A broken fingernail happens when part of your nail gets torn, chipped, split, smashed, or broken off. This can result from your nail getting caught on something or being involved in some kind of finger trauma.
Serious breaks can also injure the nail bed and nail matrix, where the cells that make up the nail are produced.
Let’s go over what you can do to minimize pain and discomfort if you break a nail, and how you can keep it from happening again.
There’s plenty you can do at home to take care of a broken nail right away without a trip to the doctor or emergency room.
In some cases, you can use fingernail glue (typically used to attach fake nails or tips) to reattach the broken part of your nail.
- Wash your nail with clean, warm water and dry with a clean towel.
- Soak the nail in warm water so it softens.
- Squeeze a small amount of nail glue onto the area where the nail broke off, and spread the glue out so that it forms a thin layer.
- Press the broken piece of nail gently but firmly onto the area where it broke off for 30 to 60 seconds until it stays attached.
- Remove any extra glue with a Q-tip or cotton ball.
- Use a file or buffer to make the smooth out the nail.
- Apply a thin layer of protective coating (such as a clear, base coat of nail polish) once the glue has dried.
- Wash your nail with clean, warm water and dry off with a clean towel.
- Cut out a tiny piece of a clean tea bag big enough to cover the broken area of your nail. Coffee filter material also works!
- Put a thin layer of nail glue or super glue across the broken part of your nail.
- Using tweezers, lay the tea bag material down flat on your nail and fold part of it under your nail tip.
- Put another layer of glue over the tea bag material.
- Once the glue’s dry, buff the nail until it looks natural and apply a protective coating.
NOTE: If you continue to apply glue and buff the affected nail each week, the tea bag may eventually be buffed off. In this case, you’ll need to apply another piece of tea bag until the part of the nail that’s torn grows out.
- Cut out a tiny piece of clear tape, such as Scotch tape or gift-wrapping tape, big enough to cover the broken area of your nail.
- Using tweezers, attach the tape to your nail so that it covers the entire torn or broken area. Press it down gently to make sure it’s firmly affixed to the nail.
- Use a pair of nail scissors to trim off any leftover tape around the nail.
Broken nails can cause a nail bed injury. In some cases, the nail can get completely torn off, crushed, pinched, or blood can pool beneath the nail. This is known as a subungual hematoma.
Nail bed injuries are far more serious than typically fingernail injuries. This is because they can harm the nail matrix from which nails grow. If not treated properly, the nail may stop growing back from the nail matrix.
The first thing you should do in this case is seek immediate medical attention to prevent
- Take off any rings, bracelets, or other jewelry from your hands and arms.
- Wash the injury with clean, warm water. Don’t touch the injured area directly so that you don’t cause any extra pain or injury.
- Gently pat the area dry with a clean towel.
- If desired, apply some antibiotic ointment to the injured area.
- Wrap a bandage or gauze around the nail and secure with medical tape.
Chips are much less serious than a tear or break, and they’re easily taken care of at home.
- If the nail is chipped at the tip: trim the rest of the nail tip down until the entire tip is even.
- If the nail is chipped below the tip: trim the nail down and apply a small piece of tape, glue, or tea bag material on top of the chip to help it grow back evenly.
- If the nail is chipped on the side: wash the area with clean, warm water, gently pat dry, apply an antibiotic ointment, and cover with a bandage or gauze and medical tape.
Here are some tips to keep your nails from breaking or getting injured:
- Wash your hands frequently and keep them dry.
- Don’t bite or pick at your nails or rip off hangnails.
- Don’t stay in the bath or shower for a long period of time.
- Trim or clip your nails regularly to keep them short. This can prevent them from snagging, and prevent dirt buildup underneath the nail.
- Wear gloves or other protective gear when working with your hands.
- Use only your own nail clippers.
- Get your nails done at a salon that’s clean, well-reviewed, and has a state cosmetology board license.
- Don’t get fake nails or use nail polish remover very often. This can wear away or weaken your nail.
Your fingers are involved in all sorts of daily activities, so there are plenty of ways your nails can break. Here are some common causes of nail breaks:
- constant exposure to moisture, which can soften and weaken the nail
- nail weakness or brittleness from age or malnutrition
- injury or weakness from fake nail glue
- habitual biting or picking at nail chips or tears
- getting your finger crushed in a door
- getting a small chip or tear snagged on a piece of clothing or other object, which can chip or tear the nail even more
- infection caused by an ingrown nail from improper trimming
- having a condition like psoriasis or a nail deformity, which can affect nail material
Nail injuries are common and can usually be remedied at home.
If the break involves a large part of the nail or affects the nail bed, you’ll need to get it fixed as soon as possible. You want to prevent total loss of your nail and complications that can occur as a result, such as infections or ingrown nails.
See a doctor if you see any bleeding or have any intense pain or discomfort from the injury or an infection.