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What Is Keratin Debris?

author image Adam Cloe Ph.D./M.D.
Adam Cloe has been published in various scientific journals, including the "Journal of Biochemistry." He is currently a pathology resident at the University of Chicago. Cloe holds a Bachelor of Arts in biochemistry from Boston University, a M.D. from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in pathology from the University of Chicago.
What Is Keratin Debris?
Someone is trimming their fingernails. Photo Credit: bee32/iStock/Getty Images

Hair and nails are made predominantly from proteins. Depending on the type of protein used, the structures made can be soft and pliable, like hair, or be designed for sturdiness, as is the case with nails. Some conditions, such as a fungal infection, can break down these proteins. One such protein, known as keratin, can be destroyed and turned into keratin debris.

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Keratin Identification

Kertain is a protein that encompasses the part of the nail known as the nail plate. This protein is made of many layers of dead and flattened skin cells, says. Skin cells contain large amounts of keratin. When they die, the keratin inside the cells can be converted into the nails that cover the fingers and toes.

Keratin Debris

Keratin debris is formed due to infections of keratin-rich areas. Keratin debris can be caused by a fungal infection known as onychomycosis. Fungi that infect the nails can destroy small amounts of keratin, resulting in the formation of keratin debris, the Merck Manual explains. Keratin debris is formed as a result of the nails being physically broken down by the fungi.


When keratin debris builds up under the nails, it causes small bits of discoloration to appear under the nail, typically around the edges. This debris may be yellow or white. The nail can also become thickened and yellow, and may begin to separate from the nail bed.


The best way to prevent keratin debris from accumulating under the nails is to prevent fungal nail infections. To do this, it's important to keep the fingers and toes clean; they should be washed every day. In addition, people trying to prevent fungal nail infections should remove dirt from under their nails and keep the nails closely trimmed and clipped.


If keratin debris builds up as a result of a fungal nail infection, topical creams that combat the fungi can be applied to the affected areas. Keratin debris can also be removed using a manicure tool, notes, but creams may need to be applied to soften the nails and the debris to make it easier to scrape the debris out from under the nail.

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