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Why Do My Thumbnails Ridge Down the Center?

By Cynthia Bailey MD.

Thumbnail ridging from Habit-tic deformity

The habit of flicking or rubbing the thumbnail cuticle causes thumbnail ridges that travel down the entire nail plate. This is called Habit-tic deformity. The ridging is characteristic and often the cuticle is thickened and calloused too. 

Why does thumbnail ridging happen in Habit-Tic Deformity?

The friction irritates and thickens the nail fold at the cuticle. This is where your thumbnail grows. An irritated nail fold (evidenced by an irritated and thickened cuticle) causes the nail to grow out with the ridging.

The cause is repeated trauma and friction to the nail fold (cuticle). Once the nail has hardened with the ridges, it won’t flatten out. You have to stop rubbing the nail, let the nail fold and cuticle heal, and allow a new and ridge-free nail to grow out from underneath an un-irritated cuticle.

What is the treatment for Habit-Tic Deformity? 

Stop the flicking and the nail fold and this will stop your nail fold from making ridged thumbnails. It really is that simple. But flicking your nail is often subconscious.

Try to notice when you start to flick. Or even better, when you feel the urge, come up with an alternate plan. The flicking may be due to tension or stress. Having another outlet might help. How you do that would be based on what works for you.

Options to stop flicking your thumbnail might include simply acknowledging the tension and looking up, out a window, or taking deep breaths and letting the tension subside.

Another option is called EFT tapping. It is based on meridians in the body and tapping them when the tension rises. I have used a facial form of EFT when I'm feeling stressed and I think it helps. The Karate Chop EFT technique on the side of the hand is a good alternative for nail flicking since the tension is playing out in the hands. Look for a YouTube video that describes the Karate Chop EFT Technique. 

Another simple option is to do acupressure on your hand. Press firmly but gently on the point between your thumb and index finger around the second metacarpal bone. I am not a Chinese medical expert, but I think the technique helps.

Dermatologist's tips to heal the skin of the nail fold and cuticle in habit-tic deformity to help stop the ridging of the thumbnail.

Patients see quick results treating habit-tic deformity with Bag Balm applied to the cuticle and nail at least once a day after hand washing.

This rich lanolin ointment softens rough and calloused skin quickly. Apply Bag Balm to the nail and fold after washing your hands.

Don’t seal the space between the cuticle and the nail with Bag Balm, just apply it to the skin and then to the nail plate. Trapping water in the fold can lead to paronychia, an infection under the nail fold. You can see in the photo above that the cuticle is rounded and the seal has been lost. Normally there is a good seal between your cuticle and your nail that prevents water becoming trapped in the pocket below. Ensure your nail fold dries well while your thumb cuticle heals.

best hand cream to treat dry hands and thumb ridges

While your nail is healing, use hand care products that keep your hand skin moisturized and prevent it from drying out - this includes your cuticle and ridged thumbnail.

There are 2 key steps to good hand skin care:

  1. Use only a non-drying hand soap like my Natural Foaming Hand Soap, and
  2. apply a really good hand moisturizer after washing many times a day.

Get both a non-drying hand soap and healing hand cream in my dermatologist-developed hand care kits to help heal ridged thumbnails from habit-tic deformity: 

heal thumbnail ridges with best hand soap and cream to treat dry hands
Survival Kit for Busy Hands includes my favorite non-greasy yet highly therapeutic Dry Skin Hand Cream. I keep these products at EVERY sink in my home and office so that all of our hands are never dry. 

 

Naturally Busy Hand Kit includes my Natural Lotion which is rich in botanical healing oils that are hypoallergenic. I keep this in my bathroom because the Lotion is a great head to toe moisturizer for both my husband and I. Like all my hand care products, they are fragrance free and ideal for the entire family and people with sensitive skin

all natural hand cream to heal thumbnail ridges
best treatment for habit tic deformity

Get Bag Balm with my Natural Hand Soap, Dry Skin Hand Cream and the best pair of cotton gloves for a real Bag Balm bedtime healing treatment in my Dry Skin Hand Repair Kit. This gives you everything I recommend to prevent chapping and heal dry hands, fissured fingertips and rough cuticles. I even include the perfect little file to smooth fingertip fissures.

What is the bottom line with habit-tic deformity?

The ridged thumbnail is due to repeated flicking and resultant thickening and inflammation of the cuticle and nail fold. Stop flicking the nail and moisturize the nail plate and cuticle and watch a normal thumbnail grow out from the base of your nail fold once you let it; my hand care kits are TLC for you, your thumbnail and your hands.