Pop quiz, hotshot: What’s a hangnail? Some people use the term to refer to torn skin around their nail and cuticles. Others reserve it for nails that break, rip or split. In reality, it’s the former — but whatever you call it, the goal of treating hangnails is to prevent infection and minimize the chance of further tearing (whether it’s skin or a nail that’s doing the tearing).
When it comes to actual nails that are split or torn, the best prevention is keeping your nails short, says dermatologist Chris Adigun. If your lifestyle is so rugged (or your nails so fancy) that a nail rips anyway, “The most important thing to do first is trim any nail that might be hanging off, in order to prevent it from getting caught again,” Adigun says. Next, clean the finger with soap and water and put on an antibiotic ointment and bandage. “The key is protecting the nail and preventing it from being re-traumatized, and preventing infection,” Adigun explains.
Treatment for torn skin around your nails is pretty similar: Don’t pick at it (you can, however, gently cut off hanging skin with a cuticle trimmer), wash your hands and keep the area clean. If you’re a chronic cuticle picker, you might want to try some of the tricks known to end nail biting, because ripped up cuticles are not only unsightly and painful, they also put you at risk for warts on your fingers. And I’m pretty sure no one wants that.