Why Do My Fingernails Have Ridges

Like your skin, your fingernails reveal a lot about your general health—their color, texture, whether they have ridges and what direction the ridges run. Some ridges may even indicate underlying, serious diseases and disorders.

A normal, healthy fingernail

Fingernails are made of laminated layers of keratin, a protein that makes up the outer layer of your skin and which is also a key component of hair. Fingernails are basically hardened, compact layers of skin that grow from under the cuticle and are pushed outward to your fingertips. A normal, unpolished, healthy fingernail should be pale pink, uniform in color, smooth, free of spots or discoloration, and without pits, grooves or ridges.

What do ridges mean?

Ridges are fine lines that run either vertically or horizontally across the nail; they may or may not be raised. Vertical ridges may look like fine pinstripes from the base of the nail to the tip. The nail may tend to split along the ridge line in one or more places, on one nail, several or all. Vertical ridges commonly start appearing as people get older and increase with aging. In most cases, vertical ridges, although unwanted, are harmless and not a cause for concern.

  • Vertical ridges may be associated with thyroid diseases or disorders or mineral and/or vitamin deficiencies.
  • Horizontal ridges generally indicate a more serious, underlying cause, especially if the nails are also discolored. One cause may be injury, such as hitting it with a hammer or slamming your finger in a door.
  • Beau’s lines (horizontal trenches or depressions) can occur after an illness or injury or if a person is malnourished. Beau’s lines may also be caused by: septicemia, the use of immunosuppressants, chemotherapy or possibly a zinc deficiency.
  • Another reason for horizontal ridges may be a localized bacterial or fungal infection.
  • Horizontal ridges can also be a sign of systemic illnesses or diseases, even poisoning. Some diseases that may cause horizontal fingernail ridges include alopecia (a disease that causes hair loss), psoriasis or iron-deficiency (anemia).

Seek medical care for any appearance of horizontal ridges.

Life-threatening causes

Some horizontal nail ridges indicate serious or even life-threatening underlying causes, such as arsenic poisoning, heart disease, severe malnutrition or eating toxic substances (poisonous plants or chemicals). Seek immediate medical care if you suspect any of these causes.

What can be done about nail ridges?

For ridges from localized causes (injury or infection), addressing the problem most likely will return your nails to their smooth, line-free beauty. For ridges caused by more serious problems, the ridges may also go away once the underlying problem is taken care of. (Ask your doctor what you might expect.) But for vertical ridges, they generally don’t go away. However, there are a few things you can do to minimize their appearance:

  • Keep your nails trimmed and well groomed.
  • Drink plenty of water, take a multivitamin supplement, and eat enough protein.
  • Keep your hands and nails moisturized.
  • Polish your nails naturally by buffing them with a foam block nail buffer.

When it comes to your health, don’t forget to check your fingernails for signs that something may need to be addressed.

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