What Are Fingernail Ridges and How Can You Get Rid of Them?

How to remove ridges from nails

Even if you’ve mastered your nail polish-painting technique, achieving a smooth, flawless at-home manicure can be difficult if your nails aren’t even to begin with. Fingernail ridges can make a mani look bumpy or streaky no matter how impressive your skills may be. While it’s not always possible to get rid of nail ridges, you can learn to work with them. To find out what causes ridges in fingernails, the difference between vertical and horizontal ridges and how you can smooth them, we spoke to Dr. Dana Stern, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of nail-care brand Dr. Dana. Dr. Dana is the only dermatologist in the US who specializes in all things related to nails, from treatments and diagnosis to surgery.

What Causes Fingernail Ridges?

Dr. Dana calls nail ridges the “wrinkles” of fingernails. When parts of the nail become thinner, which can happen as a result of aging and/or genetics, she explains that ridges can start to form along the nail bed. The medical term for nail ridges is onychorrhexis, which is a clinical sign of brittle nails. 

“Polish removers in particular can cause severe dehydration of the nail, leading to exacerbation of ridging,” says Dr. Dana. “This is especially true for pure acetone removers.” Pure acetone is typically used to remove gel and acrylic nails, which is something to keep in mind if you get these nail enhancements done frequently. 

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“Exposure to chemicals and excessive water (for instance, from a lot of hand washing) can also exacerbate ridged nails,” says Dr. Dana. Besides hand washing, alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be another culprit of dry, brittle nails and the resulting ridges. 

Physical trauma to the nail, such as hitting the nail against a hard surface or slamming a nail in a drawer (ouch!) can cause temporary ridges as well. 

“Ridges are almost always due to or exacerbated by the aforementioned causes, but rarely they can be seen in certain inflammatory conditions such as lichen planus,” says Dr. Dana. “In that case, the onset tends to be more rapid and there is also accompanying thinning of the nail.” Other causes for sudden and severe nail ridges include anemia and thyroid issues, but again, Dr. Dana notes that these are very rare causes. If your ridges are horizontal, appear suddenly and are not from physical trauma like hitting a nail on a hard surface, there’s a chance they could be a sign of a medical issue. If this is the case, consult with your doctor or board-certified dermatologist.

What Do Fingernail Ridges Mean?

“Most commonly [fingernail ridges] are due to aging and/or genetics and do not signify a serious internal disease,” says Dr. Dana. If you are concerned about the severity or the sudden onset of your fingernail ridges, consult your doctor or a board-certified dermatologist. 

Types of Fingernail Ridges

There are two common types of fingernail ridges. There are longitudinal ridges, also known as vertical nail ridges. There are also horizontal nail ridges. Below, Dr. Dana breaks down the causes for both.

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Vertical Nail Ridges

“Usually when we refer to nail ridges, we are referring to longitudinal ridges,” says Dr. Dana. Longitudinal, or vertical nail ridges, are a result of aging, genetics and the common causes listed above. They are typically a sign of dry and brittle nails, which can sometimes happen as a result of exposure to excess water and alcohol-based products. They are not typically a cause for concern, though again, it’s always best to check in with a board-certified dermatologist or doctor about any sudden changes or concerns. 

Horizontal Nail Ridges

A horizontal indentation in the nail is called a Beau’s line. Dr. Dana says that these deep grooved lines are due to a “temporary growth arrest” of the nail, which typically happens due to illness, injury or some form of trauma to the nail. Basically, the nail growth is cut short due to some form of damage to the nail. Usually, Beau’s lines are temporary and not harmful, nor are they always indicative of a current health issue. They will often grow out on their own in time, but if you are worried about them, it’s advised to check in with your doctor or a board-certified dermatologist.

How to Treat Fingernail Ridges

Fingernail ridges won’t always go away, especially if they’re a result of aging or genetics, but there are some ways to minimize the appearance of them. Below, find suggestions from Dr. Dana and Rita Remark, a New York-based nail artist and global lead educator at Essie.