What causes ridges in the fingernails?

Updated March 23, 2017

Doctors at the Mayo Clinic report that while ridges in fingernails may not be very attractive, they do not necessarily signify a health problem. Bumpy ridges that extend from the cuticle to the tip of the nail are a common side affect of the ageing process and are a result of dry skin spreading from the fingers, under the cuticle and onto the nails as they grow. Ridged fingernails are genetic and common in both men and women. While vertical ridges are more of an annoyance than anything, ridges that run horizontally across the nails can be a sign of a more serious problem. Poor nutrition may be revealed in uneven horizontal ridges. Since fingernails are made of protein, the uncommon ridges could indicate a protein or vitamin deficiency. When horizontal ridges continue to appear, make sure to mention it to your doctor, who may recommend a vitamin supplement and check you for anaemia.


Maintaining a strict regimen of moisturising the cuticles to helps prevent ridges. As the body ages, the oils disappear faster than they can be replaced. Good quality oils and salves such as the hand salve developed by Burt's Bees can be used to reduce nail ridges. The hand salve contains almond, eucalyptus and olive oils, beeswax, comfrey root and lanolin. Oils that contain vitamin E and jojoba can help relieve the unsightly ridges, but they must be applied at least three times a day. Use hand lotion after every hand washing. Rub oil into your hands before retiring at night and wear cotton gloves to seal in the moisturiser. New, smoother nail growth should begin to appear after about six months of regular moisturising. Continue with daily cuticle oiling to maintain the smooth nails.


Lightly buff nails to remove slight ridges. Be careful not to buff too much or you can create nails that are too thin and can't withstand everyday use. Keep cuticles pushed back when applying lotion. Rub good cuticle oil into the edges of the nails after filing. Apply nail polish to cover up the ridges while you work on getting rid of them. Remove polish with acetone-free, oil-based nail polish removers to avoid drying out the cuticles even more.

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About the Author

Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."