or such a small thing, a hangnail can be a hugely painful nuisance. Despite its name, a hangnail doesn’t actually have much to do with your fingernails at all — they occur when tiny slivers of skin around the nail edges become separated. This can be annoying at best and painful at worst, when the skin catches on fabric or other surfaces and is pulled upon.
Hangnails can be caused by a number of different things, but two of the most common are nail biting, and when the skin surrounding the nailbed is dry or cracked — both make the skin around the nailbed more vulnerable to tearing or cracking. People may also cut their cuticles, or allow them to be cut during a manicure, but they should be pushed back instead. No one can avoid hangnails altogether, but if you do bite your nails, quitting can help reduce the number drastically. Keeping fingers and nailbeds well-moisturized with hand lotion or even cuticle oils can also help smooth the skin to prevent tearing.
Hangnails can be more problematic than they seem because the openings in the skin, combined with the large amounts of bacteria that hands are exposed to on a daily basis, are a significant opportunity for infection to occur. These can cause pain, swelling, and other unpleasant symptoms, so properly cleaning and caring for a hangnail is essential.
If you get a hangnail, wash the area thoroughly with soap and warm water to clean it; warm water will also help to soften the skin, so you can soak your fingertips in it for a few minutes as well. Next, using clean nail trimmers or small nail scissors, trim the hangnail away, as close to the skin as possible. Finish by applying moisturizer to the area, and reapply a couple of times per day. If the area becomes red or swollen, it’s likely a sign of infection; soaking it in Epsom salts dissolved in warm water and cleaning it daily can reduce inflammation and help it to heal.