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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