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How can I get Rid of Hangnails?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Hangnails can be a pain, literally. Those little bits of skin that slough off the sides of your nails can sometimes catch on things, get a torn, and bleed. Since they can be painful and may become infected if they rip, it’s a good idea to get rid of them. First work on ridding your fingers of any existing hangnails, then use nail maintenance to keep them away in the future.

If you don’t pay much attention to your nails, you may notice that the skin on each side of each fingernail feels a bit rough and overgrown. Your cuticles may also sit high on the nail, which is evidenced by the skin breaking rather than stretching when nail growth occurs. If you have any little strips of skin coming off from the fingernails, there’s a standard method for removing this. Gently wash your hands and clean under the fingernails, and then soak your nails in warm water for about five minutes.

With nail clippers or small nail scissors, trim off the protruding skin. Don’t tear the skin off, or you will only worsen the problem and may cause bleeding. You’ll want to slightly pull on the hangnail to be certain you’re trimming dead skin only. If you do accidentally cut the skin, use a little antibiotic ointment and a band-aid, covering the cut for 24 hours.

Keeping future hangnails from occurring is quite simple. Be certain to wash your hands daily and use a mild soap. Finish with a mild moisturizer, or after soaking the hands, use an orangewood stick to push the cuticles down gently, exposing the half moon shape at the base. You should probably try to push down the cuticles at least two to three times a week.

Do not chew your fingernails, since stripping off part of the nail can also mean stripping off some of the skin. Instead, about once a week, sometimes more often with children, merely trim the nails straight across. If you keep up with moisturizing, cuticle maintenance, and weekly trimming, you likely won’t have many hangnails in your future.

Sometimes, people have difficulties with very dry skin, especially if they must do a lot of work in wet or watery environments. While a little water is good for the skin, constant exposure to wet soapy water can actually dry it out. If, despite good maintenance of your hands, you continue to get hangnails, consider using gloves when you must wash dishes or do other work that requires immersion of the hands in lots of water. When skin remains dry despite over-the-counter treatments, consider a visit to a dermatologist to investigate the cause.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon944363 — On Apr 07, 2014

I use a new nail file to file down the hangnail until it's smooth. If I use clippers, the ends end up getting caught on everything and hurting like crazy. I also use Burt's Bees Lemon Butter Cuticle Cream. It stays put for a long time and the lemon would also discourage bacteria.

By seag47 — On Dec 10, 2012

@Perdido – Cuticle oil is better than lotion, in my opinion. Once you apply it, your nails and fingers stay moisturized for a long time.

I put some on my nails and fingertips and massage it into them. I wait awhile before applying any polish, because I really want it to soak in and do the job.

However, if you are in a rush with no time to spare for drying, you might want to use lotion instead. Generally, you only need to apply cuticle oil once or twice a week, so lotion should be fine to use every day to help with ordinary dryness.

By Perdido — On Dec 09, 2012

Is lotion really the best thing to use on your hands to prevent hangnails? I've been reading about something called cuticle oil, and it sounds like it might be more effective. Is it good for preventing hangnails?

By giddion — On Dec 09, 2012

I didn't know that trimming hangnails while they were moist would work. I have always found that trimming them when they are very dry works for me, because they snap off and don't give me any trouble.

I get the clippers as close as possible to the base of the hangnail before snipping it. I work slowly, so if I feel any sensation at all, I know that I am about to cut into live skin and I can back off with the clippers before it's too late.

There have been times when I've been caught somewhere with a hangnail and no clippers. If the hangnail is dry enough, I can get rid of it by pressing it against the side of my nail with another nail until it snaps.

By StarJo — On Dec 08, 2012
I still recall the time I pulled hard on a large hangnail. It ripped a rut into my skin, and I literally hit the floor. That was as close as I have ever come to passing out from pain!

Since that day, I haven't tugged at a hangnail. I will use clippers on it, but I won't pull it with my finger at all.

By honeybees — On Oct 30, 2012

@SarahSon -- One thing I have done when my hands get dry and cracked and I have a lot of hangnails is put a heavy moisturizer on them before bed, put some socks on my hands and keep them on all night. Sometimes I have to do this several nights in a row, but this has always really helped me.

Once I get my hands and hangnails softened it seems to be a little easier to keep them that way. I will use a cuticle tool to push them back and keep them trimmed, but I never try to do this unless they are really soft. Otherwise it can make them worse and then they can start bleeding and really hurt.

By SarahSon — On Oct 29, 2012

It's amazing how something so small as a hangnail can be so painful. I usually get these in the winter when my skins gets so dry. It seems like no matter how much lotion I put on my hands I still get hangnails. They can easily catch on just about anything your fingers get close to and cause pain. I would love to find a way to keep from getting these hangnails so often.

By anon271490 — On May 26, 2012

I'm only 13, and every time I place my hands somewhere I can't help but think about if anyone notices my hangnails. I am a moisturizing freak. I always wash my skin completely and thoroughly, but every time I look down all my eyes can see are pesky hangnails.

They're really painful, and I can't help but try to pull them off. I could forget them for a second, then look down, and they're still there! Please help.

By FirstViolin — On Jul 24, 2010

It is really important not to tear off hangnails.

Aside from being unnecessarily painful, the open wound so near your nails leaves you susceptible to paronychia, an infection of the skin around the finger or toenails which requires medical treatment.

By pharmchick78 — On Jul 24, 2010

If you're having chronic hangnails even with good hand care, you may want to consider seeing a doctor so they can check to see if everything is OK with your hands and nails.

Some forms of nail fungi can also cause problems with your cuticles, which could show up as hangnails.

By lokilove — On Mar 07, 2010

You can buy cuticle cream that is supposed to help keep your fingers moisturized, but it can get expensive. If you want a cheap preventative treatment try using petroleum jelly. Even in a pinch you can you regular unflavored lip balm. The lip balm is actually easier and less messy to apply for that matter.

Use whatever treatment you decide on at night though. That way it sits on the fingers for at least a few hours before being washed off.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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