Ridges In Fingernails: What Do They Mean + 4 Ways To Get Rid Of Those Lines
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen, covering beauty and wellness. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare.
There's no denying that our bodies are super smart—they routinely give us signs, telling us what we might need (or what we should steer clear of).
For instance, if you have whiteheads dotting your jawline, your body might be begging you to limit dairy or foods with a high glycemic index. Experiencing oilier-than-usual roots? Stress may be to blame.
So when we experience ridges in our fingernails, what's our body trying to tell us? Here, we crack the code, plus how to get rid of those grooves.
What are fingernail ridges?
Take a good, closeup look at your nails—notice those fine lines? Nails normally have super-fine, vertical ridges that aren't too noticeable unless you inspect them at eye-level.
But when those grooves become coarse, they can change the surface of your nails from smooth to brittle in a snap.
Are they cause for concern?
The short answer? It depends. While those vertical ridges are quite common and relatively easy to treat (you'll see), horizontal lines might warrant some concern.
If you experience deep, horizontal ripples in your nails, it can be a sign of an underlying health issue.
"Horizontal ridges may develop after a physical stress to the body such as an illness, surgery, medication, or even malnutrition," board-certified dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, M.D., states (a concept also known as Beau's lines, if you've heard the term tossed around).
If you do notice some horizontal lines across your nails, it's best to touch base with your derm straight away to make sure there's no systemic condition that might be halting your normal nail growth.
What causes vertical ridges in fingernails?
Vertical ridges, on the other hand, can happen for a multitude of reasons, not all of them preventable.
First up: aging. Unfortunately, those ridges might just be a byproduct of the natural aging process, especially if they're super subtle and seem to stick around.
Your tips can also experience your run-of-the-mill dryness; if you notice the edges of your nails start to split along with those vertical lines, your nails might simply be trying to tell you that they're parched.
As Amy Lin, the founder of sundays—a wellness nail care brand with New York studios—explains, "Skin dryness can cause ridges on your nails, as your body's way of trying to communicate with you."
Especially if you tend to use drying products on those tips or wash your hands a bunch (which may very well be all of us right now), you might start to see those grooves pop up.
And because beauty always has an internal moment, those ridges could also signify nutrition imbalances.
If you've recently embarked on a new diet, check in with your nails—those divots could be important signs that the new eating plan might not be working for your body.
"Nails are made of mainly hardened proteins," Lin explains. (Namely, a protein called keratin).
"When we're low in protein, calcium, or other vitamins, that can sometimes show up on your fingernails with vertical lines."
And on a similar beat, stress can also come into play: Just as how stress can lead to temporary hair shedding, your nails can become ridged and brittle as well, according to Lin.
How to get rid of those lines.
Facing some vertical divots? Luckily, it's not so difficult to treat. All it takes is giving your tips a little TLC:
Take a supplement.
Let's start with the inside out, shall we? "You can take supplements like biotin to help nourish your hair and nails," Lin states.* Biotin, that B vitamin involved in the production of keratin, can help support vitamin deficiencies and manage those brittle nail ridges. After all, biotin has been shown to support thickness and firmness of nails1 in several human studies.*
Supplementing with collagen can help manage the appearance as well, as collagen is also involved in the production of keratin:
For more supplement suggestions, check out our vitamins for nails roundup.
Hydrate your nails—just as you would your skin.
Just like your skin can become cracked and rough to the touch, the ridges in your nails can experience some dryness. The good news is, you can help them in similar ways: "Apply moisturizer to your fingernails just as you do to your hands," Zeichner notes. That said, oils are your friends: Try massaging some jojoba oil, coconut oil, or argan oil onto your nails to moisturize and soften the surface. But you don't have to shell out extra cash for nail-specific products (although, here are more than a few options if you're interested). Rather, "you can use the same types of oils that you apply to hydrate your face," Zeichner adds. Allow us to reemphasize: Nail care and skin care are two sides of the same coin.
Protect your nails from UV rays.
Yes, your nails can get UV damage, too. Just as your skin needs proper protection, your nails deserve that same level of care. To start? Paint your nails with a UV filter polish (or opt for an opaque shade to physically block the rays, sort of like a sun hat for your fingernails). "This is going to act like a sunscreen for your nails," manicurist Jin Soon Choi, founder of JinSoon, tells us about UV filter polishes. "These are polishes that either absorb or reflect the suns' rays, so they'll protect your nail from damage."
Apply a ridge filler if you want to use polish.
If you already see some divots across your nails and hate the lumpy appearance when using polish, don't fret: You can apply strengthening base coats to give your nails some love, as the ridges eventually grow out. Lin suggests lightly buffing your nails and using a ridge filler before polish (such as this repairing primer) for a smooth canvas. The base will quite literally fill in the lines, so your colored polish won't look bumpy on the surface.
If you really want to amp up your nail care, look for a polish that contains glycolic acid. "These can help strengthen nail canals3 and minimize the appearance of ridges," says Zeichner. (Our nails need exfoliation, too!) Or just rub the gentle exfoliant on your nails with whatever you've got—be it a serum, peel, or pad.
The bottom line.
Vertical nail ridges, annoying as they might be, are quite common as we age—and they're bound to happen to every one of us.
In fact, "If it is due to normal aging, then we probably should embrace it," Lin notes. The good thing is, there are plenty of ways to delay the onset and keep those grooves looking smooth.
That regular upkeep isn't superficial or vain—it's necessary for optimizing our health. After all, our nails can tell us so much about what's going on beneath the surface.
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare. In her role at mbg, she reports on everything from the top beauty industry trends, to the gut-skin connection and the microbiome, to the latest expert makeup hacks. She currently lives in New York City.