Cuticle cream is used for moisturizing and softening the layers of dead skin surrounding the fingernails and toenails. It is often applied before a manicure or pedicure. Overgrown, dry, or ragged cuticles can then be gently pushed back and reshaped. This process both enhances the health of the nails and cuticles and gives the fingers or toes a more pleasing appearance. This cream is primarily made of some combination of vegetable or essential oils, occasionally with vitamins added for additional benefits to the skin. It is also common for the cream to include citric acid or urea to help the skin absorb it faster.
The word "cuticle" is often mistakenly applied to the eponychium, a hardened layer of thick skin at the base of the nails. A cuticle is actually the layer of dead skin found on top of the still-living skin of the eponychium. Together, the eponychium and the cuticle act as a protective barrier around the nail, keeping out bacteria and other foreign substances. Damage to the cuticles can result in irritation or infection of the skin surrounding the nails or of the nails themselves. Applying cuticle cream keeps the cuticles from drying out and becoming damaged, thus contributing to the overall health of the nails.
This cream can also be applied for cosmetic reasons. As it is moisturizing, it helps minimize dryness on the feet and hands, which is generally thought to be unattractive. It also softens the nails and the cuticles, making them more flexible and easier to manipulate during a manicure or pedicure. Often, manicurists or pedicurists will gently massage the skin surrounding the nails as they apply the cream. This massaging motion actually promotes nail health and growth as well by increasing blood flow to the eponychium.
Sometimes, cuticles can grow over the nails themselves, leaving small pieces of dead skin on top of the fingernails or toenails. This skin may be cut off with nail scissors, but this can potentially damage the cuticles. Cuticle cream can be applied to the overgrown cuticles instead. Once moisturized, the cuticles may be pushed back gently with a soft cloth, although some experts recommend against pushing the cuticles at all.
Cuticle creams are safe to apply every day, or even multiple times daily. They can be applied in small amounts to the nails and surrounding areas with a cotton swab. Most are not absorbed into the skin immediately; to ensure full absorption, the cream should be left on the skin for a few minutes before beginning a manicure or pedicure.