How to Get Rid of Hangnails Once and For All, With Expert Tips

How to Get Rid of Hangnails Once and For All, With Expert Tips

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The roadmap to caring for your nails can be pretty straightforward, whether you get them done at the salon or do them yourself at home. Nail files, cuticle oils, and hand lotions are essential for keeping your nails healthy and your cuticles looking their best. However, sometimes despite all of those efforts, pesky hangnails still happen.

Most of us know just how much of a nuisance hangnails can be. They’re painful, inconvenient, and not the prettiest to look at. Plus, once one pops up, it seems like one or two more appear shortly after. They also emerge with zero warning, only making their presence known when they accidentally snag on your clothes or burn when you wash your hands.

But what exactly are hangnails and what causes them? We spoke with a nail expert and dermatologist to help us understand what a hangnail is, as well as how to prevent and treat them. Ahead, everything to know about them, including how to heal hangnails overnight.

What Is a Hangnail?

While we’ve all probably experienced them before, there’s a possibility that you don’t know exactly what a hangnail is. “The term hangnail can be a little misleading since the problem is with the cuticle skin and not the nail,” dermatologist Kseniya Kobets, MD, tells PS. “It happens when part of the skin at the cuticle gets dry and cracked and gets lifted off the intact cuticle but is still attached at the cuticle by a skin base, which in turn irritates the nerve endings and that is why hangnails are so annoying.”

What Causes Hangnails?

There are a few reasons why hangnails happen. One is because of poor cuticle area maintenance from not trimming your cuticles back. Another is from a dry and damaged cuticle area or nail biting and picking. When your skin is dry, it’s more susceptible to tearing.

“When the cuticle gets dried up and irritated, the skin barrier is broken and the cuticle gets dry and cracked,” Dr. Kobets says. “This is often exacerbated by dry weather, frequent hand washing or use of irritating alcohol disinfecting gels, use of harsh soaps and detergents on hands and not moisturizing after hand washing.”

What Is a Hangnail Infection?

Hangnail infection can occur when the skin barrier is broken and a bacterial infection is introduced to the area by touching it. “This can result in increasing redness, swelling, pain, and sometimes crust and pus at the site,” Dr. Kobets says.

How to Prevent Hangnails

Thankfully, there’s a way to reduce your chances of developing these painful dry spots in the first place. “One way to prevent hangnails is to keep the cuticles hydrated by using less harsh soaps,” Dr. Kobets says. She recommends options from the brands CeraVe and La Roche-Posay, which both have products formulated with ceramides and other hydrating ingredients. Dove’s Sensitive Skin Bar Soap ($8 for 4) also works well.

When working with harsh detergents, like washing dishes, or when your hands are in water for a prolonged period of time, Dr. Kobets recommends using brushes or gloves. Applying moisturizers with ceramides, glycerin, and hyaluronic acid immediately after washing and drying your hands can help prevent hangnails as well.

“I recommend regularly maintaining your nails with typical manicure protocol, massaging cuticle oil around the skin one to two times per day, and always trimming hangnails as soon as they appear,” Mymy Holland, a nail expert at BeautyGarde, says. We like the Sundays Hydrating Cuticle Serum ($18) for this. You should also avoid biting them as this can create hangnails.

“To prevent worsening hangnails or hangnail infections, it is best to clip the hanging loose skin carefully at the base with clean scissors or clippers,” Dr. Kobets says.

You’ll want to ensure you’re not cutting them too close to your normal skin to prevent any cuts and bleeding. After, Vaseline, petroleum jelly, or a healing ointment, such as the CeraVe Healing Ointment ($9), should be applied to keep them hydrated. You can even apply these ointments at night after applying another moisturizer to your hands for overnight healing.

Hangnail Treatments

There are a few things you can do to get rid of hangnails. One method involves soaking your nails in a bowl of warm water with a few drops of cuticle remover for 10 minutes. Then, you’ll want to use nail clippers to remove any jagged cuticles and hangnails. “If your nails are infected and bleeding, use an anti-bacterial first-aid cream and bandage it,” Holland says. Once healed, you should apply a cuticle oil on the cuticle area up to two times per day.

If you’re wondering how to treat a swollen hangnail, there are a few things you can do at home but ultimately, you may need to go to the doctor. “Besides clipping the excess skin of the hangnail, if one starts to feel like the area is getting red or inflamed, it could be a sign of infection, at which point it is important to clean the area with soap and apply over-the-counter antibiotic ointment like bacitracin,” Dr. Kobets says. If the problem worsens or persists, you may want to see a professional who can treat the infection with topical or systemic antibiotics.

“I do not recommend pulling or picking at the hangnail skin, as it will only pull more skin off and make the open skin bigger,” Dr. Kobets says.

While hangnails are unpleasant, these tips should help you prevent and treat them.

Sydney Wingfield has been a freelance writer in the beauty and wellness space for six years. She has written for Women’s Health, Marie Claire, Glamour, and other publications and loves to cover all things skin care, makeup, and hair.

Main ImageMain ImageDove's Sensitive Skin Bar SoapFrom$8$8 at TargetMain ImageMain ImageSundays Hydrating Cuticle SerumFrom$18$18 at Dear Sundays IncMain ImageMain ImageCeraVe Healing OintmentFrom$9$9 at Amazon


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