. Bacterial Infection

Specifically speaking, we’re talking about a pseudomonas bacterial infection. Unlike nail fungus which often doesn’t pose any immediate dangers to our health, bacterial infections require immediate treatment because of the way they affect our bodies and put us at risk of the infection entering our bloodstream – which is when things can get very serious, very quickly. 

If you have this bacterial infection, it can pop up quite quickly to produce green-black discolouration on the nail. You’ll likely have a pungent smell coming from the feet, which may almost smell sweet. As this bacteria has a preference for moist environments, particularly the muddy outdoors, you may be a regular swimmer or have recently completed a hike or tramp.

You may also have a condition like psoriasis that originally caused damage to the nail, allowing the bacteria to penetrate and take hold more easily. Regardless of how it came to be, it’s important that you have this infection treated immediately.

4. Medical Conditions

Sometimes, black discolouration is a side-effect of other conditions like diabetes, kidney problems, heart disease and anaemia, to name a few. If that’s the case, managing the discolouration relies heavily on managing the original problem effectively. 

If your GP or specialist doesn’t already know about the discolouration linked to your other medical conditions, make sure you tell them at your next appointment so they can keep any eye on the progression – it can often be a handy indication on how your treatments are going.

5. Melanoma (Skin Cancer)

We had to get to this one eventually, right? There’s always a chance that the black spot beneath your nail is actually a mole, and that the mole may be a malignant melanoma, which is a dangerous and severe form of skin cancer. It may appear as a round black mole, or it may appear as a streak in the nail – which is what it did for Bob Marley. 

Melanomas aren’t typically painful or symptomatic, so it’s really important to let everyone know about it – your podiatrist, your GP, your skin specialist – and keep a close eye on it yourself. If you’re worried about a melanoma, definitely avoid painting the nail so you can monitor for any changes, like in shape and pigmentation, and signs that it’s getting bigger.

Over time, it may cause discolouration and changes in the areas surrounding it too. Melanomas are not something you want to take a chance with or ignore and hope for the best. You must have it seen to immediately.

6. It’s Your Nail Polish

Ending with our least concerning cause – for many people, wearing dark nail polishes over time can discolour their nails. Usually, it only affects the top layer of the nail and doesn’t affect the area beneath the nail at all. Which is great news as in most cases, we’re able to use a nail burr to immediately remove that top discoloured layer and fix the problem! Just book in for one of our nail care appointments.

Concerned About What You’re Seeing?

Nail problems should never have you worried or keep you awake at night – and if they are, we highly recommend trusting those instincts and having your nails checked. Our podiatry team will give you an idea of what the likely cause for your nail discolouration is and treat it accordingly – or refer you to a specialist if we suspect something more sinister or further investigation is required.

Book your appointment online here or call us on 1800 FOOTDR