What are Cuticles?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: Sara Z. Potter
  • Last Modified Date: 28 April 2020
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In human anatomy, cuticles or eponychia are the small folds of thickened skin at the base of each of the nails. Their purpose is to protect the area between the skin and the nail from infection. Some people hardly ever notice their cuticles, but others, especially those with dry skin, may suffer from small tears in the cuticles known as hangnails. If the cuticle is damaged, infection may result.

Properly caring for the cuticles involves keeping them well moisturized and trimming off any loose ends, but taking care not to over-trim. Infection at the site where skin and nail meet, called paronychia, is often caused by excessive manicuring, biting or tearing the cuticles, or frequent exposure of the hands to hard water and detergent, such as a professional dishwasher may experience. Stress and handling a lot of paperwork can also lead to dry cuticles. Using rubber gloves when the hands are in water and applying hand lotion or salve to the cuticles a few times a day or whenever they feel dry can help keep them healthy. If infection sets in, it may be bacterial or fungal in nature, and lancing and/or antibiotics may be required to treat it.

In addition to regular hand lotion, there are oils and creams specifically intended for cuticles on the market, including a brush-on version that looks like a bottle of nail polish. Petroleum jelly or vitamin E can be used to moisturize especially dry cuticles. Another option is to wear moisturizing gloves to bed or while relaxing.

In the winter, when colds are rampant, people are often advised to wash their hands frequently to prevent contracting an illness. While this hand washing is a great idea, combined with the often dry weather of winter, it often wreaks havoc on cuticles. Using hand lotion after every washing can help keep you and your hands healthy.

Overgrown cuticles are unsightly and can interfere with nail growth, but over trimming them can cause a greater problem. If you are in the habit of getting professional manicures, consider asking the manicurist not to cut your cuticles. It is best to deal with hangnails yourself, as you are less likely to cut too far and can make sure your instruments are sterile. While manicures provide a lot of moisturizing and can help keep cuticles healthy when used on a regular basis, be aware that products like silk wraps and acrylic nails can contribute to dry, cracking cuticles.

If you want to avoid the clippers altogether, try using a deep moisturizer followed by exfoliating your cuticles to get them soft, smooth, and healthy - but do not use this method if the skin around your nails is broken. Another method for cuticle care, often used by manicurists, involves pushing back the cuticles gently with an instrument called an orange stick. This must be done gently, taking care not to break the cuticles or push them back too far, and any material remaining on the nail must be cleaned off before finishing the job with a moisturizer.

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Post 3

Cold weather causes my cuticles to become dry and peel. I use the lotion trick too but you can also by cuticle moisturizing pens that are made especially for peeling or dry cuticles. There are even flavored ones that can help you stop biting your cuticles!

Post 2

@courtneyg, That is a great way to keep cuticles looking healthy! The lotion you use does not need to be any type of special hand lotion. I use a lotion with a sweet pea scent that I love and it smells pleasant as well as keeps my cuticles from peeling.

Another trick is to push back and cut your cuticles when they begin to really look bad. After rubbing your lotion into your nails and cuticle beds, use a cuticle pusher (available at any drugstore) and push your cuticles back. After doing so, with cuticle trimmers (also available at any drugstore), cut away the excess skin that is now in your cuticle bed. Be careful not to cut too deep or hard to avoid any bleeding and risk of infection.

If you are unsure of how to do this, watch closely the next time you go to the nail salon!

Post 1

I normally have terrible cuticles that seem to always be dry and it makes for very unattractive hands! A way I keep my peeling cuticles and nails looking healthy in between salon visits is by constantly moisturizing! I keep a small bottle of lotion in my purse and rub it into my nails and cuticles whenever I get a chance.

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