How to Prevent and Get Rid of Hangnails, According to an Expert

man clipping fingernails
 Rolf Bruderer / Getty Images

Hangnails are a misnomer, unless you consider that they hurt as bad as a nail being driven into your fingers. They’re tiny tears in the skin, nestled right up against the nail base. Hangnails are tedious to remove—but easy to procure, with one simple misstep during clipping, or by a lack of moisture—they hurt for days, and when one occurs, it seems like another three or four sprout up on neighboring phalanges.

Each time you get a hangnail, you might ask a few questions: How can you prevent a hangnail from happening? How can you remove hangnails safely and painlessly? And how can you heal a hangnail quickly? We asked these same questions to Dr. Avnee Shah, M.D. and a board-certified dermatologist. Here’s the advice she gave us. Spread the good word, and make hangnails a thing of your past.

 

 

What causes hangnails?

There are numerous habits and environmental culprits behind hangnails, all of which Shah says “weaken the skin’s integrity in general, allowing hangnails to occur.” She notes that dry, arid climates are one such cause—winter being prime time. Anything that dries out the skin easily will similarly lead to agony, like hard water, harsh chemicals, and soaps. (Always use a moisturizing soap to be safe.)

When cutting your own nails, be cautious not to cut the cuticles too closely, or to nick the skin at the sides of the nails. If you’re prone to biting or picking at your nails, then you’re a prime candidate for hangnails. As a side note, Shah tells her nail-biting patients to invest in a fidget spinner: “People tend to pick and bite their nails when feeling anxious, so instead of working out the anxiety on yourself, releasing that energy through a fidget spinner can help from causing more tears.”

What is the wrong way to get rid of hangnails?

Quite simply, “don’t rip, tear or bite them off,” Shah says. “Sometimes this can lead to a condition where there is inflammation and possibly infection of the cuticle called paronychia.” (If you thought a hangnail hurt enough, paronychia will prove you wrong.) “If this happens, see a board-certified dermatologist,” Shah says.

What’s the best way to get rid of a hangnail by yourself?

First, you need to wash the area, and disinfect any device that you’re about to use (rubbing alcohol or hand soap will suffice). Use clean nail clippers or manicure scissors to cut the hangnail at the base, Shah says. After that, wash the area again, and chase it with a nourishing hand cream or healing ointment to moisturize the area.

How do you prevent hangnails in the first place?

The key here is to promote moisture. “Moisturize your hands daily,” Shah says. (Use that hand cream or balm on a regular basis, especially in dryer climates and seasons.) Second, Shah says to not cut back your cuticles. Sure, they’re not always the best-looking feature, but they do protect the base of the nail, and removing them can invite infection in addition to hangnails. But, if you must clip them, just try not to cut them too short, she says. Finally, Shah says to “exercise caution when clipping your nails. Pay attention to this seemingly easy task. It’s too easy to catch your skin by mistake.” Neutrogena’s Norwegian Formula Hand Cream and Aquaphor’s Healing Ointment are both great emollients to moisturize the areas and help prevent drying out of the skin.

The Best Products to Take Care of Hangnails

We like Tweezerman’s Cuticle / Manicure Scissors, as well as its Fingernail Clipper. As for hand creams, try Kiehl’s Ultimate Strength Hand Salve, or Doctor Rogers RESTORE Healing Balm. Dr. Shah’s favorite hand cream is Neutrogena’s Norwegian Formula Hand Cream, and she recommends Aquaphor’s Healing Ointment to help the skin recover from cuts and excessive dryness, and to shield any cuts from infection.