Fingernail Ridges: Why You Have Them and How to Get Rid of Them

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When it comes to fingernails, lots of rumors make the rounds about what certain traits, like white marks or ridges, can tell you about your health. For instance, remember being told at a young age that the little white spots on your nails meant that you weren't drinking enough milk? File that under "longstanding beauty myths debunked," because it turns out those marks have absolutely nothing to do with a lack of calcium.

What Are Fingernail Ridges?

Fingernail ridges or white spots are thin, raised, unpigmented lines that run lengthwise on the nail, from cuticle to tip, or raised areas that extend across the nail. Fingernail ridges are very common in people of all ages, but they tend to appear more often with age. 

Dermatologist Chris Adigun, MD, tells Women's Health that white spots are usually just a result of bumping your finger or nails on something, meaning the source is often trauma, not a deficiency. Excessive nail polish use can also lead to this kind of pesky damage since it wears down the surface of the nail. (Regular use of a nail-strengthening serum can help prevent this.) That being said, if the spots are at all powdery, a fungus infection might be to blame, but that isn't really cause for concern, either—an antifungal treatment will clear it right up.

And about those ridges? In the interest of curtailing all your nail-related WebMD searches, note that vertical ridges you see likely don't indicate any horrific, underlying disease, but the bumps are rather complex.

What Are Ridges and What Causes Them?

Ridges happen for many reasons. And they aren't limited to your fingernails, either; they also can pop on your toenails. If they run vertically from your cuticles to the tips of your nails, you likely have nothing to worry about. These are very common and don't usually indicate any problems.

One possible cause of vertical nail ridges is aging. As you get older, your body's natural oil production slows down. In turn, this lack of moisture can cause your nails to become brittle, thin, and prone to peeling—and to form ridges. This increase in dryness can also show up in your skin and hair, too. Although annoying, this is nothing to worry about. Your best defense is eating a healthy diet, drinking enough water, and exercising to keep your circulatory system healthy.

A brown line along the length of the nail, dark pigmentation that's not related to bruising, or ridges that run horizontally could be indicators of medical conditions, so consult your doctor in these instances.

How to Prevent and Get Rid of Nail Ridges

Nail ridges that arise from a lack of the body's natural oils are easy to treat. Your first line of defense: moisture. Try applying nail oil, vitamin E oil, coconut oil, or olive oil to your nails to help prevent ridges from forming in the first place. Use a massaging motion to increase blood circulation to your nail beds and distribute the oil evenly. Your cuticles will benefit, too; the moisture will help prevent hangnails, cracks, and other discomforts.

Buff to Smooth the Ridges—but Not Too Much

Try using a four-way nail file to smooth away ridges. File in one direction only, and don't use too much force so you don't cause trauma to the nail and nail bed. Finish with a good buffing, which produces a healthy-looking glow and beautiful shine. If you're a fan of clear or natural-color nail polish, you might find that buffing gets your nails just as shiny. Bonus: going without nail polish keeps drying chemicals off your nails, prevents the staining that some polishes cause, and allows sunlight to reach your nails—which, research indicates, can improve their overall health. Plus, you won't need to use acetone-based nail polish removers, the moisture-sapping enemy of already parched nails.

A battery-operated nail buffer can save you lots of time. One to try: Finishing Touch Electronic Nail Care System ($7), which files, buffs, and shines your nails in seconds. It's also great for pedicures.

Hide the Ridges With Nail Polish

Regular polish won't hide ridges because it reflects light and actually can call attention to them instead. Many nail care companies make special polishes specifically for hiding ridges. Typically marketed as "ridge fillers," these look like regular polishes and function much like base coats. The difference is that they settle and fill in the ridges to help make your nails look smooth and even. Try OPI Nail Lacquer Treatment Ridge Filler ($11).

If you prefer to get manicures at a salon, ask your manicurist to incorporate ridge fillers into your service. Some salons include them as a matter of course.

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