13 Tips for Treating Nail Psoriasis, Straight From Dermatologists

Byrdie posted "13 Tips for Treating Nail Psoriasis, Straight From Dermatologists" in which Dr. Patel stresses that treating autoimmune skin conditions like psoriasis is largely a matter of overall healthy habits. In addition to keeping your nails trimmed and clean, a balanced diet, rest, and drinking plenty of water are imperative. 

While many of us are well-versed in all things skincare, nail care—specifically nail health—is talked about less frequently. But it doesn't matter how beautiful your manicure is if your nails aren't thriving underneath the lacquer.

Several conditions can lead to weakened tips, one being nail psoriasis. Thankfully, there are more than a handful of ways to treat and prevent this common condition. Read on for everything you need to know about nail psoriasis—including more than a dozen ways to treat it—straight from board-certified dermatologists Purvisha Patel, MD, and Sandy Skotnicki, MD.

Meet the Expert

  • Purvisha Patel, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of Visha Skincare.
  • Sandy Skotnicki, MD, is a dermatologist and the founding director of Bay Dermatology Centre.

What Is Nail Psoriasis?

Psoriasis is a common skin condition that leads to the development of very dry and flakey skin. It can spread to the nails when the body's white blood cells target your tips.

"The inflammation triggers an acceleration in the production of cells, known as keratinocytes," explains Patel. "In the fingernails and toenails, the overproduction of keratinocytes can cause thickening, malformation, and discoloration as the cells are produced faster than they can be shed."

Nail psoriasis is very common, affecting 50 percent of all people with psoriasis.1 And while nail thickening and malformation are the most common symptoms, Patel says it can also show up as horizontal lines and furrows, yellowish-red dots under the nail, white patches on the nails, lifting of the nail plate, and brittle nails.

How to Treat Nail Psoriasis

Keep Your Nails Short

Since nail psoriasis causes nails to break easily, Patel says it's best to keep nails short to prevent them from cracking unevenly, which could potentially cause more discomfort.

Don't Bite Your Nails

Considering nail psoriasis already causes quite a bit of trauma, you'll want to avoid anything that could cause even more, like biting your nails.

Leave Your Cuticles Alone

Much like biting your nails, picking at your cuticles can further damage the nail or cause an infection.

Wear Gloves When Necessary

Since nail psoriasis is often associated with general brittleness, Skotnicki says to be extra gentle with your nails. She recommends shielding them from harsh environments by wearing cotton or rubber gloves when washing the dishes, gardening, or cleaning the house.

Clip Your Hangnails

Remember that no-biting rule? This includes hangnails. Biting or ripping a hangnail off can cause snagging and more damage. For this reason, Patel advises gently clipping them instead.

Keep Your Hands Moisturized

“Vitamin E oil and fish oils have been shown to help with inflammation of the nail beds and can help with the cuticles and growth of nails with nail psoriasis,” Patel says. We like Olive & June’s Cuticle Serum ($30), which includes vitamin E-packed avocado and jojoba oils on its ingredient list.

Don't Scrape the Buildup

We know the overproduction of keratinocytes can cause thickening, and with that comes buildup. While it may be tempting to scrape and pick at it, doing so could increase the risk of nail separation.

Apply an Antimicrobial Ointment

While it's recommended to use moisturizer to strengthen the nails and decrease inflammation, Patel points out that moist environments can promote bacterial and fungal growth. It's already common for people with nail psoriasis to have thick, uneven nails with cracks and holes, and that is, unfortunately, a perfect breeding ground for bacteria. "Using Vicks VapoRub ($7) on your nails at night helps decrease microbe growth—the active ingredients help kill microbes and prevent infections," she recommends.

Don't Use Fake Nails

When you have brittle, damaged nails, it can be tempting to apply fake nails to mask your natural tips—but Skotnicki says not to. "They can lead to nail trauma and a worsening of nail psoriasis," she says. She says it's ok to use regular nail polish, however, as it won't worsen the condition.

Consider Using a Finger Cover

Sometimes nail psoriasis only pertains to one nail. If that's your case, Patel recommends using a finger cover—especially if you've been prescribed a topical steroid to help treat it.

While some stores sell finger covers, Patel says you can easily create one by cutting the finger off a vinyl glove. That way, you get five covers per glove, which is often more cost-effective. Just keep in mind that with these DIY covers, you'll need something to secure them. Luckily, a bandage or medical tape works well. 

Eat Anti-Inflammatory Foods

Since psoriasis is an inflammatory condition, Patel says an anti-inflammatory diet can help prevent nail psoriasis from flaring up. "The gut and the skin are connected," she explains. "The skin is the largest immune organ of the body, and the gut is the second largest. Foods that increase inflammation include sugar, dairy, and gluten. Eat more foods with turmeric, as it is an anti-inflammatory."

Load Up on Fatty Acids

Speaking of diet: Patel says loading up on omega-3 fatty acids has been found to help with psoriasis in general. "These fatty acids are found in fatty fish such as salmon, flax seeds, and walnuts," she adds.

Commit to Your Basic Health Needs

Last but not least, Patel says that managing inflammatory conditions like nail psoriasis also comes down to committing to your basic hydration, sleep, and health needs. "Drinking [enough] water, getting eight hours of sleep, and taking a multivitamin and a probiotic are other healthy habits that help," she shares.

While there are plenty of ways to treat the symptoms of nail psoriasis, treating the underlying cause is not so easy. That's because there's yet to be a cure for the skin disease. If the above methods don't work to alleviate the discomfort of your symptoms, meet with a dermatologist to go over a custom plan.

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