In simple terms, melanomas or moles are brown or black whereas the other causes are more likely to be grey in colour. Dermoscopy may show the lines as being made up of several different colours and separated by varying distances. The lines of a benign nail mole are usually of the same colour and the lines a similar distance apart. Hutchinson’s sign may also be revealed only with dermoscopy.
It can be very difficult, even with dermoscopy, to exclude melanoma from a traumatised nail. In these situations, the trauma creates brown lines on the nail (both from bleeding and inflammation that occurs during the healing process) and may look concerning enough to indicate the need for a biopsy.