Dear Daniela: Why Are My Nails So Bumpy & Ridged?

Illustrated by Olivia Santner
Dear Daniela,
Why might my nails be so bumpy? I don’t have gels or acrylics, but they’re pretty much always bumpy and ridged. Should I be concerned?
Marisa, 26
Eyes may be the window to the soul, but nails are the window to your health. From dietary deficiencies to psoriasis and in some cases, your liver function, the state of your nails can actually tell a lot about your overall wellbeing and how your body is ticking along generally. Not that I think you have anything to be especially worried about – bumpy nails are fairly common and fairly benign. I just think it’s interesting that, say, a white spot on the nail can be your body’s way of signalling it would like a little more zinc, please.
I asked Lola Biggs, a registered dietitian, for some more insight. She pointed out that while ridges can develop slowly with age, sometimes "they can also indicate a potential mineral and vitamin shortage, such as zinc, calcium and vitamin A."
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of your diet, let’s do a quick nail health primer. As Lola told me: "Our nails are made up of living skin cells, so they require nutrients just like any other part of our body. Biotin (vitamin B7), folate (vitamin B9) and iron can play a massive role in the steady growth and repair, though if you’re going through a stressful period, you may find that not even that seems to be cutting it." If you have been having a really difficult time at work or in your personal life, it could very well show up on the ol’ talons, just like you might notice thinning hair or a breakout in other circumstances.
But there are other factors, so for now, let’s imagine that it’s not stress. You’re on a permanent Bali holiday and your biggest life decision every day is hammock or hot tub. In which case it might be diet. Protein, vitamin A, calcium and zinc deficiencies are most likely to show up on the nails, so make sure you are getting enough of these nutrients. If you’re fairly sure you’re getting your gains in, you could always consider supplements, especially if you’re off dairy and might not get much calcium in your diet. Zinc is found in lots of seeds, nuts, wholegrains and eggs, and vitamin A in sweet potatoes, red peppers, carrots and green leafy veg. A trip to your GP to get a blood test might give you a more specific breakdown of what you’re lacking, but a supplement isn’t a bad idea, considering that ticking off every one of the nutrients you need every day doesn’t always happen in our grab-a-flat-white-and-a-banana-don’t-eat-til-dinner workplace culture.
On supplements, Lola said to look for silica on the ingredients list: "Silica bonds with many minerals in the body, helping move nutrients to the peripherals of the body, like the hair, skin and nails, so you get more absorption."
Illustrated by Olivia Santner
In terms of wear and tear, you don’t get hardcore manicures, but do you pick your cuticles? There’s a school of thought that picking at them out of habit can cause damage to the nail matrix, making the nails grow through with ridges, especially close to the nail bed. Take a look at the skin by your nail bed. Is it a little raised? If so, both manicurists and dermatologists argue it could be inflamed due to constant picking. A regular slathering of cuticle oil will help moisturise the skin, reducing dryness and potentially making you less likely to pick at bits of rough skin.
Overall, I’d say keep an eye on your protein and iron intake, and consider getting a supplement: Perfectil Plus Nails has folic acid, B vitamins, iron and zinc, as well as co-enzyme Q10. Integrative Beauty Skin + Hair + Nails has pretty much all of the above, plus biotin, vitamin C and glutathione, giving it all-over beauty benefits. Dose up on the cuticle oil at least twice a day (there’s no such thing as too much, really), and take heart that your nails are always regrowing and regenerating.
Good luck!
Got a question for our resident beauty columnist Daniela Morosini? No problem, qualm or dilemma is too big, small or niche. Email, including your name and age for a chance to have your question answered. All letters to 'Dear Daniela' become the property of Refinery29 and will be edited for length, clarity, and grammatical correctness.

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