What causes ridges in toenails?

Updated July 19, 2017

Nails protect finger and toenail beds from everyday mild trauma. Located on the feet, your toenails undergo constant stress from motor activities, which may result in ridge formation. Ridges are tiny, raised lines that run up and down the nail surface. Toenail ridges might not just be an unattractive visitor; in some cases, they may function as indicators of serious health problems; in other cases, they are harmless and you can blame them on genes.


Blunt physical force or substantial amounts of pressure to the nail can disfigure the nailbed, causing ridges and uneven nail surfaces to form. Excessive water exposure can also be identified as a culprit; if you are a dishwasher or work in the surgical department, moisturise often. Applying nail polish over a number of years can also cause brittle and weak nails. Chronic picking of the cuticle creates a washboard-looking nail, which may resemble ridges.


Fungus or yeast infections, specifically the relatively common skin infection lichen planus, alter nail colour, shape and texture. Viral warts can change the nail's shape. Since the feet are constantly exposed to highly trafficked areas, these warts can make toenails prime targets.


Severe illness, surgery or malnutrition can cause horizontal depressions in the nails called Beau's Lines. Koilonychia, a nail disease characterised by raised ridges and curved and inward nails, may be induced by iron deficiency anaemia. Other diseases that can modify nail appearance include systemic amyloidosis, rheumatoid arthritis and eczema.


Arsenic poisoning may result in white lines and horizontal ridges.

Natural Causes

Ageing can be a cause for nail ridge formation. Nails have a tendency to become brittle over time, making them susceptible to numerous ailments that can affect nail health. You may be someone who is perfectly healthy and still have to cope with ridged nails. In this case, you may be genetically predisposed to this condition. Extreme stress, provoked both psychologically and physically, may also be responsible.

What To Do

Vertical ridges are mostly little cause for concern. Horizontal ridges, on the other hand, may suggest an underlying illness. In order to accurately assess your condition and receive appropriate treatment, call you health professional for a consultation.

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About the Author

Vera Lam is a freelance arts writer who has been writing professionally since 2009. She has contributed her expertise to several Web-based entertainment publications including Week in Rewind. She attended Fairfield University, where she pursued liberal studies.