If the texture of your nails is reminiscent of a Ruffles potato chip (hey, it happens!), then experts have just the fix for your fingernail ridges. 

By Melanie Rud
May 10, 2021
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There's no shortage of issues that can plague your nails: cracking, peeling, dryness, spotting...you get the picture. But there's one complication that's particularly irksome, and, according to experts, pretty much unavoidable. I'm talking about ridges; those tiny peaks and valleys that create a bumpy, uneven texture on the surface of your nail. Go ahead and run your thumb over your other fingernails. Feel 'em? Then you might be in the market for some nail ridge filler.

While the name "ridge filler" might sound a little too good to be true, the clear liquid is actually pretty legit. Ahead, experts weigh in on everything there is to know about these bothersome bumps, what causes ridges in your nails in the first place, why nail ridge filler can help, and their top buys for smoother, healthier-looking nails. (Related: 5 Dos and Don'ts for Strong, Healthy Nails.)

What Are Nail Ridges?

"Nail ridges are vertical lines that run down the length of the nail, from cuticle to the free edge, causing an uneven surface," explains Stacey Steinmetz, a cosmetic biochemist and founder of StimuNail. All nails naturally have some degree of ridging, but deep ridges can actually be felt when you run your finger over the nail. The irregular texture is similar to that of a rippled potato chip, says Dana Stern, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New York City and nail health expert for Nu Skin.

What Causes Ridges In Nails?

Nearly everyone will develop onychorrhexis, the medical term for ridges in nails because it's most often something that comes with age, adds Scott Paviol, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in Charlotte, North Carolina. You can think of ridges in the nails as wrinkles you might start to see in your skin — a pretty much unavoidable sign of aging. "The nail grows from living cells in the nail matrix, the visible part of which is the white semi-circle you see at the base of your nail," explains Dr. Paviol. Those cells age just like the rest of those in our body, and that leads to changes in the nail, ridging included, over time, he says.

Ridges are also a clinical sign of more brittle nails, adds Dr. Stern, who notes that there are some external factors that can also come into play. Things such as excessive hand washing, acetone-based nail polish removers, and even alcohol-based hand sanitizers can cause severe dehydration of the nail, exacerbating (not necessarily causing) nail ridging, she says. What about nail-biting? As a wise Annie (playing Hallie) once said, "It's a horrid habit." As bad as chewing away at your fingernails might be for your overall health (potentially causing infections, cracked teeth, and more), it's not correlated to nail ridges.

And while gradual nail ridging shouldn't be a cause for concern (aging happens, folks!), if these bumps seem to appear suddenly or are very severe, contact a doctor, as this could potentially be a sign of anemia or thyroid issues, explains Dr. Stern.

What's the Best Way to Treat Nail Ridges?

Let's start with the meh news: "No treatment of onychorrhexis exists yet," says Dr. Paviol. Hence why topical products, namely a nail ridge filler, are your best bet. Again, nail ridge fillers aren't a permanent solution — more like a bandaid you have to keep reapplying — but they are effective. "[Nail ridge filler] a cosmetic fix that can improve the nail appearance and make for an even, more uniform nail plate," he says.

What you don't want to do, however, is try to buff away ridges. "Many people are tempted to buff down their nails to make them even, but the grooves of the nail are where the nail is the thinnest, so essentially you'd be buffing out the thicker ridges down and ultimately making the entire nail thinner and weaker," warns Steinmetz. So, while a nail ridge filler isn't technically a treatment, it is the best way to minimize the look and feel of any Ruffles-like texture, at least temporarily. (Related: Exactly How to Get a Salon-Quality Manicure at Home)

How Does Nail Ridge Filler Work?

"A ridge filler is a specially formulated polish with tiny micro-particles, fillers, or protein fibers that settle in the lower grooved areas, making them level with the higher ridged areas to even out the surface of the nail," explains Steinmetz. "Think of it like grouting between tiles, we're adding filling into the gaps to create one level surface. This can make the nail look better and create a smoother canvas for nail polish." (Speaking of which, have you seen Zendaya's Oscar's nails? Talk about a bump-free, smooth AF, affordable mani.)

It's the addition of these extra ingredients that separate ridge fillers from traditional base coats, which don't mask or level out the irregularities between the grooved areas of the nail. On that note, it bears mentioning that, unless a nail ridge filler specifically says it also works as a base coat, it's likely not going to be able to complete duties such as preventing chipping or prolonging polish wear-time, says Steinmetz. So if you're planning on polishing your nails, opt for two-in-one formulas (options below) or plan to apply a base coat over the nail ridge filler before layering on polish color.

Some nail ridge fillers also contain added strengthening ingredients, such as biotin, calcium, and silica — an added boon given that, as mentioned, ridged nails are more brittle. "Generally, if your nails are stronger, you'll have fewer ridges," notes Dr. Paviol. "Just like with wrinkles in the skin, ridges indicate a loss of structural integrity, so strengthening nails can help minimize ridging." (Related: How to Strengthen Your Nails.)

5 Best Nail Ridge Fillers Worth Trying

Olive & June Ridge Filler

Olive & June Ridge Filler
$14.00
SHOP IT
Olive & June

This formula relies on silica to help fill in ridges, and leave nails smooth and even. It touts hydrating vitamin E — a win for Steinmetz who notes that ridges will also be less apparent on more hydrated nails. (Think of your skin: Wrinkles are always less noticeable when skin is well-hydrated.) To up the nail-enhancing benefits even further, try layering this nail ridge filler over one coat of the brand's nail strengthener (Buy It, $14, oliveandjune.com), which Dr. Paviol says is a favorite among his patients. (Related: Olive & June's Topcoat Has Transformed My At-Home Mani Game)

Essie Smooth-e Base Coat

Essie Smooth-e Base Coat
$10.00
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Amazon

If you're planning to apply color after swiping on some nail ridge filler, reach for this double-duty option (which, btw, is also available at Ulta for the same price). "It's a great product since it functions as a base coat, but with the added benefit of smoothing nail surface irregularities," says Steinmetz. The key ingredient? Ceramides, which help to fill in those irregular grooves. (ICYDK, ceramides are also essential for keeping your skin plump and moisturized.)

Barielle Hydrating Ridge Filler

Barielle Hydrating Ridge Filler
$10
($16.00 save 38%)
SHOP IT
Amazon

Another one of Steinmetz's picks, this nail ridge filler does, "a great job of leveling the nail surface," thanks to the addition of silk protein fibers, she says. It really fills in those grooves for an even plate. It's a fan favorite on Amazon too, with satisfied users repeatedly commenting on how smoothly it goes on and how incredible it makes their nails look, camouflaging even super deep ridges.

Mavala Ridge Filler

Mavala Ridge Filler
$14.00
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Amazon

Part-base coat, part-ridge filler, this pre-polish product is no match for those annoying peaks and valleys. It masterfully levels out ridges and preps nails for long-lasting lacquer in one fell swoop, according to Steinmetz. Planning on sporting a bare mani? She notes that the mattifying formula leaves nails looking healthy and with a satiny finish.

Zoya Get Even Ridge Filling Base Coat

Zoya Get Even Nail Ridge Filling Base Coat
$18.00
SHOP IT
Walmart

This pick's fibers fill in ridges as well as grip onto polish, making it akin to a long-lasting base coat. It's also free of 10 commonly-used chemicals, which Steinmetz says is always a major win when it comes to nail health. (Related: The Best Clean and Natural Nail Polish Brands to Try Right Now)