A hangnail, sometimes referred to as an agnail or stepmother’s blessing, is a small piece of torn skin located along the cuticle or immediately next to a fingernail or toenail.
Hangnails are visible pieces of torn or extra eponychium or paronychium skin located along the edge of where the fingernail or toenail meets the skin. It can be brittle and triangular in shape, or appear like a thin sliver of extra skin.
Hangnails are often painful, especially if they are left untreated and lead to paronychia (a bacterial infection that causes pain and swelling where the skin and nail meet).
The most common cause of hangnails is dry skin due to cold weather, harsh chemicals like acetone polish remover, frequent water immersion, dehydration or lack of lotion application. Nail biting can also lead to hangnails, as can mistakes made during manicures and pedicures.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends treating hangnails by first washing the hands and then clipping the loose piece of skin with nail clippers or nail scissors. Follow up by applying an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment to reduce or prevent inflammation and cover with a bandage until healed. You can also try soaking the hangnail in warm salt water as a softener before cutting.
Patients suffering from persistent hangnails should be checked by a dermatologist or other physician.
The easiest way to prevent hangnails is moisturize with a good quality foot and hand cream daily. You can also use a cuticle oil if your fingernail and/or toenail area is extremely dry. Other preventative measures include getting regular manicures and pedicures, and avoiding things like nail biting and harsh chemicals.