MadSci Network: Medicine

Re: is a hangnail caused by a deficiency?

Date: Wed Nov 14 19:33:51 2001
Posted By: Dian Dooley, , Associate Professor, Food Science and Human Nutrition, University of Hawaii at Manoa
Area of science: Medicine
ID: 1002738331.Me

Aloha, Niki,

     You asked a very interesting question.  I teach a variety of 
undergraduate and graduate human nutrition courses here at the University 
of Hawai`i at Manoa, so I know quite a bit about nutrition and a fair 
amount about human physiology.  However, your question made me do a bit of 
digging in both nutrition and physiology texts.  
     Here is what I think a correct answer is:  A hangnail is simply a 
piece of skin that surrounds a nail, 'gone bad.'  The skin has become 
split, irritated, or otherwise damaged and is pulled away from the nail.  
Of course, it can then become infected and be very annoying and the point, even, of having to see a medical doctor to get it 
taken care of.  As far as my nutrition knowledge tells me, there is no 
direct relationship between either nutritient deficiency or excess and the 
formation of the hangnail.
     However, there are a number of nutrients that can affect the health of 
your skin.  So, indirectly, getting a hangnail may be related to your skin 
being less than healthy.  Vitamins, such as, riboflavin (vitamin B-2), 
Vitamin A (or carotenes), and niacin (another B-vitamin) are important for 
the health of the skin.  Minerals (such as zinc), too, help keep the skin 
healthy and could also play a part in development of the hangnail.  The 
immune system is the part of the body that helps your body fight off 
infection;  zinc, vitamin C, and adequate protein in the diet all help 
    So, I guess the real answer to your question is that hangnails are most 
likely caused by something damaging the skin around the fingernails, even 
a rough manicure.  Then, if your skin is less than healthy and/or your 
immune system isn't functioning quite right, you have a chance of it 
developing into something worse that just a piece of annoying loose skin.
    Of course, as a nutritionist, I need to get a plug in for keeping your 
whole body (including your skin) healthy by eating a balanced and varied 
diet...choosing from food groups such as in the Food Guide Pyramid...and 
eating to satisfy your hunger, so that you can grow/mature at a proper rate 
and remain healthy...especially fruits and vegetables, meats and/or meat 
substitutes like peanut butter and beans, milk and other dairy products, 
plenty of cereals, rice, pasta, potatoes...and even a few treat foods, now 
and again. ..yes, even a candy bar, french fries or corn chips, once in a 

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