How the term “hangnail” got its name is a bit of a mystery, since proximity is all it shares with an actual nail. By definition, a hangnail is a tear in the cuticle or the skin surrounding the nail plate. In theory, hangnails are avoidable. But because so many things — even exposure to air — can dry our skin, hangnails are likely to appear unless a person commits to intentional and consistent maintenance.

In other words, you are the solution. As a nail tech, you’re in the perfect position to educate clients how to prevent hangnails — and also to offer a remedy should one develop. Here’s how that conversation might sound:

Client: Ugh. This change of weather is killing me. My skin is so dry.

You: I see your cuticles are split in a couple of places, and you have a few hangnails. I’ll use moisturizer and oil during your service so your frayed skin softens before I trim it. The worst thing we could do is to cut these little pieces off while the skin is still dry and cracked. That increases the chance of ripping the skin. I recommend you purchase a bottle of cuticle oil while you’re here and apply it every morning and evening. It will keep your skin moisturized and hopefully prevent new hangnails from developing.

Client: I thought a hangnail was a split on the side of the nail. A friend of mine had one and her finger bled and got infected.

You: Actually, a hangnail isn’t a split nail. A hangnail is when the cuticle or skin next to the nail tears. And sometimes, just as you’ve described, it tears enough that the skin is compromised. When that happens, bacteria can get in the wound and cause an infection. Most of the time, though, that only happens when we pull at the hangnail and rip the skin open.

Client: That’s true. My friend bites and picks at her nails all the time.

You: Right. Actually, nail biting is another common cause of hangnails. Improper filing and inadequate cuticle care are also culprits. But, hangnails often happen simply as a result of dry skin. That comes from so many different factors, such as cold weather, dry climates, or even swimming or washing our hands often. That’s why it’s so important to use creams or oils on our cuticles every day.

Client: So, will you get rid of them today?

You: Well, if you had any type of infection, I wouldn’t be able to do anything until it cleared up. But since your hangnails haven’t broken the skin open, I’ll be able to get rid of them by softening the skin and using my nippers to trim the dry, loose pieces that are frayed. Do you see this particular hangnail? It looks as if it’s part of your nail plate, but it isn’t.

Client: Oh, I see that now.

You: When we soften it, we’ll be able to trim this extra skin without ever touching the nail. You’ll definitely see a big improvement in your hands by the time you leave here today. Hopefully, the cuticle oil you use at home will protect against new hangnails, but if not, regular manicures should keep them from becoming painful or infected.


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