what causes ridged nails

What causes ridges in nails?

Keeping your nails looking beautiful and healthy is a challenge at the best of times, but it can be even harder when you notice ridges appearing on them.

These ridges on toenails or fingernails usually cannot just be buffed away, and if you have noticed them it is important to understand what they are and why they are there.

It could be your body’s way of trying to tell you something, so it is vital that you listen.

What are fingernails and toenails made from?

Your nails are made from the same keratin that is found in the skin and hair, but the nails that you see on the end of your fingers are actually dead material.

The ridges or lines on fingernails that appear often indicate something happening as the nail is forming or beneath it.

Vertical nail ridges

If you have noticed raised lines on your nails which run from the tips, right down to the cuticles, then these are vertical ridges, or longitudinal striations.1

Alongside those ridges, you may also notice that your nails become either thicker or thinner, lose their smoothness and begin to split or break more easily.

What causes vertical lines on nails?

Vertical nail ridges are most common in older people, as the production of new cells slows down.

Our nails grow as living cells group together and multiply beneath the skin, pushing the older cells out into the thing we recognise as our nail. This renewal process reduces as we get older, causing the nails to grow unevenly.

Whilst getting older is a good excuse for most things, it is not the only reason for ridges forming in your nails.

This can also be an indication that your body is lacking something important such as iron, protein, calcium, zinc or even vitamin A.

Skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis can also bring about ridges, as can digestive disorders.3 It's worth speaking with a medical professional if you are unsure of the cause of them.

You can also create ridges in your nails through a trauma or injury. This can include hitting the nail, potentially causing a bruise to form underneath the nail, leading to swelling and a change of shape to the nail.

This might mean that you also notice brown spots forming, which will gradually heal. If this is the case, you should allow any injuries to heal and see if the ridge grows out.

That means it is important to pay attention to those funny little lines. If you start to notice changes to the colour or texture of your nails as well, including the appearance of dark lines, then it may be a sign of a more serious medical condition, and you should make sure that you speak to a medical professional.3

Horizontal nail ridges

You might think that horizontal ridges mean the same as vertical ones, but this is not actually the case.

Ridges running across the nails are called Beau’s Lines, and these should not be ignored.4

Horizontal ridges on fingernails are often deeper than vertical ridges and there are usually several running across the nail, not just one.

These can signify serious conditions, therefore it is very important to speak to your doctor as soon as you notice these ridges to find out what the cause may be.

Nail ridges treatment

Treating ridges is not as simple as filing them a certain way or adding some sort of magic potion.

Many times, they will need proper investigation by a doctor to find the underlying cause and begin treating that specific health concern.

Your nails will hopefully return to normal as you treat the problem that caused them in the first place.

Your nails are clever things, and they can tell you a lot about your body. Our article ‘Find out what your nails could be saying about your health’ gives you some key signs to look out for and what they might mean.

What to do if you are concerned about fingernail ridges

It is important to remember that in most cases, ridges in the nails are harmless and nothing to worry about.

However, you should keep a close eye on them, particularly if they appear suddenly or with other symptoms, and look at the possible causes to make sure there is nothing else at play.

If you are in any doubt at all, please make sure you speak to your doctor.

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Expertly reviewed by:

Author: Manisha Taggar

Reviewer: Manisha Taggar

  • Joined Holland & Barrett: May 2019
  • Qualifications: BSc Hons in Pharmaceutical and Cosmetic Science
Manisha started her career at a Cosmetics distributor as a Regulatory Technologist followed by a Regulatory Affairs Officer, ensuring the regulatory compliance of cosmetic products from colour cosmetics to skincare. After 3 and half years in this role, Manisha joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019. Manisha specialises in Cosmetic products, both own-label and branded lines, ensuring that these products and all relating marketing material comply to the EU Cosmetics Regulation.

Last updated: 4 December 2020

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