What Do the Vertical Lines on My Nails Mean?

by Leah Argento

What does it mean when fingernails develop vertical ridges, and is it cause for concern?

Onychorrhexis (listen here for pronounciation) n: longitudinal ridging

Since I suffer from Onychorrhexis, I thought that I’d take an opportunity to investigate and write about where my fingernails ridges came from and what, if anything, I can do about them.

This is a picture of my left pinky. Notice the ridge the runs the vertical length of my nail and results in a split at the top of my nail. My nails have always peeled, but in 2011 these ridges developed on my left pinky. Then, in 2012, my left ring finger became “afflicted” (above).

My research led me to the term “Onychorrhexis,” which simply means brittle nails, according to Dr. Joseph Jorizzo, a dermatologist and professor at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. When nails are brittle, they often split at the ends and have longitudinal ridging. The appearance of longitudinal ridging alone is referred to as onychorrhexis. The appearance of split ends alone is referred to as onychoschisis.

Again, you can see the vertical ridges which result in a split at the top of my nail.

But many times a patient will have both together, making brittle nails a common complaint, according to Dr. Jorizzo. Although a cause for split ends can sometimes be determined, many patients who want to know the specific cause for their onychorrhexis are disappointed to find that there isn’t one.

Eventually, said Jorizzo, nearly everyone will get onychorrhexis because it’s something that happens with age.

“This is not the slightest bit a health issue,” he assured me.

When patients come in looking for a solution to longitudinal ridging, Dr. Jorizzo said he’s put in the position of having to find an appropriate way to say that it occurs because they’re getting older. Because onychorrhexis is a natural result of aging, it affects both men and women and can affect both the fingernails and toenails.

Don’t Panic!

While the most common cause of onychorrhexis is age, there are times when onychorrhexis is not the result of aging. When this is the case, doctors look for a systemic health problem that’s changing the structure of the nails. When the body’s systems are affected, the structure of the nail will also change. These health conditions, or their treatments, can cause a change in the protein makeup of the nail, which results in onychorrhexis. But it should be noted that these are MUCH less common causes of nail ridges! As Lawrence Gibson, M.D. and Dermatologist at the Mayo Clinic explained, “Vertical nail ridges are fairly common and nothing to worry about.”

Vertical nail ridges extend from the cuticle to the tip of the nail. Vertical nail ridges often become more numerous or prominent with age, possibly due to variations in cell turnover within the nail. As we grow older, the levels of natural oil and moisture in our nail plates go on decreasing so the ridges often become prominent with age.

According to Allison Cannon, M.D., “Nail ridging is a common condition that is almost always a normal sign of aging. In many ways it is analogous to wrinkles on your skin. Typically, you may develop vertical ridges from the cuticle to the tip of your nail on one or two fingers, but ridges are likely to occur on all of your nails as you get older. Ridges can appear on someone’s fingers as early as in their 30s, but it is more common to begin when someone is in their 50s or 60s.”

What Do Healthy Nails Look Like?

Onychorrhexis

Healthy nails should be consistent in coloring with no odd spots or discolored parts.

Your nails are made from a protein called keratin. When new cells grow they push out the older cells towards the ends of your fingers, which become hard and tough. When you’re looking at perfect pinkies you should see smooth nails – healthy nails don’t have ridges or grooves.

Your nails should be a uniform color, without spots or discolored areas. In reality, our nails don’t always look their best due to everyday wear-and-tear. Environmental factors also play a part. According to 2009 research from the University of Manchester nails are more brittle in conditions of low humidity; and, the best environment for non-brittle, healthy nails is 55% humidity. Nails catch the brunt of our active lifestyle and many nail abnormalities are harmless, perhaps due to an injury or over-use of nail color.

Another no-no for healthy nails is smoking — a 2009 study from the St Bartholomew’s and The Royal London School of Medicine found smoking strongly increases the likelihood of women developing brittle nails during and after menopause.

There is No Cure

No treatment for onychorrhexis exists, and as mentioned above the condition isn’t seen as a health concern. As with split ends or dryness in the hair, the condition may be an inconvenience to a client, but it doesn’t pose a health risk. So beware the (plethora) of bad information on the internet providing cures for fingernail ridges. NO SUCH THING EXISTS! There was a time when gelatin had a reputation of improving nails, but this is based on myth and not sound medical evidence.

Improvements Are Possible

That said, there are some things you can do for brittle nails to ensure that your nails look as good as possible and are as healthy as possible. For example:

deborah_lippman_ridge_filler

  • Eat foods that are high in biotin, such as green leafy vegetables, brown rice, soybeans, sunflower seeds, liver, egg yolks, cheese and sweet potatoes.
  • Take Biotin supplements. It has been found that daily Biotin supplementation of 2.5 mg leads to 25% thicker nails over the course of 15 months (Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 2005), which may improve the appearance of ridges.
  • Use a ridge filler like the one shown above from Deborah Lippman (Amazon.com, $18.00) which leaves nails smooth and bump free with a lovely matte finish (this is my favorite product & most effective solution for ridges!).
  • Soaking nails in olive oil helps keep them from drying out.
  • Always apply moisturizer after washing your hands and rub it into your nails too.
  • Use gloves while doing household work if your hands are going to come in contact with mild or harsh chemicals in form of detergents and cleaning liquids.
  • Use a buffer to reduce the effect of fingernail ridges. Buff slowly and avoid fast and hasty movements. Remember that your nail plate is already weak, and you are buffing your nails just to make them look better.

Bottom Line

Even if you implement all of the above ideas for IMPROVING your ridges (remember, no cure!), be patient because nails grow at an average rate of 1 mm per week. The matrix extends 4 mm back from the cuticle so it will take four weeks for the matrix to improve, then four more weeks for it to be evident at the base of the nail, and then four more weeks for the nail to show overall signs of improvement. Thus, it can take up to six months for the total nail to be replaced.

In the meantime, regular manicure appointments will keep nails looking nice, and be sure to request that your technician uses a ridge filler in place of a base coat (this makes all the difference for me!).

I’m interested to hear from our readers about this issue – do you have fingernail ridges? Do you have any tips for maintaining your nails despite ridging?

by Nicki Zevola

7 thoughts on “What Do the Vertical Lines on My Nails Mean?

  1. Stephanie Kirkland says:

    Age 72 I have recently started with ridges in my nails on both hands. They are also splitting and my nails look terrible. Any ideas please !!!!!? Would false nails help?
    Looking forward to your reply
    Regards Stephanie

  2. Jodie says:

    Don’t get acrylics!! They destroy your natural nails. Rather visit a manicurist regularly and moisturizer your nails by rubbing olive oil in them. Use a buffer to gently reduce the appearance of ridges and make your nails shine!

  3. Brittany D says:

    First of all, I have this ridge which is actually a 90 degree ridge where it is not a normal nail curve but straight up and down on the edge of my nails. It did NOT iriginate by a split at the tip of my nail. The nail is just growing that way.. Your information is wrong, once again.

  4. Terry P says:

    I have developed vertical ridges on all of my nails, as well as chronic splits in the nails of my ring fingers that often progressed down into the quick. I found a remedy in DermaNail by MedChoice (available through amazon). Applied to the base of nails morning and night, it strengthens them and stops the splitting. Although I have to buff the ridges down periodically, the DermaNail keeps the nails strong. I’m not affiliated with the product in any way, I’m just happy to share what worked for me; my nails aren’t long but they look pretty again.

  5. Ashley says:

    I have had fingernail ridges as long as I can remember (at least age 10) so obviously mine aren’t due to aging, what are other causes?

  6. Rebekah says:

    I am 24 and have had ridges on my nails probably since i was 12 or so. My mother says it is because I have never been able to stomach rich foods. Things like egg yolks, too much oil, even olive oil. I know these are good for you, but I love veggies and fish and eat them regularly. I noticed a drastic difference in my nails having used accutane. My nail ridges are worse now than my mother’s and she is 54!
    I have noticed though that the more healthy oil I eat; almonds, fish etc, and taking biotin supplements defenetly make a huge difference in how brittle my nails are, but does not make the ridges any less…

  7. Jordan says:

    These lines in the nails are often due to metabolic dysfunction, frequently seen in hypothyroidism and many systemic autoimmune diseases. Many autoimmune conditions often indirectly affect the body’s ability to successfully utilize the nutrients and vitamins found in the common foods we eat, leading to a varying degree of malabsorbption. This is generally how you can begin to notice the physical signs of these types of diseases.

    I was growing multiple nails on top of each other that were incredibly thin and brittle, vertical lines and uneven growth pattern in all of my finger/toenails. My hair was beginning to fall out much more rapidly than what would be normal for a stressed college student and eventually my hair lost its fine silken texture and it became very coarse/hard and sparse, as well as my facial hair.

    These are easy ways to begin to tell the difference between a normal part of the aging process and an illness beginning to manifest itself in physical ways.

    Pay close attention to your body. It provides you with every diagnostic feature you need to assist you and your doctor in prolonging your life. The more observant you are, the better chance you have at survival.

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