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Tips to care for an injured nail

4 nail injury tips from dermatologists

To prevent a nail injury, keep your nails short, choose the right shoes, and wear protective gear when playing sports.

If you do injure your nail, follow these tips from board-certified dermatologists to care for your wound at home.

It’s far too easy to injure a nail. Between common traumas caused by car doors, kitchen accidents, sports injuries, stubbing a toe, or wearing the wrong shoes, you might not even remember how you hurt your nail.

Fortunately, you can treat an injured nail at home. Keep in mind that if you can’t bend your finger or toe; if blood covers more than half your nail; if your nail is black or purple; or if your injury is particularly painful, the best first step is to see your dermatologist or get emergency medical care.

If you have a mild nail injury, board-certified dermatologists recommend following these tips.

Treat your wound. If any part of your nail is hanging off, gently trim away the part not connected to your skin. Then, gently clean the wound using soap and water. If the wound is bleeding, don’t put a dry bandage or gauze on top — once the bleeding stops, this will stick. Instead, apply petroleum jelly to keep your wound moist and then cover with gauze or a bandage. Repeat these steps every day while your wound heals.

Do not put sticky products on your nail. Make sure to only apply sticky products, such as an adhesive bandage or medical tape, to the skin around your nail so you don’t irritate the injury further. Wrapping your wound with an elastic bandage is another good option, however, do not wrap the bandage too tightly.

Get relief. Apply a cool, damp washcloth to your wound to reduce swelling. Prop the arm or leg with an injured nail on pillows so the nail is higher than your heart. This helps reduce swelling. Taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help relieve pain and reduce swelling when your nail injury is new.

Protect your nail while it heals. A nail injury can take several weeks to feel completely better. Even after your wound stops bleeding, keeping a light dressing on the nail, such as an adhesive bandage or a small piece of gauze, provides padding and protection.

To prevent another nail injury, keep your nails short so they do not bend or catch on objects. Make sure your shoes fit well and have a wide toe box to prevent rubbing, and wear the proper gear to protect your nails while playing sports.

If you’re following these tips and your nail injury isn’t looking or feeling better after a few days, see a board-certified dermatologist. A dermatologist can help provide relief and make sure that there are no underlying issues with your nail.

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Written by:
Brooke Schleehauf

Reviewed by:
William Warren Kwan, MD, FAAD
Shari Lipner, MD, PhD, FAAD
Bassel Hamdy Mahmoud, MD, PhD, FAAD
Omolara Olowoyeye, MD, FAAD
Sanna Ronkainen, MD, FAAD

Last updated: 7/24/23