12 Ways to Treat Fingernail Ridges

woman letting sand fall through her fingers on the beach | 12 Ways to Treat Fingernail Ridges | Masterpiece Skin Restoration
Photo courtesy of Unsplash & Daiga Ellaby.

At the risk of sounding really corny . . .

If the eyes are the windows to the soul, then nails are the windows to your health. I know, I know. Totally corny! But it's true! It's amazing how much your nails reveal about your body! Let me explain.

There are 2 kinds of fingernail ridges.

It's easy to tell which one you have.

Vertical ridges run from your cuticle to the tip of your nail.

Horizontal ridges run from 1 side of your nail to the other. They're also called Beau's lines.

It's important to distinguish between the 2 because some fingernail ridges indicate an underlying health condition. Others are completely normal and harmless.

Did I get your attention?

Most people's fingernail ridges are VERTICAL.

To the right is a photo of vertical nail ridges. (The white spots are not related. They're called leukonychia and are usually caused by an injury to your nail matrix.) This kind of fingernail ridge is caused by aging. More specifically, by an aging nail matrix. As the cells in the matrix age, they make a less regular nail - a fingernail with vertical ridges.

closeup of man's thumb with fingernail ridges

A little Bit About Nails . . .

"The cuticle overlies the most important part of the nail, the nail matrix. Any trauma to the cuticle area (cutting, biting, picking) can affect the matrix and ultimately will be seen as irregularities in the nail (depressions, ridges, discoloration)."

Human Nail Anatomy | Fingernail Ridges | Masterpiece Skin Restoration

Anatomy of the basic parts of the human nail. A. Nail plate; B. lunula; C. root; D. sinus; E. matrix; F. nail bed; G. hyponychium; H. free margin.

Illustration courtesy of KDS444 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A new fingernail takes 3 - 6 months to grow, and a toenail takes 1 - 1 1/2 years. Doctors can estimate the time of the illness / injury that caused the lines based on their location in your nail. So if you have a Beau's line about halfway up a toenail, the injury probably occurred 6 - 9 months ago.

What causes Beau's Lines?

Injuries to the nail & nail bed cause Beau's Lines:

  1. Any injury to your nail matrix will slow cell division in the nail matrix. Long distance runners often get Beau's lines on their toenails from their toes repeatedly hitting the front of their shoe.
Closeup of beautiful wedding nails | 12 Ways to Treat Fingernail Ridges | Masterpiece Skin Restoration
Photo courtesy of Unsplash & Alvin Mahmudov.

2. Trauma to the nail bed can cause bleeding beneath the nail plate leading to a subungual hematoma. So the nail stays in place, while blood collects underneath it. This causes pressure on the nail matrix - which slows matrix nail cell producton. It also causes excruciating pain. Distance runners also get subungual hematomas. (So being a distance runner is really hard on toes!)

3. Eczema causes inflammation in the skin around the nail. This inflammation can prevent normal cell division in the matrix causing Beau's Lines.

4. Repeated & habitual damage to the nail matrix (called Habit-tic deformity / HTD) hurts the nail matrix. People who repeatedly pick, rub, or cut their cuticle get Beau's lines.

5. Inflammation of the tissue next to the nail (often accompanied by infection & pus) called Paronychia can cause Beau's Lines.

6. Inflammation of the nail matrix is called onychia - which often comes with pus formation and loss of the nail.

7. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, which is caused by compression of the median nerve in the carpal tunnel of your wrist, can slow nail growth.

Illnesses and a poor diet can cause Beau's Lines:

Any illness that affects your entire body (instead of just one organ) or a congenital disease (which people are born with) can cause Beau's Lines.

Typical causes include uncontrolled diabetes and peripheral vascular disease. Beau's Lines can also be a result of diseases that cause a high fever - like scarlet fever, measles, mumps and pneumonia.

Other causes include chemotherapy, a serious illness, major surgery, a blood transfusion, a car accident or any major stress to your system. You can get a series of parallel Beau’s lines if you experience multiple episodes of stress.

- dermatologist, Dr. Phoebe Rich, director of the Nail Disorder Clinic at Oregon Health and Sciences University.

Beau's Lines can be caused by a zinc deficiency in your diet. So congenital diseases, like acrodermatitis enteropathica (which causes a zinc deficiency), cause changes in the skin and infections around the nail - which in turn, can cause nail ridges.

The important thing to remember is that while a single horizontal line may be the result of your body's fight against pneumonia - several horizontal lines can mean you have a chronic disease - and that you should see a doctor.

4. Throughout the day, use a thick lotion or oil to moisturize your nails and cuticles. I've gotten great results with Foxbrim Argan Oil. See below.

5. Dr. Rich advises against buffing off the ridges. Because the ridge is the thinnest spot on the nail, it can easily split, making the whole situation worse.

6. Use rubber gloves to keep hands dry and chemical free when cleaning.

7. Take breaks from nail polish and polish remover. Use a non-acetone nail polish remover.

“If you are experiencing excessive peeling, dryness, discoloration, and/or ridging, it is time for a break from nail cosmetics to allow for the repair and regeneration of the nail cells,” says Dr. Stern.

8. Eat a well balanced diet.

“When people come into my office with severe nail changes, I immediately ask them for a dietary history to make sure that they aren’t on some fad diet keeping them from getting their recommended daily allowance of vitamins and minerals,” says Dr. Dee Anna Glaser, M.D. “If they’re not eating a well-balanced diet, then a proper diet and a vitamin supplement might help the health of their nails.”

9. Take a multivitamin to ensure you get all the vitamins you - and your nails - need.

10. Take it easy with the emory board.

“Filing your nails is actually sanding your nails,” says Dr. Kechijian. “If you oversand them, it will thin the nail and cause damage, which invites infection. So avoid overdoing it.”

11. Instead of cutting your cuticles, push them back. To do this, Dr. Dana Stern recommends using a wash cloth to gently push them back after bathing. Stay away from cuticle removers because they damage your cuticle's protective seal. Removers also can contain alkaline materials that destroy the keratin in your nail. The most effective cuticle regimen will prevent splits.

12. Try a ridge filler base coat. I've read good things about these:






Correct and Conceal Base Coat


If you have a nail concern, please see a doctor. Nails truly are a window to our health! Thanks for reading!

You might also be interested in learning more about liquid facelifts and how they compare to surgical facelifts. And be sure to check our our posts on Nail Salon Safety, AND How to Get Longer Stronger Nails! AND Light Spots & Hypopigmentation - 9 Ways to Fix Them!

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The Information provided on our website is not medical advice and should not be viewed as such. By law, only a medical doctor can diagnose or give medical advice. As a registered nurse, my goal is to educate, so I provide information on skin care, skin care products, and skin care treatments. If you have any condition that concerns you, please see a medical doctor. While most skin conditions are benign, some - like melanoma - can be deadly. If there is any doubt, please, please consult your physician. Thank you!

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