woman applying nail polish

Do you bite your fingernails? Are they long and strong, or do they split or break? Fingernails draw our attention, although only a few nail conditions actually seem to interest dermatologists as indicators of underlying disease. What is the story on ridged fingernails?

Vertically Ridged Fingernails:

Q. I have vertical ridges on almost all my fingernails. Do you know what causes this? Is there anything I could do to improve it?

A. Although they are annoying, vertical (longitudinal) ridges on the fingernails do not appear to be dangerous. These ridges (known medically as onychorrhexis) are frequently attributed to aging. (Horizontal ridges are quite another matter and should be brought to the attention of your health care provider. They might simply indicate a previous nail injury, but occasionally they signal a health problem such as heart disease, infection or diabetes.)

Sometimes vertically ridged nails are also brittle. Anemia and atherosclerosis sometimes cause brittle, ridged fingernails (Canadian Family Physician, Feb., 2011).

Do You Need Supplements?

You should ask your doctor if you need supplements of iron or B vitamins to correct anemia. A few small studies have suggested that taking biotin (2.5 mg/day) can help correct ridging and fragility (Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, Aug.,2007).

One reader reported:

“A dermatologist told me to take biotin for my nails when they were splitting and cracking. I started taking a daily supplement of biotin and my nails improved greatly within three months. My son, who is a pharmacist, recommended a product containing biotin, calcium and phosphorus; my nails are strong and ridge-free.”

Other common-sense approaches include protecting the nails from prolonged exposure to water, detergent and household chemicals. How? Wear waterproof gloves when washing dishes or doing chores, preferable with cotton glove liners. This may not change the ridging at all, but it may help reduce brittleness.

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  1. Dianne

    I am a 73 year old woman, and my nails have always been rather thin, weak and prone to peeling. They are also quite ridged vertically. A few months ago I started taking collagen for a different purpose, and soon my nails became dramatically stronger, and seemed to grow faster. I cannot say that the ridging has gone away, but it has certainly become less pronounced. When I temporarily stopped taking collagen (1 tablespoon a day), they began to peel again. I think I’ll keep it up. My osteoarthritis seems to be better, also.

  2. HelenM

    My once long and beautiful nails began to splinter and peel several years ago. I was found to be anemic; however, once that was corrected, the nail problem continued. I also was/am taking B vitamins, including biotin; I do have diabetes.

    At the end of last summer, 2015, I had chapped hands that did respond to hand cream; in desperation I began using a heavy face cream on my hands. When I spread it, I also rubbed it on my nails. Several months later I noticed my nails were long again, no splintering nor peeling. I do not do dishes; however, I wash my hands many times during the course of a day. So I put it on at night, when it would have several hours without being subjected to washing off.

  3. Mary

    Please address the benefits of any of taking vitamin K2 with calcium for bone health. Also, is there a concern taking the K2 if you are on low dose aspirin?
    Thank you.

  4. Mary

    My thumb nail became so ridged that you could not distinguish the three usual colors on a nail (white, pink, lighter pink). My nail looked like a piece of off-white linen. It turned out the levoxyl company had changed its formula and the new formula was not absorbed by me. The doctor switched back to synthroid and eventually the nail returned to its usual state. Maybe it’s worth a thyroid test.

    • Sara

      Mary, I took. synthroid for several years, after taking armor thyroid for several years. On using the synthroid, I began to have hot flushes several times a day and in the night ( I call them flushes because they last much longer than a flash). I am 77 and was having them several times daily and several times during the night the hot flushes would wake me from sleep. They were driving me nuts 24/7, so I asked my doctor to put me back on armor thyroid, and now I have no more hot flushes. (I had read somewhere that armor thyroid was better, and I believe it! My doctor did not, but so what!!!)

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