Hooks! We all have them. Who needs it? What are they even? These are just a few of the questions we are forced to ponder once the colder weather arrives and slowly but steadily kills our hands. If you are wondering why you recently felt the need to bite, tear, or cut those weird little rods that suddenly appeared on the edges of your nails, fear not: IFLScience is here to help.
Let’s start with the basics: what is is a hook ? Despite what the name suggests, it’s not a nail – and it doesn’t really “hang” either.
“The term hangnail is actually a misnomer, as it is not the actual ‘nail plate’ that hangs down, but rather a part of the cuticle that has separated,” dermatologist Dana Stern told Women’s Health . She compared the cuticle – it’s the transparent layer of skin that surrounds the nail – to the grout in your shower at home: it acts as a seal to protect the cut between the nail and the skin from infection.
A fingernail occurs when this “grout” somehow cracks – we’ll get to that later – and peels off slightly, leaving you with an annoying and often slightly sore patch of skin hanging down the side of the nail. your nail. And before you ask: yes, they can appear on your toes – but more often than not you’ll see them on your fingers.
Snags can appear for a variety of reasons, but basically they happen when you injure the skin in some way. It probably won’t be anything dramatic – even staying in the pool too long can do it.
“They can be the result of various things, such as nail biting, a bad manicure, dry skin, the use of harsh soap and detergents, cold temperatures and ‘waterlogged’ hands,” the dermatologist said. James Collyer at GQ. “Any of these things makes the skin brittle and susceptible to cracking.”
Well, first of all, they’re boring.
“Snags hurt,” said Collyer. “There are a lot of nerve endings at your fingertips.”
But more importantly, they can cause inflammation and infection of the nail, especially if not properly taken care of.
“Without the [cuticle] the seal, water and moisture, and inevitably infections, can more easily enter the nail unit, âStern explained. âAny compromise on the cuticle or skin barrier will make you more vulnerable to infections. “
This is a point on which all dermatologists agree: you should not tear or bite a nail.
âThere are nerves and blood vessels under the nail,â Neha Vyas, family medicine specialist, told Health Essentials at the Cleveland Clinic. âSo you can cause your own bleeding and infection and pain. “
Stern agrees: âIf the nail is pulled or bitten, it can tear and you can end up removing not only that part of the cuticle but also normal, healthy skin,â she said. Instead, she recommends that you “dab the area with a little alcohol, cut it at the base with a clean cuticle nipper, and then apply a little bland ointment.”
And it’s important not to go deeper than the base of the nail, Collyer said. He also advises covering the nail with a bandage if it still gets things caught – otherwise, you’re just going to be back to square one.
The best medicine is prevention, and the best way to treat a nail is to never get one in the first place. The easiest way to do this is to just take good care of your hands. “Don’t cut too close to the cuticle when trimming your nails,” advises Collyer, while suggesting “soak your hands once a week for 10 to 15 minutes, then immediately apply a balm.”
The easiest and most effective way to prevent snags, however, is simple: just hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
âHydration can help prevent snags,â Collyer explained, âespecially when you [use] an ointment or a balm because they hydrate and protect the skin better than the cream or the lotion.
âDry air and frequent hand washing can make you more likely to get sore throat,â Vyas agreed. âUsing a daily moisturizer can help. “