What Those Ridges On Your Fingernails Really Mean

We may receive a commission on purchases made from links.

If you've noticed ridges in your fingernails, you are far from alone. According to a study published by Canadian Family Physician, about 20% of adults will develop brittle nails as a natural part of the aging process, including ridges or splits. Most nail ridges are vertical and look like small raised stripes running from the bottom to the top of the nail. If you run your finger over the nail, you can feel the ridged pattern. There are circumstances, however, under which nail ridges can be considered a sign of a health concern, depending on recent events that could have affected your nail bed (via Arlington Dermatology).

Whether you're concerned about maintaining a smooth-looking manicure or detecting potential medical conditions early, information is key. So what causes nail ridges? And if you have them, how can you minimize their appearance and recognize whether to schedule an appointment with your doctor or dermatologist?

Causes of nail ridges

Vertical nail ridges are a normal result of the loss of moisture that occurs during the human aging process. Generally, they are not a cause for concern outside of cosmetic value (per the Mayo Clinic). Horizontal ridges, on the other hand, are a rarer phenomenon that can indicate several different health issues. Deep horizontal nail ridges, also called Beau's lines, are often a sign that your nail growth has been interrupted.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, this interruption can be caused by an injury to the nail's root, an illness or infection, severe stress, a skin condition that affects the nail area, a vitamin or nutrient deficiency, or a loss of blood flow to the nail. Any acute illness that causes a high fever can inflict enough stress on your body to interrupt nail growth. Growth can also be interrupted by chronic diseases like diabetes or hypothyroidism.

In addition, Beau's lines are a classic symptom of a protein or zinc deficiency. While it's commonly believed that people who eat a vegan diet struggle to eat the recommended amount of protein, zinc is actually more likely to be lacking in a plant-based diet (via Healthline). So, if you notice horizontal ridges and you are vegan or have not sustained a finger injury or high fever recently, it's time to see a doctor about your nutrition. Note that a board-certified dermatologist specializing in skin and nail disorders is more likely to recognize Beau's lines than your primary care provider.

How to minimize the appearance of nail ridges

Once you've determined that your nail rides aren't a sign of a health concern — or have had your concerns addressed by a medical professional — you can move on to addressing your cosmetic worries. If your nail ridges are significant enough to cause bumps or unevenness in your nail polish, there are measures you can take to counteract the effect. You may have heard or read that you should use a buffing block on bare nails to file down the raised ridges before painting. But according to NailCare Headquarters, this is not a safe practice.

When nails become ridged, the raised portion of the ridges are the strong and healthy nail matter and the recessed areas are more brittle and weaker. Buffing down the ridges weakens the overall nail significantly. Instead of buffing, invest in a high-quality product like the OPI Ridge Filler to apply as a base coat before painting your nails. Ridge fillers work by using micro-particles or protein fibers to fill in the recessed areas of your nail ridges, evening the surface. This allows your nail polish to glide on smoothly and hide the ridges beneath.

Supplements to consider

In addition to iron and zinc, a few other nutrients and minerals have the potential to affect the health and appearance of your nails. If you're already confident that your diet and/or supplement regimen includes adequate enough amounts of zinc and iron to rule out anemia, consider adding a dose of biotin or silicon to daily your routine. Many multivitamin supplements marketed for hair, skin, and nail health contain biotin, plus other vitamins and minerals, in one tablet or capsule. 

According to a study published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, adding 2.5 milligrams of Biotin or 10 milligrams of silicon to an already nutritionally balanced diet has the potential to lessen the appearance of symptoms in people with brittle nail syndrome, which can include vertical nail ridges. While supplementation has not been shown to help those without the syndrome, negative side effects are extremely rare, so there isn't much to lose when it comes to giving a vitamin a try. 

Or maybe you can try nail enhancements

When your natural nails are brittle, uneven, or ridged, it can be tempting to cover them with acrylic or gel nails as a quick fix. Unfortunately, this is likely to make the problem worse over time. Wearing (and removing) artificial nail enhancements causes damage to your natural nails, including stripping away the oils and keratin that help keep them stay strong and hydrated. This damage then presents as the very feature you're trying to rid yourself of: ridges.

If the ridges on your nails only appeared after wearing nail enhancements for a period of time, it's almost certain that your ridging is due to the associated damage. The best option to resolve the situation is to let your natural nail grow out, uncovered, and gradually trim away the ridged areas until they have grown out completely. To avoid new ridges in the future, avoid harsh acrylic and gel products, and stick to classic air gel polishes. Your new healthy nails will thank you.