Everyone experiences hangnails from time to time. Despite that, you may not really understand why these little nuisances happen. And that explains why more than 6,000 people search “what is a hangnail” each month. Before you fall down a rabbithole of Google search responses, we want to help. So we’re breaking down what you should know about hangnails, including what they are, how to get rid of hangnails, and most importantly, how to avoid them in the first place.
What Is A Hangnail?
Based on their name, you might assume that a hangnail is part of the nail. However, the reality is that they’re more nail-adjacent. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), a hangnail is a piece of skin (part of the cuticle, in fact) that tears at the edge of the nail. A hangnail is common, and in addition to the skin tearing, you may notice that it bleeds.
What Causes Hangnails?
There are various things that can cause hangnails, and it likely feels like they just appear out of nowhere. Per the AAD, hangnails can hurt, and if germs get inside, an infection can occur. This means it can be beneficial to try to mitigate the causes of hangnails, as well as treat them carefully when they do appear.
One common cause of hangnails is dry skin. If your hands are extremely dry (perhaps due to the weather or increased hand washing), you may experience more hangnails. To help prevent them, keep your hands moisturized and wear gloves when cleaning and washing dishes. Apply a soothing hand cream or lotion immediately after washing your hands and massage it into your nails and cuticles to help avoid getting hangnails altogether.
A hangnail may also be caused by picking at your skin. For many, picking at their cuticles is a habit that’s hard to break, but it can result in hangnails. Taking care of your hands before you experience a hangnail will help keep them at bay.
Editor’s tip: You may love the way your cuticles look when they’ve been trimmed, but beware. Cutting your cuticles can have the same effect as picking at them, and can result in hangnails. Tell your nail tech that you’d rather just have your cuticles pushed back for the same clean look.
How To Get Rid Of Hangnails
If you have a hangnail and aren’t sure what to do, follow these tips courtesy of the AAD.
1. Don’t Rip The Skin
The number one don’t when it comes to hangnails is attempting to rip them off. It may seem like a simple fix, but what’s actually likely to happen is the skin will tear further down—and it can be really painful. Unnecessarily touching the skin also makes infection more likely. The AAD recommends cutting your hangnail with small nail scissors or clippers.
Editor’s tip: Wipe it with some alcohol first to clean the area before you start any cutting or clipping.
2. Use Antibiotic Cream And A Bandage
If the hangnail looks red or feels sore, you can use an antibiotic cream or ointment. It’s also not a bad idea to cover it with a bandage as if it were a cut. This will help protect the skin and allow it to heal, not to mention will stop you from picking at it.
3. Visit Your Dermatologist
If your hangnail doesn’t improve or continues to hurt for more than a few days, it might be time to visit your derm.
Photo Credit: Jonet Williamson
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