Ridges in Fingernails: Causes and Remedies

Painting ridge filler on finger nails
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One of the most common complaints people have about their fingernails is ridges. These can take the form of thin, raised, unpigmented lines that run lengthwise on the nail, from cuticle to tip, or raised areas that extend across the nail. Fingernail ridges are very common in people of all ages, but they tend to appear more often with age. Ridges aren't limited to your fingernails, either. They also can appear on your toenails.

What Causes Ridges?

Ridges happen for many reasons. If they run vertically from your cuticles to the tips of your nails, you likely have nothing to worry about. These are very common and don't usually indicate any problems. 

One possible cause of vertical nail ridges is aging. As you get older, your body's natural oil production slows down. In turn, this lack of moisture can cause your nails to become brittle, thin, and prone to peeling—and to form ridges.This increasing dryness can also show up in your skin and hair, too. Although annoying, this is nothing to worry about. Your best defense is eating a healthful diet, drinking enough water, and exercising to keep your circulatory system healthy.

A few other conditions can cause vertical nail ridging, too, such as anemia, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, rheumatoid arthritis, and a variety of skin disorders such as psoriasis and eczema. The nutritional lacks that result from Crohn's disease, celiac disease, and ulcerative colitis can affect the health of your nails in unexpected ways, too.

A brown line that runs along the length of the nail sometimes indicates melanoma. If you suspect any of these conditions, see a doctor.

Ridges that run horizontally—called Beau's lines—are more worrisome. They can result from injury or medical conditions such as vitamin deficiencies, kidney disease, diabetes, heart disease, and thyroid problems.

Chemotherapy patients sometimes develop them, as do people who've had the mumps or syphilis. If you notice this kind of ridging in your nails (especially if it's in more than one nail or if you notice dark pigmentation that's not related to bruising), see your doctor as soon as possible.

Preventing and Fixing Nail Ridges

Nail ridges that arise from a lack of the body's natural oils are easy to treat. Your first line of defense: Moisture. Try applying nail oil, vitamin E oil, coconut oil, or olive oil to your nails to help prevent ridges from forming in the first place. Use a massaging motion to increase blood circulation to your nail beds and distribute the oil evenly. Your cuticles will benefit, too; the moisture will help prevent hangnails, cracks, and other discomforts. Overall, your hands will look younger with regular application, too. 

Buff—But Not Too Much

Try using a four-way nail file to smooth away ridges. File in one direction only, and don't use too much force: You could cause trauma to the nail and nail bed. Finish with a good buffing, which produces a healthy-looking glow and beautiful shine. If you're a fan of clear or natural-color nail polish, you might find that buffing gets your nails just as shiny.

Bonus: Going without nail polish keeps drying chemicals off your nails, prevents the staining that some polishes cause, and allows sunlight to reach your nails—which, research indicates, can improve their overall health. Plus, you won't need to use acetone-based nail polish removers, the moisture-sapping enemy of already parched nails.

A battery-operated nail buffer can save you lots of time. One to try: Finishing Touch Electronic Nail Care System, which files, buffs, and shines your nails in seconds. It's also great for pedicures.

Can You Hide the Ridges? 

Regular polish won't hide ridges because it reflects light and actually can call attention to them instead. Many nail care companies make special polishes specifically for hiding ridges. Typically marketed as "ridge fillers," these look like regular polishes and function much like base coats.

The difference is that they settle and fill in the ridges to help make your nails look smooth and even. OPI and Nail Tek make ridge fillers that garner good reviews.

If you prefer to get manicures at a salon, ask your manicurist to incorporate ridge fillers into your service. Some salons include them as a matter of course.