A cuticle is a thin layer of dead skin that grows around the edge of your toenails and fingernails. It provides a barrier to protect your nails from infection.
Without cuticles, bacteria, dirt, and fungus could seep beneath your nail and cause an infection. So, you shouldn’t remove or cut your cuticles — although you might be tempted to if your cuticles overgrow.
Cuticle overgrowth is mostly unsightly and doesn’t usually cause problems. Sometimes, though, unmanaged overgrowth can lead to other issues.
Keep reading to learn about what causes overgrown cuticles and how to treat them.
When your cuticle grows beyond your proximal fold and covers some of your nail, it’s considered to be overgrown. The proximal fold is your skin located at the base of your nail plate.
Although overgrown cuticles are a minor nuisance, they shouldn’t be ignored. If left unmanaged, cuticles can continue to overgrow, putting you at risk of other issues.
The overgrowth can cause your cuticles to split, which means bacteria and dirt can enter your nail bed and trigger an infection. A nail infection may include not only pain, but also nail redness or discoloration and swelling.
Addressing a cuticle overgrowth starts with understanding possible causes of this issue. These include:
Lack of nail maintenance
Neglecting proper nail care is a top reason for cuticles to overgrow. It’s important to take care of your nails, as well as your skin around your nails.
Poor nail care often causes your cuticles to grow beyond your proximal fold.
You should never cut or remove your cuticles. This can cause them to grow back quickly, contributing to overgrowth. Instead, gently push back your cuticles. This can stop and prevent cuticles from growing on top of your nail bed.
Although less common, systemic issues in your body might cause cuticles to overgrow too.
Chronic stress causes your body to release more cortisol, and too much of this stress hormone can affect different parts of your body. This includes your skin, hair, and yes, even your nails.
The exact link between systemic issues and overgrown cuticles isn’t known, but long-term stress or strain is one possible culprit of unusual growth.
What’s the difference between your cuticle and your eponychium?
Some people use the terms cuticle and eponychium interchangeably, but they’re different. Your cuticle is dead tissue at the base of your nails that’s attached directly to your nail plate.
Your eponychium refers to living tissue attached to your nail plate. Your eponychium is often referred to as your cuticle, but it’s situated between your finger’s skin and your cuticle.
Lack of maintenance and stress aren’t the only causes of overgrowth. Some health conditions might also cause cuticles to overgrow or grow too quickly. These conditions include:
Psoriasis is a skin condition when skin cells multiply rapidly, causing a buildup of dead skin cells.
Although it commonly affects skin, it can also affect nails and develop in your nail root. When psoriasis affects your nails, rapid growth of cuticles can occur. This results in an overgrowth.
If left untreated, cuticles can gradually cover parts of your nail.
Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition that might trigger overgrown cuticles. It typically causes a range of symptoms such as itching and dry, scaly skin.
Sometimes eczema can develop near your cuticle and trigger nail changes. When eczema forms near your cuticles, excess scratching or rubbing can cause this skin to overgrow.
To treat and avoid cuticle overgrowth, you’ll need to practice good cuticle care. Never cut your cuticles. Instead, use a cuticle stick to gently push back cuticle overgrowth. Here are the instructions.
How to trim back cuticle overgrowth
- Before starting, soak your nails in warm, soapy water to soften your cuticles. Soak for about 10 minutes and then dry with a clean towel.
- Next, apply a few drops of olive oil, cuticle oil, or essential oil to your nails and cuticles. Massage the oil into your skin and let it sit for 15 minutes.
- Using a cuticle stick, gently push back your cuticles starting at the base of your nail. Be gentle to avoid lifting your nail or damaging your cuticles. You can use nail scissors to remove any loose skin, but don’t use the scissors on your cuticles.
Additionally, you can take other steps to keep your cuticles healthy. This not only prevents splitting, but also helps prevent further overgrowth.
Keep your hands and cuticles moisturized with lotion or oils to prevent dryness. Nail polish remover, hand sanitizer, and even washing your hands can dry out your cuticles.
In most cases, you don’t need to contact a doctor for cuticle overgrowth. You can treat your toenails or fingernails at home.
But you should contact a doctor if you develop signs of a nail infection. This can happen if your cuticles split. Signs of an infection around your nails include not only pain, but also:
- redness or discoloration
Cuticles serve a valuable purpose which is to protect your nail from bacteria, dirt, and fungus. It’s important to take care of your nails and cuticles, as neglect can cause cuticle overgrowth.
Practice good nail hygiene, which includes soaking and moisturizing your cuticles, and gently pushing them back from time to time. This can keep your cuticles healthy and prevent further overgrowth.