The Best Way To Prevent Hangnails (And How To Safely Remove Them)


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Few things in life are more annoying than a stubborn hangnail. These pesky, painful nuisances pop up along the cuticle line. And once they’re there, they do a great job of not letting you forget it. 

Hangnails not only get caught on seemingly every piece of fabric, strap, or otherwise, you encounter, but they also put you at greater risk of infection (in more ways than one). 

Moreover, they’re unsightly and just plain confusing. Are some actual skin? Are some actually the nail? Why are they so easy to get and so hard to go away? 

We reached out to the experts to figure out how to get rid of these annoyances for good.

What Are Hangnails?

Hangnail and cuticle diagram with magnifying glass
(Designua/Shutterstock.com)

To properly treat hangnails, it’s important to know what, exactly, they are. According to aesthetician and skincare expert Melissa Gilbert, they’re not actually part of your nail. Rather, they are “stiff, broken pieces of skin.” 

These small flaps of skin separate from the cuticle for many reasons. Anything that dries out the skin can cause hangnails to form. That includes cold weather, chlorine, soaps, and general dehydration. Biting your nails also increases the likelihood of developing hangnails. 

Hangnails can be dangerous, too. “The reason they’re so small but very painful is that they usually occur at the base or sides of the nails,” Gilbert explains. This area is “surrounded by a lot of nerve endings and blood vessels. Once a hangnail becomes inflamed and swollen, it puts pressure on the nerve endings and increases the discomfort.”

The Best Way To Prevent Hangnails

Keeping the skin around the fingers moisturized will lower the likelihood of developing a hangnail. Jemma Williams, nail technician and editor of Almond Nails, recommends using a natural, highly moisturizing cuticle oil. 

Williams suggests using Bee Naturals Nail and Cuticle Oil to prevent hangnails from forming. This heavy-hitting formula contains a whopping nine, naturally derived plant oils. It’s also infused with a refreshing scent of lavender, lemon, and tea tree oil.

Using this hydrating cuticle oil every day will keep your fingernail beds soft and supple. This will soften hangnails and prevent new ones from splitting. Bee Naturals’ oil is also conveniently travel-sized, so you can take it wherever you go.

Another way to prevent future hangnails is to wear gloves (like these reusable rubber gloves) when washing dishes or using cleaning products.

Justina Blakeney, the founder of Niawigs, weighs in as well. She recommends avoiding acetone products when removing nail polish, which can dry out the skin around the nails (we love this gentle mineral-infused polish remover). Lathering hands in a rich cream at night before bed, like with this ultra lush Shea Butter hand cream from L’Occitane, can also aid in preventing dreaded hangnails.

The Safest Way To Remove Hangnails

Of course, cuticle oils and creams aren’t much help for hangnails that have already split. The only way to get rid of a preexisting hangnail is to carefully remove it. (Read: remove, not bite and pick.) 

Picking at hangnails is another way to increase infection via hand-to-mouth germ transmission. But it can also make the hangnail itself worse. “Avoid ripping or biting on them,” Gilbert advises. “This will tear the skin around your nails, which will cause bleeding. The skin will become vulnerable to infection from bacteria and fungi.”

To effectively and safely remove a hangnail, Blakeney recommends washing your hands well to avoid the spread of germs. Then, soften the hangnail with warm, soapy water. It will take around ten minutes for the hangnail to properly soften. 

Next, “utilize a clean nail clipper or cuticle scissors to remove the hangnail,” Blakeney continues. “BlueOrchid cuticle clippers are highly recommended.”

BlueOrchid’s cuticle trimmers feature surgical quality, stainless-steel blades. These extra-sharp scissors cut even the tiniest cuticles evenly without pulling or tugging. To clean your cuticle scissors, simply wipe the blades with alcohol after use. 

Whether you’re a regular at the nail salon or go polish-free 24/7/365, keeping up with cuticle health is an important part of your everyday routine. Swiping on cuticle oil takes about 10 seconds out of your day. Isn’t that worth never having to deal with an angry hangnail again?

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