Nail Grooves and Ridges

Ridges and grooves in the nails – lengthways or crossways – may be unsightly but are nothing to worry about. Skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis may lead to fingernail ridges. Also, if your body is low in protein, calcium, zinc, or vitamin A, this could lead to ridges appearing.

Vertical grooves and ridges. It is normal for ridges to develop along the length of the nail, from tip to cuticle, as we age. They look and feel like raised lines. Concealment with a ridge-filling nail polish is the only remedy. If the ridges are caused by a skin condition, then use emollients. If caused by low levels of minerals and vitamins, take supplements to boost your levels.

Horizontal grooves. A crosswise groove results from a temporary pause in the growth of the nail, which often happens during a severe illness. Nails grow from the base, at a rate of about 1 mm/week, so a groove across the middle of the nail reflects poor growth several weeks previously.
If you have several crosswise grooves you may be repeatedly damaging the base of the nail. The usual cause is a nervous habit of constantly pushing back the cuticle with the thumbnail of the same hand. Breaking this habit will allow the ridges to grow out.

Soft and Peeling Nails

The most common cause of soft and peeling nails is repeated wetting and drying of the nails. Nails absorb water and swell slightly when wet; they then shrink slightly as they dry. Repeated wetting and drying makes the nails expand and contract many times, which weakens the protein bridges between the cells of the nail. The result is that the nail separates into layers at its outer free edge.
The damage can be made worse by nail-biting, by everyday activities such as typing, and by chemicals (such as detergents and harsh nail-polish removers).

What you can do about it. Your nails should improve if you wear rubber gloves for wet household chores. Keep the nails short to avoid accidental damage to them but trim them only when they are well hydrated. Hydrating the nails before bedtime may help. To do this, soak your nails in warm water for 15–20 minutes. After drying them gently, apply plenty of moisturizer, such as nail cream or yellow soft paraffin (which you can also buy from pharmacies). Then wear cotton gloves overnight.
There is no evidence that changing your diet will help. Similarly, supplements such as calcium or other minerals, gelatine and herbal preparations are heavily advertised for this problem, but there is no scientific evidence to support their use. The only exception is biotin, a B vitamin, which you can buy from healthfood stores. Several studies in the 1990s suggested that taking 2.5 mg of biotin daily for several months improves the thickness and strength of nails. However, the studies involved only small numbers of people and not all of them improved. It appears to be a safe vitamin, but a 2.5 mg dose is actually a mega-dose (i.e. much greater than you would normally take in your diet), so be slightly cautious. If in doubt, consult your doctor.


First published on:
Reviewed and edited by: Fiona Elliott
Last updated: January 2021

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