Though you may only think about your cuticles when you get a manicure, they're not just hanging out on your hands. They serve a purpose, and they need your TLC.
Your cuticles are part of your skin. They sit atop your nails' growth matrix, which is the part of your nails that grows.
Cuticles are "there for a reason, like a barrier or a protection for the nail matrix," says Richard Scher, MD, a Cornell University dermatology professor.
To keep that protection strong, follow these six tips.
1. Don't Cut Your Cuticles.
Dermatologists say there's no good reason to cut the cuticles.
Cutting them could open the door to infection or irritation. "If you remove the cuticle, that space is wide open, and anything can get in there," Scher says.
Cutting your cuticles can also lead to nail problems, such as ridges, white spots, or white lines.
If you get a bacterial infection in that area, it can hamper that fingernail's growth."That's not particularly aesthetic, as well as being uncomfortable," says Ella Toombs, MD, a Washington, D.C., dermatologist.
2. Go Orange.
If you're hoping to make your nails appear longer, you can push your cuticles back gently with a wooden orange stick instead.
"Cuticles don't want to be cut," Toombs says. "They're supposed to be soft, and cutting can make them hard, more likely to fracture. If you cut it, it has an increased tendency to split off."
Some people who cut their cuticles regularly are afraid to stop, because they worry that their cuticles will grow and grow, giving their hands an unsightly look. Experts say this simply won't happen, and switching from cuticle clippers to an orange stick is a smart move.
"It's a myth, the same way that they say that shaving will make your beard grow faster, but letting the beard grow in will make it slow down," Scher says. "Neither is true. Cutting the cuticle doesn't make it grow faster. Nothing you can do can change the rate of growth."
Although the cuticles don't feel like the soft skin on the rest of your hands, they're composed primarily of skin, so it's essential to keep them moisturized.
"Cuticles get dry. They crack, peel, and flake, just like the skin does," Scher says. "A good moisturizer for the cuticles is important, just like for dry skin. Any skin moisturizer will work fine for the cuticles. When you put it on your hands and there's some left over, rub it into the cuticles."
Most dermatologists recommend thick moisturizing products, such as ointments or creams, for the best results. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends petroleum jelly (Vaseline) as an inexpensive way to care for the cuticles. But some doctors say that using a thick product like petroleum jelly throughout the day isn't always practical, so there are alternatives to use when you're active.