What Causes Hangnails?

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Like burning your mouth or getting a paper cut, hangnails are the type of petty injury that can still ruin your mood (or your whole day). Here’s everything you need to know about how they happen, why they hurt so much, and what you can do to prevent them.

What Is a Hangnail, and Why Does It Happen?

Despite what its name suggests, a hangnail isn’t part of a ripped nail still tenuously attached to the base. It’s a sliver of skin that hangs off your finger on either side of your nail. Though it often seems like they pop up out of nowhere, they happen when the skin around your nails gets weak and brittle to the point of cracking.

“They can result from a variety of things, like biting your nails, a bad manicure, dry skin, using harsh soap and detergents, cold temperatures, and ‘waterlogged’ hands,’” dermatologist Dr. James Collyer told GQ.

Spending a day in the pool or scrubbing your bathroom with a chemical solution can definitely make you more susceptible. And unless you live in a place that stays balmy year-round, you probably have more trouble with hangnails during the winter.

Why Do Hangnails Hurt So Much?

The reason hangnails cause a surprising amount of pain for such a small wound is because of all the nerve endings and blood vessels in your fingertips. The more inflamed your hangnail gets, the more it pushes on those nerves.

How to Prevent Hangnails

You can’t exactly avoid winter or washing your hands—but you can routinely use lotion to keep them moisturized. If you’re cleaning with chemicals or doing lots of dishes, don a pair of rubber gloves first. And when you’re clipping your nails, try not to cut the cuticles. Some people trim cuticles intentionally because it makes nails look especially neat and well-manicured, but it can also weaken your nail beds against bacteria. If you get hangnails because you bite your nails, here are some tips for breaking the habit.

[h/t GQ]