What is a Cuticle? What They Really Are and 5 Ways to Care for Them

Jul. 29, 2020
Many people don’t know it, but the cuticle is actually an incredibly important part of your nail, and if they are not looked after properly it can lead to unhealthy nails or even more serious issues. Taking proper care of your cuticles will actually help your body to grow super healthy and strong nails, but what are they, what does a cuticle do, and how do we care for them? 
What is a Cuticle?
There is often a lot of confusion about what the cuticle actually is. Well, if you take a look at your nail, you will be able to see a layer of skin around your nail bed, below the pale half-moon shape, known as the lunula. (If you’ve recently had a manicure, it may have been trimmed away, but it’s the skin that the manicurist pushes back and trims at the beginning of your manicure.) 
While it may sound scary that someone is cutting your skin, the cuticle is actually non-living tissue that attaches to the nail itself, so it doesn’t hurt when it is damaged. 
What Does a Cuticle Do?
Now you know what a cuticle is, but what does a cuticle do? They act as protection from bacteria for the new nails growing through beneath, which can be vulnerable to infection. 
As the cuticle is actually attached to the nail, it provides a seal to the rest of the matrix (which we will talk more about below) to prevent any dirt and bacteria from getting in that may cause harm.
Why Do We Need to Care for Our Cuticles?
One of the main reasons we need to care for our cuticles is because they are part of our “nail matrix.” The matrix is an area deep below your nail and set back in your finger where the nail starts to grow. The matrix has an element of control over how healthy our nails are as they grow. Nails are made from keratin, which is produced in this matrix, and as these new, soft keratin cells are formed, the old cells are moved on to form the hard, visible nail.
If any part of your matrix is damaged or unhealthy, such as through improper care, these new cells are often of lower quality and so your nail will grow with abnormalities, such as discoloration, ridges, or brittleness.
When you take proper care of your cuticles it not only protects against abnormalities and infection, it can also help the natural growth of strong, healthy nails.
Is it safe for the manicurist to cut my cuticles?
Although many manicurists will cut cuticles as part of typical manicure steps, both the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) and the Mayo Clinic recommend that cutting cuticles should be avoided, even when having your nails done by a professional manicurist in a nail salon.
This is because, as mentioned above, your cuticles are what protect your new nail cells from infection, and when they are cut there is more space for bacteria to get in and therefore an increased risk of developing an infection.
You may still find that many manicurists will cut the cuticle despite this risk as they say this helps a manicure to last longer and offer better results. However, you should always ask your manicurist to simply push back your cuticle and trim the loose skin, no longer attached to the nail, not the whole cuticle.
How to Care for Your Cuticles: 5 Top Tips
The important thing to know is how to care for your cuticles in the right way to keep your nails healthy and always looking their best, here are 5 tips: 
Keep Them Clean
The simplest way to care for your cuticles is to regularly soak your nails, whether your hands or feet, in warm, soapy water for about 10 minutes. Not only will this help to keep your cuticles soft it’s also super relaxing! (You can do this as part of a relaxing bath!) 
Avoid Cutting Your Cuticles
As we mentioned above, there really shouldn’t be any reason to cut your cuticles. It might make your manicure look a little nicer and last a little longer, but it is really not worth the risk of infection.
Avoid cutting your cuticles and avoid abnormalities like ridges, brittle nails, white lines, or white spots. Basically, just an unhealthy nail!
However, note that cutting your cuticle and simply trimming the loose skin are two different things, so gently pushing back excess cuticle and trimming the loose skin is okay. 
Use a Wooden Cuticle Stick
If the reason you cut your cuticles is to make your nails look a bit longer, you can get this same effect by simply pushing back the cuticle. Make sure you do this gently with a wooden tool, as opposed to a metal tool, after soaking your nails so that your cuticles will be soft. You’ll often find these in manicure kits. 
You probably don’t ever think about it, but your cuticle skin can become dry and cracked like on any other area of your body, and it is just as important to keep them moisturized. You don’t even need a special product, you can simply use a regular body moisturizer or hand cream, just take some time to actively massage it into your cuticles.
Dermatologists advise using a thicker cream or Vaseline when you can as this will provide the best results. If you find that these are too messy to use during the day, while you are at work or just out and about, you can use a thinner lotion during the day and apply the thicker product at night when you go to bed.
You can also buy cuticle oil which can be easily applied throughout the day and is a great way to prevent your cuticles from drying out and the possibility of cracking.
Avoid Drying Agents
The final tip is to avoid any activity that might dry out your cuticles. This includes washing dishes without using rubber gloves and using nail polish remover that isn’t acetone-free.
Just remember, whenever your hands and nails become dried out, moisturize!
If you keep in mind that your cuticles are important, and care for your hands (especially when we’re using so much hand sanitizer), you’ll have healthy cuticles that aren’t at risk of infection. 
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