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The cuticle is a layer of clear skin located along the bottom edge of your finger or toe, which is called the nail bed. The cuticle protects new nails from bacteria when they grow out from the nail root.

The area around the cuticle is delicate. It can get dry, damaged, and infected. It’s important to care for the entire nail area and keep it clean so that your nails stay healthy.

Read on to learn more about the cuticle and what you can do to care for this area.

Cuticle vs. nail lunula

The cuticle is the transparent skin located above and around the nail base. The lunula is the half-moon shape seen at the base of the nail. The lunula is located above the cuticle.

Illustration of the cuticle and nail

Hair cuticles

Human hair also contains cuticles. These are different from nail cuticles but have a similar function. Hair cuticles serve as a protective layer for the hair. They’re composed of dead, overlapping cells.

When healthy, these cuticles give your hair shine and protect its inner layers from damage.

It’s important to keep your cuticles clean at home. This prevents infection.

The easiest way to care for them is to soak your hand or foot in soapy, warm water for around 10 minutes every few days. This helps soften the cuticle and keeps your nails clean.

You can also apply cuticle oil and a massage cream. Moisturize your cuticles regularly to prevent dryness and cracking.

Is it safe to cut them?

Research about the safety of cutting cuticles is mixed. Both the Mayo Clinic and American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) advise against cutting cuticles. This includes cutting them at home or in a nail salon.

Cuticles protect both your nails and the skin surrounding them from infection. After cutting the cuticle, it’s easier for bacteria and germs to get inside. This can lead to an infection.

Most nail salons continue to cut cuticles, despite these guidelines. They argue that it helps polish go on better and stay on longer.

Instead of having them cut at your next manicure, ask your technician to just push back the cuticle and trim loose skin and hangnails.

How can you safely remove or trim them?

If you still want to trim your cuticles, it’s important to soften them first. You can do this by soaking your nails in warm water. Taking a bath or shower can also help soften them.

Next, apply cuticle remover. If your cuticles are dry, apply a moisturizer, too.

Using a cuticle pusher, carefully push back the cuticle along the nail bed. Trim excess skin and hangnails but never cut off the entire cuticle. The idea is to remove excess skin and hangnails only.

Cuticle pushers are made from various materials. You can purchase them at most beauty supply stores or online.

The area around the nail bed is very delicate. It’s common for cuticles to crack or peel. You can use cuticle oil or moisturizer to hydrate them. It’s safe to apply daily. You can also apply Vaseline overnight to soothe damaged cuticles.

How can you prevent cuticle damage?

Avoid picking at your cuticle. If you have a hangnail, carefully remove it with tweezers or clippers, instead of ripping it out or biting it off.

Also limit your use of harsh nail polishes and removers. Use an acetone-free formula for a nail polish remover.

Infected cuticles

Paronychia is an infection of the skin around your cuticles. Symptoms may include:

  • redness of the skin around the nail
  • tenderness
  • pus-filled blisters
  • changes in nail shape, color, or texture
  • nail detachment

Mild forms of paronychia can usually be treated at home. Your doctor can prescribe an antibiotic or antifungal medication for more serious cases. If you experience chronic paronychia, see your doctor for treatment.

When visiting a nail salon, keep these tips in mind:

  • Only visit salons that display a current, state-certified license.
  • Work only with technicians who are also licensed by the state board.
  • Make sure all tools are sterilized and look clean before getting your nails done.
  • If you are concerned about the quality of equipment, you can bring your own. Most nail files, clippers, and cuticle sticks can be purchased relatively inexpensively online.

Follow these tips to keep your nails healthy:

  • Trim nails regularly.
  • Use a nail file to smooth out rough edges.
  • Moisturize cuticles regularly.
  • Don’t bite your nails.
  • Apply a nail hardener to help strengthen nails.

If you’re interested in growing out your nails, ask your doctor if it’s safe for you to take biotin. This supplement is known for strengthening and hardening nails.

Taking care of your cuticles is important for your health. They protect your nail area from infection. Always avoid nail salons that don’t sanitize their instruments. And ask the technician to skip cutting your cuticles if you are uncomfortable.

Talk to your doctor or dermatologist if you notice signs or symptoms of a nail infection. They can recommend a treatment plan.