What Are Cuticles? Tips for Proper Care

Cuticles often are not something most people stop to think about. But did you know that cuticles serve an important purpose? These small pieces of the skin protect your nails from bacteria and keep them strong, so it’s important to maintain them and keep them pampered. Keep reading to learn more about cuticles — what they are and how to keep them healthy.

What are cuticles?

Cuticles are a thin layer of skin cells found at the base of your toenails or fingernails, commonly called the proximal nail fold. They connect your nails and the skin of your fingers.


As your nails grow, new skin cells around the base of the nail (eponychium) push older skin cells on the nail plate, forming nail cuticles.

what are cuticles

Cuticles protect your nails from bacteria that may cause infections. So, make sure to include cuticle care as part of your nail care routine.

Cuticle care: tips for healthy cuticles

If you want to keep your nails looking good, then cuticle care may be the key to avoiding cuticle damage and preventing hangnails. Here are a few home cuticle care tips:

  1. Don't cut your cuticles. The American Academy of Dermatology advises against cutting your cuticles. Although cuticle removal may seem helpful during a gel manicure, it may cause problems later. When you cut your nail cuticles, you may leave them susceptible to infections. To maintain your cuticles, soak your nails in warm water to soften them. Then, gently push the cuticle back using a cuticle pusher.
  2. Moisturize your cuticles. When you let your cuticles become overly dry, they may start to crack and peel, which can be painful. To keep your nails and cuticles healthy, you may want to moisturize them every single day. You may use petroleum jelly or lotion for this. When you apply, massage the cuticles gently to allow them to absorb the moisture.
  3. Don't pick or bite cuticles. Biting may negatively affect your cuticles. Biting is usually a common habit, especially for people with high levels of stress. Biting and picking the skin around the nails may damage nail cuticles and may lead to nail infection. If you have the urge to bite or pick your nails, you can try using a squeezing stress ball instead to distract yourself.
  4. Wear gloves while cleaning. Harsh chemicals, such as dish soap and cleaning agents, can dry out your nails and cuticles. To protect your nails, invest in a set of gloves for housework.
  5. Choose the right nail polish remover. If you use nail polish regularly, it's important to choose a remover that won't dry out the cuticles. Avoid acetone-based products because they can irritate and dehydrate the skin.
  6. Avoid uncertified and rough manicurists. When you visit a nail salon, make sure that your manicurist understands that you prefer gentle cuticle care. Tell your manicurist to push cuticles back very gently, and if you have hangnails, tell them to clip it carefully. Some nail technicians can be overly vigorous, which may cause redness and soreness around the nails.

Common cuticle problems

Cuticles are small and delicate skin layers, which makes them easy to overlook. When you don't take proper cuticle care, there are several conditions that can affect your nails. Some of them include:


Nail infection (paronychia)

Paronychia is an infection of the skin around a toenail or fingernail. Paronychia usually occurs when microorganisms enter disrupted skin near the nail bed, causing an infection. The infected area can become red, swollen, and painful. Some physicians may recommend treating mild paronychia with warm water soaks or using antiseptic solutions alongside other antibacterial medications. But, if symptoms do not improve within a few days, it's important to see a doctor.

Dry and cracked cuticles

Cuticles can get dry and crack very easily. Some causes of dry and cracked cuticles include not moisturizing the skin regularly, using harsh nail polish remover, and even cold weather. You can tell your cuticles are dry if they're peeling, flaking, or cracked. Cracked cuticles may allow microorganisms to enter the nail bed and surrounding areas, causing a nail infection, so you’ll want to treat them right away. To manage dry cuticles, use a good moisturizing cream and cuticle oil regularly.

Fungal nail infections

Another common problem that may affect cuticles is nail fungus, also commonly known as onychomycosis. Nail fungus is caused by the growth of fungi in or under the nail. Fungi can attack the nails through small cuts or cracks in the skin around the nail. A fungal infection can cause the nail to become thickened, discolored, and distorted. For a mild fungal nail infection, an antifungal cream may be recommended by a physician. For more severe cases, a doctor may prescribe oral medications. These may be more effective and work faster in severe cases than topical treatments.


An overgrown cuticle is when your cuticle grows excessively over the nail plate and covers some of your nail. It can make the nail look less cosmetically and aesthetically pleasing. Overgrown cuticles may occur due to improper nail care and lead to other issues, including split cuticles, hangnails, and an increased risk of bacterial infections. The best way to care for overgrown cuticles is to gently push them back with an orange stick or a cuticle pusher.

When to see a doctor

There are many nail and cuticle conditions that can arise without proper nail care. If you notice any signs of infection, such as swelling, redness, or pus, see a doctor right away.


While cuticles may seem like a tiny and insignificant part of your nails, they actually play an important role in nail health — they protect from bacteria. So, never forget to include them in your nail care routine. Some simple tips for maintaining healthy cuticles include avoiding cutting the cuticles, keeping your nails moisturized, using cuticle oil, avoiding picking or biting your cuticles, and wearing gloves while cleaning. By following these tips, you can make sure that your cuticles stay in optimal shape and your nails remain beautiful and healthy.


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