A hangnail is a small piece of skin from around the nail that is coming off. One usually happens because the skin is dry, or because a person bites his nails. Moisturizing and other techniques easily can prevent these skin tags, and the removal process is fairly simple. Pain and infection can occur, however, and superstitions sometimes play a role in how a person handles the condition.
Each fingernail and toenail has a cuticle, or area of slightly hardened skin, around it. A hangnail is a small section of this hardened skin that has separated from the rest of the cuticle. The section of separated skin is usually long or triangular in shape.
A principal reason people get these skin tags is because the cuticles become overly dry. Without proper moisture, the skin is more susceptible to cracks and splits. Nail biting is another frequent cause. The teeth put pressure on and tear the skin around the nails, causing separations to occur.
Medical experts recommend using a good, hydrating and moisturizing hand lotion twice a day and before nail work to minimize the drying that causes hangnails. Some professionals also recommend soaking the hands or feet in an oil and water solution for about 15 minutes each day. A manicure or pedicure often provides a simple soak of this type. Using gloves for activities such as washing dishes or housecleaning also prevents moisture loss from chemical exposure. Humidifiers may offer some relief, as well, particularly in drier climates or winter.
When nail biting is the culprit, a trick that sometimes works to prevent problems is to paint the fingernails. The nail biting habit tends to remove some of the polish, so an individual becomes very aware of when and how much he is biting. If the nail polish is applied professionally at a salon, the cost of the polish job often is additional motivation not to put the fingers in the mouth. For safety, it is best to use a non-toxic polish with this prevention technique, especially with children.
The first step to remove a hangnail is to disinfect a pair of cuticle scissors in alcohol to reduce the chance of accidental infection. After this is complete, soaking the afflicted finger in warm water softens the cuticle and prevents additional tears from occurring during the removal process. Cutting off the tag of skin is the third step. Doctors suggest applying an antibacterial lotion and putting on a bandage once the removal is done.
Manicurists can remove hangnails at a salon if a person doesn't feel comfortable doing it himself. These professionals have considerable experience with nail care. A good manicurist will sterilize the scissors she uses and use an anti-fungal spray to prevent infection. She also will try to be as gentle as possible so as not to further damage the skin around the tear site.
People with hangnails might not even notice they have them in some cases. When the loose skin catches on clothing or other items, however, the tear can be pulled quite harshly. This can further rip the skin and make the issue worse. It also can result in pain.
Even a small hangnail opens a person up for infection. One that looks very red or is filled with pus is most likely infected. When the infection is very painful or is associated with a fever and a lot of swelling, a visit to a doctor might be needed. Without treatment, the infection could spread underneath the nail and damage it.
Superstitions and Myths
The nails and cuticles have found their way into different superstitions and stories around the world. These superstitions still affect how people treat hangnails today. For example, under Japanese superstition, people get these skin tags because they have a mean aunt. These types of superstitions sometimes need to be addressed before a person can get rid of the hangnail problem.