What Do the Vertical Lines on My Nails Mean?


Reader Question: What does it mean when fingernails develop vertical ridges (vertical lines on nails), and is it cause for concern?   


Onychorrhexis = 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 I can do to treat them.


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, whereas the appearance of split ends alone is referred to as onychoschisis.



In many cases a patient will have both together, thus 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.

Dr. Jorizzo noted that nearly everyone will get onychorrhexis at some point in their lives because it’s something that happens with age, assuring me that “This is not the slightest bit a health issue.”

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.

[ Read More: What do the Horizontal Lines on My Nails Mean?]

Don’t Panic!

Vertical nail ridges are not a concern

While the most common cause of onychorrhexis is age, there are a few instances where onychorrhexis may results from other factors. 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., a 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.” (HealthScope Magazine)

What Do Healthy Nails Look Like?

healthy nails

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 that don’t have ridges or grooves.

Your nails should be a uniform color, without spots or discolorations. 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, with the best environment for non-brittle, healthy nails being 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.

[Read More: How Can I Fix My Soft, Breakable Nails?]

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

There is No Cure . . .

No treatment for onychorrhexis exists, although this condition isn’t viewed as a health concern for most individuals, but rather an inconvenience. So beware the (plethora) of bad information on the internet providing cures for fingernail ridges. No such things exists! There was a time when gelatin had a reputation of improving nails, but this is based on myth rather than sound medical evidence.

. . . But Improvements Are Possible

That said, here 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:


  • 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. Daily Biotin supplementation of 2.5 mg has been shown to lead to 25% thicker nails over the course of 15 months (Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology), 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 to 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 (detergents, bleaches, cleaning liquids,  etc.)
  • 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.
[Read More: Six Dangers to Nail Beauty Products]

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 on my vertical lines on nails!).

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?

Written by: Leah Argento

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  • Sorry about that!

  • Nitu

    I m suffering since 10yearsfor vertical lines in my nail

  • Nitu

    I am 42 I have had vertical lines in my ring and little finger since 10 years looking bad effect to my personality. What to do?

  • Hannah

    Hi, I have had a vertical line in a greyish/brownish colour on my big toenail. I am 20 very soon, and had it for 4 years, as far as I can remember since I was 16. The reason why I haven’t had it checked is because I thought over time it would fade away. Clearly I’ve been very patient. I assume it’s not something serious. My mum seems to think the same because it isn’t unusual or significantly dark in colour. I don’t know if it’s down to vitamin deficiency or fungal stuff. It doesn’t bother me as I’ve learn to live with it, it’s just the last couple of months I’ve finally realised that there must be an underlying issue or cause of it. Please advise. Thank you

  • Houston Calhoun

    My nails developed vertical ridges shortly after I had a hysterectomy at 30. Could be a coincidence, I guess, but it was incredible timing… and I’ve still got them at almost 60.

  • Saja

    Well am 21 ys and i have it in my thumb and little finger am afraid that there is something wrong with me

    • Taylor

      @Saja, Please speak with your dermatologist, your ridges could be due to a nutritional deficiency or internal disorder. — Taylor from FutureDerm.com

  • Owen Fred

    I’m twelve and I have vertical ridges on my nails. I am vegetarian, does this have anything to do with it?

    • Taylor

      @ Owen, you may potentially have a B12 deficiency or low level of thyroid hormones, you should speak with your physician as soon as possible to determine if your ridges’ cause is due to your diet. — Taylor from FutureDerm.com



    • Taylor

      Dear Beverly, Have you used coconut oil before for ridged nails? What results have you seen? — Taylor from FutureDerm.com

  • Dina

    I have lived with autoimmune hepatitis, a rare genetic liver disease, for 23 years, and each time the illness comes out of remission I develop vertical ridges. This illness can develop at any age, even children, and usually is a female illness. This illness is very difficult to diagnose, but early diagnose is a key to proper treatment and to prolong one’s life. Ask your physician for a liver enzyme blood panel and an
    ANA smooth muscle test. I was diagnosed in 1998, and I was advised I had five years to live. Well, I’m 70 years old so early diagnose and treatment is important for any and all autoimmune illnesses.

    • Taylor

      Dear Dina, Agreed, preventative care and early diagnosis are key to keeping oneself happy and healthy. We’re glad to hear that taking early measures helped to maintain your health and prolong you life. Thanks for the comment! — Taylor from FutureDerm.com

  • I have a brown straight line going down on my right index finger should I be concern

    • cypher

      Yes, Rhonda. Please see a doctor immediately. It may be melanoma (skin cancer.)

    • Taylor

      Dear Yatin, Rhonda, and Cypher: If you have a brown or black line running down your nail, you should have this examined by a physician immediately, as it may be indicative of melanoma within the nail bed. Formally, this condition is known as “melanychia”, and occurs when melanin is deposited in the nail bed. It can be caused by physical trauma, pregnancy, certain medical procedures and medications, and certain endocrine disorders, among other triggers. The characteristic elongated streak is due to melanin being continually deposited beneath the nail as the nail grows. The following link from DermNet NZ (http://www.dermnetnz.org/hair-nails-sweat/melanonychia.html) and Dermatology Research and Practice(http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3390039/).

      If the line is brown or red in color, it may be a splinter hemorrhage caused by a fungal infection, physical trauma, an infection in the lining of the heart, and melanoma, among other causes. You may want to check out these articles from the U.S.National Library of Medicine (https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003283.htm) and WebMD (http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/nails-look-weird).

      Regardless of the trigger, a sudden and noticeable change in nail color should be examined by your physician as soon as possible.

      If you have any more questions, please let me know. —- Taylor from FutureDerm.com

  • yatin

    hey bro..I also have brown line on my ring nail.. what can I do now..plz reply for suggestions

  • Jordan

    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.

    • Taylor

      Dear Jordan, Very well said! — Taylor from FutureDerm.com

    • cheryl

      Thank You Jordan.

      Vertical ridges can also be a sign of severe infection. Mine started with Lyme that wasn’t caught and treated for several years. Autoimmune diseases are also a common culprit. The ridges extended to all nails by the time I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. A quick internet search will provide a few more illnesses that ridged nails may herald and even if you are older (I’m in my 60’s), they should NOT be ignored because of aging. It may be the first sign that something is really wrong. Unfortunately, Dr Jorizzo is just plain uninformed on this.

      I would read what I could find on the internet, print it out, and take it to my primary doctor. So much new stuff has been learned since most were in school and my doctor has learned a lot because I either emailed him a link or printed it out. But it needs to be backed up – a study and/or peer reviewed article are best, so source from PubMed or Medscape, Cochrane, etc. if you want a busy doc to give it the time of day.

      So if your nails have vertical ridges, please print out a good source from the internet with possibilities and have the doc rule them out before thinking it’s aging or nothing. (below is one, see 2nd page) Also, Beau’s lines, one or more horizontal lines (dents), have been thought to signify an underlying illness, too. I had a couple of those, too – and a sharp doctor told me what they were after I finally tested positive for Lyme and 3 co-infections (took a few years).


  • Rebekah

    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…

    • Taylor

      Dear Rebekah, While your nail ridges by not be due to your inability to eat “rich foods”, diet may be at play here. If you noticed a drastic change in color or form of your nails, speak with your physician as soon as possible. —- Taylor from FutureDerm.com

  • Ashley

    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?

    • Taylor

      Dear Ashely, Sometimes, the ridges can be due to a vitamin deficiency (such as a deficiency in B12) as well as low levels of thyroid hormones. We suggest speaking with your physician to ensure that your nails are not due to a nutritional deficicency or internal disorder. If you would like to learn more, we suggest reading the following article from LifeExtension.com: http://blog.lifeextension.com/2011/08/ridges-in-your-nails-point-to-larger.html.

      If you have any more questions, please let me know. —- Taylor from FutureDerm.com

  • Terry P

    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.

    • Taylor

      Dear Terry P, Glad to hear that you found a suitable treatment! — Taylor from FutureDerm.com

  • Brittany D

    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.

    • mb

      She isn’t wrong. You just have something different. Don’t be mean.

    • Taylor

      Dear Brittany D, We’re sorry that you disagree with us. However, please keep in mind that ridged nails can be caused by a variety of factors. Nevertheless, you may still want to have your ridge examined by a physician so as to ensure that it is not due to an internal disorder or nutritional deficiency. — Taylor from FutureDerm.com

  • Jodie

    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!

    • Taylor

      Dear Jodie, Agreed, false nails may cause further damage to Stephanie’s nails. Thank you for your kind advice! —- Taylor from FutureDerm.com

  • Stephanie Kirkland

    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

    • Taylor

      Dear Stephanie, If your nails have recently started to develop ridges and become brittle, then you should speak with your physician as soon as possible. Development of ridges may be indicative of a B12 deficiency or a. thyroid disorder Additionally, you may be taking a medication that inhibits B12 absorption (such as Prilosec). Older individuals may also have insufficient levels of intrinsic factor, which is a protein that assists in B12 absorption. In these cases, you may need to consider taking B12 supplements.

      For more information, you may enjoy this blog post from Life Extension.com: http://blog.lifeextension.com/2011/08/ridges-in-your-nails-point-to-larger.html.

      I do not recommend applying fake nails, as the synthetic substances in nail glue may further damage and discolor your nails.
      If you have any more questions, please let me know. Best — Taylor from FutureDerm.com

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