Monday, February 26, 2018

How to Survive a Badly Injured Fingernail

It might be a little dramatic to suggest how to survive a ripped fingernail, but anyone who has ever suffered the throbbing discomfort of a nail cut or torn past the quick may not think so. This fairly minor injury can cause a lot of pain!

Accidents happen.

In January, I was reminded that improper use of a sharp knife can be dangerous. I've learned all sorts of things from the online Master Class classes I have been taking, including the importance of heeding the teacher's warnings. Despite being cautioned against using a well-sharpened chef knife on a hard vegetable until completely proficient with the knife skill technique being taught, I did it anyway. 

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a sweet potato and chef knife on a wooden cutting board

Oops. I did not cut off a finger (as it had been suggested could happen) when the big knife slipped. I did, however, slice right through the middle of the nail on my pinkie finger. Ouch.

Fortunately, the damage to the flesh under the nail was not deep. But it hurt - a lot. I was terrified I would completely rip off the top half of my nail before it grew out. My solution for a
few days was to keep it heavily bandaged.

Initially, I couldn't even look at my nail without wincing, so there are no photos of the initial injury. I doubt you would want to see those, anyway! Here is one taken about five days after the accident. The inner edge of the nail above the cut was loose and could easily have caught on something.

Badly injured fingernail
Yes, my hands are dry and chapped. Our cold winters and lack of humidity in Montana is hard on them!

There had to be a better solution than using band aids

After almost a week, it finally dawned on me that a professional nail technician might be able to help. I spoke with one, and she suggested super gluing a patch of cheesecloth to the nail and then coating it with polish after that. (A piece of a tea bag would also work and probably would be easier to use than cheesecloth.) 

This repair seemed like a good idea, but I doubted my ability to perform this task on myself. I envisioned dripping glue everywhere and possibly adhering my finger firmly to the counter. Making an appointment to have the repair done professionally seemed like a more sensible idea.

The manicurist I spoke with had no available appointments, but I managed to get in with someone else. She suggested a different approach, which worked even better than I could have hoped. 

A successful treatment

She painted the nail with several coats of a mixture of liquid acrylic nail glue and powder, which gave it a lot of stability. To make the repair less noticeable, she painted all of my nails with a clear top coat, which I could reapply as needed. 

It was so nice to not have to keep wearing band aids. I immediately felt confident that the nail was strong and my hands could take as much abuse during my daily tasks as ever. It was the perfect solution.

About five weeks later, the nail had finally grown out enough so that the cut section was at the tip, and there was no longer any risk of pain if it broke off. The acrylic coating had held up well. It did grow out along with the fingernail, so by then only the top part of my nail (the part that still contained the rip) was still covered by the patch.

Acrylic patch on a finger nail

Healing took a while, but it did happen

Once it felt safe to do so, I was easily able to remove what remained of the acrylic coating by using a non-acetone nail polish remover. I filed the nail down to the intact portion, so no rough edges were left to snag. 
Repaired torn fingernail

I'm grateful and perhaps even a little wiser

My gratitude to the manicurist was comparable to what I would have felt had a health professional sutured up a wound. If you ever find yourself with a badly injured nail, I highly recommend this solution. 

Furthermore, I do not recommend trying to cut sweet potatoes with a big knife.

Have you ever had a badly injured fingernail, and what did you do?


  1. I cut sweet potatoes with a big knife all the time. I've learned to turn the tips of my fingers under a bit and use the knuckles as a guide for the blade, like the TV chefs do. Also a SHARP knife won't slip, that's what blunt knives do when you have to exert pressure to get them to cut. Another good tip is to angle the knife blade just a teeny bit away from the hand holding the vegetable, or meat, fruit, whatever you are cutting.

    1. I think I had the blade angled the wrong way! The knife was extremely sharp, but my knuckles were clearly not angled correctly. It sounds like you have mastered the technique I was learning ... and that I was clearly not proficient enough!

  2. Been there...done that! I sliced the top of my index fingernail off once. It has always been a bit deformed. My mother-in-law taught me to slice with my fingers (the ones holding the object to be cut) curled slightly toward my hand so that if you cut anything it would be the skin off your knuckle. Of course, the time I sliced my nail off I didn't think she knew what she was talking about! Live and learn I guess. Be careful!

    1. Ouch Lynn! I was trying to curl my knuckles as a guide, but it felt awkward, and I need more practice on softer veggies I think!

  3. Replies
    1. River, I owe you, and everyone else who has left a comment here, an apology for the delay in publishing them. Due to a lot of spam, I set the comments so that all must be moderated before being published. It's been an unusually busy week, and it took me a while to moderate them. Thanks for commenting!

  4. Yikes. I did the band-aid thing. This is such a simple, elegant solution.
    I'll know what to do next time! (and knowing my culinary skills, there WILL be a next time) ;)

    1. Hi Diane! I always hope I've learned my lesson, but I think when you cook a lot, it easy to cut yourself. But let's hope future injuries are minor!

  5. Hey Susan I am so glad you posted this. I literally just cut off the tip of my fingernail and have been freaking out about how to make sure it heals correctly.

    1. I hoped this worked for you Mariel and that your finger has healed!

  6. I accidentally slammed shut a car door on my thumb ,long story short i did not break the thumb but the nail was severely sliced on the upper part of the thumb its been 1 month and a few weeks now and i can see that the nail has separated itself lunula area but the rest of the nail is healthy not sure what to do new nail growth has develop but like i said beyond the lunula area the rest of the nail is healthy


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