While we’re already craving warmer weather, one of our favorite parts of winter is how low-maintenance our beauty routines become — particularly how often we paint our nails.
And while it’s good for your nails to breathe when they’re bare and not painted — the cuticles stay hydrated this way — you may look down and notice vertical lines on your toenails aka toenail ridges. The good news is that this is nothing to worry about and it happens to most people.
Here we talked with podiatrist, Jacqueline Sutera, DPM, a Vionic Innovation Lab Member, about all things toenail ridges, how they differ from Beau’s lines, and how to make them less noticeable.
What causes toenail ridges?
“Toenail ridges are lines that develop [across the nail],” Dr. Sutera says. “They can often present as a result of injury, illness or aging.” You may also see these lines in your fingernails. The ridges will vary in depth and quantity, but generally, they look like vertical lines down the nail. Horizontal ridges are typically Beau’s lines, and they can be a bit more serious, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
Toenail ridges are a natural part of aging. “Slight vertical ridges in the nails are often normal signs of aging and commonly develop in older adults,” Dr. Sutera says.
Nails age for many of the same reasons that skin ages (slower cell turnover, loss of collagen, etc.). In certain cases, nail ridges can also be caused by an iron deficiency, so if you’re young and in good health but are noticing changes to your nails, you may want to up your intake of leafy greens or meat or talk to your doctor about taking an iron supplement.
If you’re noticing ridges along with other changes in texturing or yellowing of the nails, it’s possible that you’re experiencing trachyonychia, also known as twenty-nail dystrophy (though all 20 nails may not be affected). This is a disease that sometimes stems from psoriasis, and while it’s generally harmless (it may lead to weaker nails with a texture similar to that of sandpaper). If you suspect trachyonychia, you can speak to a dermatologist about certain medications or creams that can help resolve the issue.
What is the difference between ridges and Beau’s lines?
Beau’s lines are indentations or grooves that run horizontally across the nails. They are generally deeper than a toe or fingernail ridge, and ridges run vertically. “Beau’s lines occur when nail plate growth at the area under the cuticle is temporarily interrupted by injury. Very deep Beau’s lines can be caused by severe illness,” Dr. Sutera says. Beau’s lines have been associated with high fever, cancer, and even COVID-19, and stress may also cause Beau’s lines.
These horizontal, deep lines or indents are caused when the nail stops growing for a time. There’s no cure for Beau’s lines. “They usually grow out if the root cause of the ridges has been addressed and resolved. For example, if they are caused by a vitamin deficiency which is reversed or minimal injury which has healed, then the nails should grow out normally,” Dr. Sutera says. In the interim, if the indent is bothering you, you could try a dark glossy polish, which will bounce light and make the indent look less prominent.
Severe injury or chronic illness could potentially change the look of the nails permanently, Sutera explains, adding that in this case, cosmetic options including potentially the KeryFlex™ cosmetic nail treatment which is an in-office procedure done by a podiatrist which adds resin to the nails to restore the look of them.
How can ridges be prevented or made less noticeable?
“Once nails have ridges they can be buffed or filled in cosmetically to make them less noticeable, especially in cases of vertical lines that affect more elderly people,” Dr. Sutera says. Just be sure not to over-buff the nail because the raised part is actually the healthier part of the nail, which will be flattened by buffing.
Take a break from gel manicures
If you’re loyal to your gel mani, you may want to take a break from gel or shellac polish as it can be damaging to the nail (especially if you can’t resist peeling off the polish). Gel polish can weaken nails because of the formulas themselves, or because the polish is so hard (this is what makes it last) and the removal process can be difficult, potentially causing the nails to splinter or weaken.
Try shiny or dark polishes
You could try ultra-shiny nail polishes or darker colors; a glossy top coat will bounce the light, making ridges less noticeable. It is important to keep in mind that like stretch marks or wrinkles, if you really look around, most people have nail ridges, and no one’s really noticing yours.
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