The Scientist: Barry Goldman, M.D., a practicing dermatologist in New York City and Chief of Dermatology at New York Downtown Hospital.
The Answer: First, let us blow your mind: Hangnails aren't nails. They're made of damaged skin.
The backs of our hands have some of the most fragile, delicate skin anywhere on the body. That means they’re particularly susceptible to getting cut when we do pretty much anything, from reaching into a gunked-up garbage disposal to getting our keys out of our handbags. A nick in the soft skin immediately around the cuticle (that semi-translucent curve of skin that hugs your nail) quickly dries out, becoming a hard protrusion—a hangnail that snags on stuff constantly and hurts like the dickens. Fingers have tons of nerve endings, which is what makes hangnails so exquisitely painful.
The best thing to prevent hangnails is keeping your skin moisturized and supple. When you do get one, clip it off neatly with cuticle scissors or a nail clipper, as close to the base as possible. Don’t pull! That tugs at the healthy skin (ouch!) and tears it further. After trimming it, rub thick hand cream into your cuticles, going with—not against—the grain.
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