"Hey Ana. Was reading your latest post with Kimber and was wondering if you had a picture of a sidewall hangnail.
I think I have these and didn't know you could clip them.
We're always told not to file the sides of your nails. I want to make sure I'm not doing something I shouldn't be!" ~Jen
"Great question, Jen! This is an important and misunderstood topic.
The Lateral Fold
The sidewalls of our nails (lateral fold) make up two of the four guardian seals around our nails. The other two are the eponychium (cuticle line) and hyponychium (cuticle line under the nail tip.)
This folded skin prevents bacteria and germs from getting into the pink nail bed under your nail plate.
For some people that skin creates a tight bond with the edge of the nail plate all the way up to where the nail plate starts to detach from the nail bed.
What is a True Hangnail?
By definition—to me—a hangnail should actually be nail. Not everyone gets these—but I do.
For most people, hangnails are actually dry skin, like in the photo above, which have a tendency to be annoying. We pick at them, causing them to worsen.
Our nails are made of approximately 100 layers of keratin.
You can think of our nail plate like a book with about 50 pages that are nicely glued together with sebum (body oil). So technically... it's not a book you would be able to read.
Inside each of those 50 nail layers are millions of cells that are cross-linked together.
If you've ever tried to rip a piece of paper, it is easier to rip the short direction. If you try to rip a straight line through the long side, you'll find that the paper tears very differently. This is because there is a "grain" to the paper.
There is a "grain" to our nails as well. The stronger grain of our nails runs from the eponychium to the nail tip.
There are fewer cross-linked cells running the width of our nail, which is why they tear on the sides more than they crack down the middle.
This is not a direct analogy, but visualize fabric that can unravel at the edge. Sometimes the edge of my nail gets rubbed and a little bit of nail will splinter away from the nail but remain attached. This is a hangnail and must be filed away or cut with very sharp nippers.
If you pull that hangnail—just like pulling an unravelling fabric edge—you will pull nail attached to live lateral fold skin. The guardian seal is broken and will get infected. Owie!!!
Can You File the Sides?
Considering how many different nail shapes are fashionable, I wonder how this rule came about.
It's pretty hard to achieve the almond or stiletto shape without filing the sides of your nails.
I prefer the squoval shape for my nails, so technically I don't have to file the sides. But if I don't, they splinter more and my tight C-curve makes them curl under more causing them to break on the corners. (Just like Kimber's!)
If you do decide to file your edges, treat them like your nail tips, use a very fine file (400 grit or higher) to create a clean edge to eliminate fraying and peeling.
I have found infant nippers to work the best on hangnails.
They're sharp to cut quickly—infants don't sit still long—and small enough to get in there and only clip a tiny bit of dead skin.
The big nippers that look like pliers work but they're also really good at TAKING LIVE SKIN with them.
This is NOT GOOD.
Absolute care must be taken when using these nippers if you own them.
In my opinion, it's best to not use plier nippers.
We all know that our skin is a fragile organ, but considering we everything we do with our hands, we ask a lot of that skin.
The body is has the capability to keep your skin nourished with the perfect blend of body oil (sebum) and moisture. This skin barrier of oil and moisture keeps irritants out of our skin.
So—the body is capable—but not if we wash our hands with soap.
Are We Nuts?
In the last century, cleanliness has become an obsessive mission. Too many moms are afraid to even let their children play in the dirt! As a mom, I could go on and on about this, but I'll be nice today.
Our skin is suffering.
With every action, there is
an equal and opposite reaction.
Washing with just water strips our body oil, then we add soap! Yep, it kills germs—and it also dissolves oil.
When we don't have soap, we use antibacterial gels. The main ingredient is isopropyl alcohol. Yep, it kills germs—and it also dissolves oil.
Our poor little body can't keep up with the demand. It's delivering a tiny stream of oil in the midst of a soapy waterfall 10 to 20 times per day!
So our skin dries, cracks, and turns against us. We start to get skin allergy issues, eczema and psoriasis.
I can hear you talking now… "But Ana! I have to wash my hands!"
Of course you do, and so do I!
Prevention and Repair is Key
The best way to prevent the dry skin hangnails is to keep all of the skin around your nails hydrated with a high quality, jojoba based nail and cuticle oil.
Since jojoba is a wax ester like our body oil—sebum—it easily absorbs into the skin and unpolished natural nail plate. In fact under the microscope, sebum and jojoba almost look identical.
Applying nail and cuticle oil two or more times per day prevents A LOT of dry skin hangnails.
I'm Just Like You
I start to mess with my skin when it gets dry. I get little hard spots on my sidewalls and I’ll mess with them till they bleed. We all have our strange little obsessions, right?
Oiling my skin with a quality nail and cuticle oil 4 to 6 times daily has been my savior.
Having infant nippers on hand at all times has also saved me from myself too. I keep them clipped to my purse.
I know they'll help you too.