Fingernail ridges: What they mean and how to treat them.

Image: iStock.

Fingernail ridges. If you have them, you know they are about the most annoying things around.

They snag. They break down to the quick. Then, they break.

You might have tried to cover them up or buff them out, but what you really should be doing is finding out if they signify a potential health problem.

As a general rule, we all have subtle fingernail ridges, so tiny you have to really inspect them at close range to see them.

If they are more obvious, they might mean something else.

To start, check the the direction of the ridges – are they vertical or horizontal? And what does that mean?

Vertical Ridges

1. Age

“There are many reasons for ridged nails, but the most common is aging,” says Dr Phoebe Rich, clinical adjunct professor of dermatology at Oregon Health Science University. “As we age the nail matrix becomes atrophied in areas, resulting in longitudinal ridging of nails. I tell people they are like wrinkles in the nails.”

Our nails develop ridges as we age (Image via iStock)

2. Vitamin deficiency

A healthy balanced diet, rich in Omega 3 fatty acids and whole grains, combined with regular vitamin E hand and nail massages are the best cures for fingernail ridges.

3. Rheumatoid arthritis

Vertical ridges can also be caused by nail injury and certain illnesses, including rheumatoid arthritis. You should confirm this with your health professional.

4. Lichen Planus

This is very rare BUT If the ridges have appeared and grown more pronounced very quickly or over a short period of time, they could be a sign of a very rare condition called lichen planus, which often also causes skin rash. Consult a doctor if you have concerns.

5. They are mostly harmless

Jessica Krant, a fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at SUNY Downstate Medical Centre, says: “Lengthwise ridges, if they are evenly spaced over the whole nail, are common and harmless, and generally associated with normal ageing and the nail’s increasing inability to retain moisture.” (Post continues after gallery)



While some people might not like the way they look, it’s better not to buff off the ridges. The ridge is the thinnest spot on the nail, and can split when buffed. Instead, try moisturising throughout the day with thick lotion, Vitamin E or petroleum jelly, paying particular attention to the cuticle.

Horizontal Ridges

1. Beau’s lines

Horizontal ridges are more likely to signal a problem. One condition, Beau’s lines, is characterised by indentations across the nail bed that are a sign of disrupted growth due to illness. As the Mayo Clinic explains:

“Conditions associated with Beau’s lines include uncontrolled diabetes and peripheral vascular disease, as well as illnesses associated with a high fever, such as scarlet fever, measles, mumps and pneumonia. Beau’s lines can also be a sign of zinc deficiency.

Illnesses associated with a high fever, such as scarlet fever, measles, mumps and pneumonia can all cause nail ridges. Image via iStock)

2. Fighting off an illness

A single instance of a horizontal ridge could just be a sign of a time the body was fighting off illness, although recurrent horizontal ridges might point to a chronic disease.

3. Larger issues

If nail defects keep occurring as the nail forms, it’s a sign of an ongoing problem creating the nail, which can be a sign of bigger problems like kidney, lung, or liver disease. These can also cause discolouration of nails and make nails look whiter, yellower, or bluer than normal due to discolouration of the underlying nail bed.

Remember, if you are concerned at any stage, it’s better to be safe than sorry, so consult your doctor at the earliest instance.

This article was originally published by Debrief Daily. You can read the original post here.