There are few things more annoying than hangnails. They hurt, they're distracting, and they can lead to infections and subsequent swollen fingers (not to mention stinging if you even look at a lemon). Once you have them, it's hard not to fixate on them, and despite our best efforts, it's difficult to resist picking at them and exacerbating the pesky situation.
The good news? A little TLC for your hands and nails can go a long way; meaning: hangnails are (usually) easily treatable, even preventable. So if you've got a hangnail sitch on your hands (literally), you've come to the right place. We tapped nail experts Chelsea Baart and Deborah Lippmann for their best tips for hangnail prevention, treatments, and the products to assist.
Meet the Expert
- Deborah Lippmann is a world-famous celebrity manicurist and the founder of her eponymous nail care brand.
- Chelsea Baart is a manicurist, nail art specialist, and OPI global educator.
Head below to study up on how to get rid of hangnails painlessly—and prevent them before they even pop up.
What Is a Hangnail?
Despite its name, a hangnail is actually a small piece of hanging skin (not a nail) near the edge of a fingernail. "Hangnails occur when small portions of skin get a tear near the cuticle," says Lippmann. "They can result from a variety of things, like biting your nails, a bad manicure, dry skin, using harsh soap and detergents, cold temperatures, and 'waterlogged' hands" (that result when you're in the pool for hours). While they are most common on fingernails, they can occur on toenails, too (le sigh).
How to Get Rid of Hangnails
- Snip smartly: When hangnails do spring up, you can carefully snip them off. Be sure to only remove dead pieces of skin. Cutting too close to the flesh can worsen the problem and even lead to infections, if not just deep, painful hangnails. "Soak the finger in warm water to soften the skin, says Baart. "Then clip [the hangnail] off with a clean pair of nail clippers or nail scissors." She recommends sanitizing the instrument with rubbing alcohol and keeping the area well-moisturized. "Be certain when you use your cuticle nipper to place the tool right near the base of the hangnail and open and close it without pulling. We tend to close the nipper and pull the skin, which creates larger problems," cautions Lippmann.
- Pop an OTC painkiller: While this remedy won't necessarily cure your hangnail, it will help to alleviate the pain that accompanies it. You may not think to reach for Advil or Tylenol to ease the pain of a hangnail, but you can absolutely do so when you need fast relief. According to Baart, over-the-counter pain medication, as well as an ice pack, can help manage the pain. Be sure to use the medicine as directed—and don't skimp on moisturizing and other protective methods.
- Use an antibiotic cream: You can always use a little antibiotic ointment to promote healing. "Depending on how bad [a hangnail] is, Neosporin ($8) never hurts to treat the area," says Lippmann. "If the finger is swollen, discolored, or oozing, you should seek medical advice," notes Baart. "You may require oral antibiotics," she adds, if the wound becomes infected.
How to Prevent Hangnails
- Moisturize religiously: The three principles of hangnail prevention, according to Lippmann, are "hydrate, moisturize, and wear gloves." But don't just slap on some hand cream in the morning and call it a day. "Take special care to massage the lotions and oils directly into the cuticles," says Baart. Unlike moisturizing your face or body, it's not enough to apply lotion once and then forget about it. "Apply cuticle oil or lotions frequently throughout the day, especially after each time you wash your hands," says Baart. We're fans of Deborah Lippmann Rich Girl - Broad Spectrum SPF 25 Hand Cream ($28), in case you're wondering.
- Wear gloves: One key way to prevent hangnails and keep existing ones from getting worse is to shield your hands from harsh elements. Sure, it may seem like a no-brainer to wear gloves when you go outside into the cold, but that's not the only time you should be reaching for a protective barrier. Daily chores can be just as harmful to the skin on your hands as arctic temperatures. Baart recommends wearing gloves when your hands come in contact with hot water or cleaning products.
- Oil up: For an extra dose of healing hydration, apply argan oil or an oil rich in vitamin E directly to the cuticles before sleep to soften and hydrate nail beds. Baart recommends the Nail & Cuticle Oil ($17) from OPI, which contains lightweight grape seed, sesame, sunflower, and kukui oils. You can reapply throughout the day when hands are feeling dry or you feel a hangnail beginning to rear its ugly head. Once the hangnail has softened, you can carefully snip away, again being sure not to cut too close to the skin. If you're using your hands a lot and don't want oil all over your fingers (and keyboard), another lightweight option is Olive & June's nongreasy Cuticle Serum Duo ($30).
- Try a nail soak: Give your hands the spa treatment with an at-home nail soak using coconut oil. This will deeply moisturize your skin while softening cuticles. Wrap hands in hot towels after, and then be sure to moisturize with lotion or cream. "My cuticle cream, The Cure ($24), includes patented raspberry stem cell extract, red algae, shea butter, sodium hyaluronate, and vitamins A, C, and E. This luxurious cream instantly relieves dry cuticles as it repairs and protects. Apply as often as needed," says Lippmann.
When to See a Doctor
If you notice any signs of mild infection (inflammation, redness, pain, etc.), you may still be able to treat your hangnail with any of the aforementioned home remedies. But if symptoms are severe or include an abscess, pus, or fever, it's best to consult a doctor.
The Final Takeaway
When it comes to flawless nails, hangnails can be a real drag. Fortunately, this common nail blemish is avoidable with simple preventative measures that aim to moisturize and protect. And unless your hangnail is severely infected (in which case you'll need to see a doctor), you can usually treat it at home by merely snipping it off, albeit carefully. Once that's taken care of, you can focus on the fun stuff. Psychedelic swirls, anyone?