You Should Never (Ever) Rip Off a Hangnail

It can seem ridiculous that a little piece of skin near your nail can hurt like hell and annoy you all day. But as anyone who’s had a hangnail can attest, they’re all that and more. They’re painful, nasty looking, and they get even worse if you’re tempted to get rid of them right now by whatever means you have on hand—which is usually your fingers or your teeth. Don’t do it!

Most hangnails seem to pop out of nowhere. “Most people don’t notice a hangnail until after it has fully developed and they feel roughness around the nail or pain from inflammation,” says Benjamin J. Jacobs, M.D., hand surgeon at Rebound Orthopedics and Neurosurgery in Portland, Oregon.

And when you do notice them, you usually want to get of and treat them right now. Which is fine if you have the right tools—and your other fingers and your teeth are not the right tools. To know how to treat hangnails right and prevent them next time, it helps to know exactly what hangnails actually are.

Of course, hangnails aren’t part of your nail at all—they’re actually made of skin cells that form small, tag-like projections near the nail, says Dawn Davis, M.D., dermatologist at the Mayo Clinic. They occur when the skin separates from the surface, but still remains anchored at the base.

People with dry skin seem to get them more frequently, says Dr. Jacobs. Dry skin can trigger skin separation (and since you’re more likely to have dry skin in the winter, that explains the preponderance of hangnails you get in that season, too).

The reason they hurt so badly comes down to their location. “There are many nerve endings and blood vessels in this area,” says Dr. Davis. In addition, hangnails usually come with inflammation, and that swelling can press on and irritate all those nerve endings.

How to treat hangnails

Avoid the temptation to rip the little suckers off. Not only will yanking off inflamed tissue hurt, but you’re also leaving your fingers prone to infection.

“When you pull them off, you typically tear some of the normal surface skin that keeps out bacteria,” says Dr. Jacobs. “When you pull off a hangnail, you can develop an infection of the surrounding skin.”

Biting them off introduces germs into both your fingers and your mouth. So strike that option, too.

Instead, if you do notice a hangnail, follow these steps to take care of it.

Ideally, you’ll want to soften the skin before you start treating it, so wash your hands or take a warm shower. Sanitize a fingernail clipper or nail scissors with rubbing alcohol, and then cut the hangnail off close to the normal skin level, says Dr. Jacobs.

Then apply a lotion to protect skin from drying out even more and creating more hangnails. Look for a lotion with low alcohol and water content—these ingredients will dry out the skin more, he says.

If your hangnail is already pretty painful and red, it’s likely already inflamed. An inflamed hangnail isn’t necessarily an infected hangnail—yet—but you’ll need to keep an eye on it during treatment.

Treat inflamed hangnails with ice and over-the-counter pain medication to help with the symptoms, says Dr. Jacobs. An antibiotic ointment in addition to that can help prevent an infection from developing.

But if it’s already inflamed and infected? More severe pain and redness over a larger area can indicate infection. Another telltale sign: Drainage, or pus.

If you have concern that there may be an infection, you should seek medical attention—some skin infections in the fingers can get nasty and be persistent and you may even need oral antibiotics for them.

How to prevent hangnails

What you can do to protect your hands from hangnails is pretty basic—which means it’s super doable.

Source: Read Full Article