In rare cases, a nail ridge can be a sign of a larger health issue. “Other less likely causes of vertical ridges are anemia or arthritis, but in those cases [there are usually] other systemic or accompanying nail signs, like nail bed discoloration,” Gohara says. “Horizontal nail ridges, or Beau’s lines, may be the result of a physiologic stressor, or something systemic such as diabetes, thyroid abnormalities, or kidney disease,” Gohara says, adding that sometimes physical trauma like hitting your hand or fingers against something as well as a lack of nutrients due to a gastrointestinal disorder can also cause nail ridges.
How do you prevent and treat nail ridges?
It’s not always possible to prevent nail ridges, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try: Everyday environmental factors like hand washing or sanitizing, as well as using pure acetone nail polish remover can exacerbate the ridges and make them more pronounced.
Acrylic, gel, or dip manicures won’t necessarily cause them, but they can worsen the issue if the nail is over-buffed during removal, Stern adds. “This process can sometimes result in thinning the nail plate which can make ridging worse and will likely cause the nail to break more easily,” she says. “The other risk with acrylics is how they are removed. If an electric file or aggressive scraping is [used], the nail matrix can be damaged and the nail plate can develop surface irregularities or also become too thin.” This can eventually cause ridging.
Stern recommends keeping nails short, using a glass nail file — we like OPI’s Crystal Nail File — instead of an emery board (“which causes microscopic tears in the nail that can lead to splits and peeling”), and keeping your circulation up with regular exercise or hand massages. Wearing gloves for housekeeping or gardening can help too.
Keeping your hands hydrated, especially in the winter months, is also key. “Oils are a must for nails because they absorb so effectively at both the cuticle and nail plate,” says Stern, who developed her own three-step nail system for healthier nails, including an oil with sunflower and coconut to combat brittleness. “Just like we care for dry, over-processed hair, we need to treat our nails with the right products to keep them healthy and beautiful.” Try switching to a non-acetone-based nail polish remover, like this one from Rooted Woman.
When to see a doctor for a nail ridge
Usually, a ridge is no reason to worry, but if it seems to have come out of nowhere and you don’t remember bruising it, Gohara says it might be good to see a doctor. “I’d always have the nails examined by a board-certified dermatologist to sort out what the cause may be, especially if it comes on suddenly.”
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Now watch Amber Ruffin do a quick and easy at-home manicure: