Why your cuticles matter

Have you ever looked at your hands and thought, ‘What’s going on here?’ Sometimes our fingernails can surprise us. One morning we just happen to notice something is different. Out of the ordinary.

And suddenly we don’t know ourselves the way we know the backs of our hands. Some of these changes are cosmetic and can, in fact, be taken care of with a little tender loving care. One of those things are your cuticles.

They can look rough and rugged, or they could be well-tended and interestingly, unnoticed because they are so healthy. When it comes to nail care, I have written my share of articles with cuticles attached to them. But I had not actually stopped to wonder why cuticles are so significant in the quest for ageless hands. At least it wasn’t until I was at the salon and was faced with the choice of  to trim or not to trim my cuticles. It seems trimming was the way to go. But also, only sometimes.

Why are cuticles so important? In fact, what are they? Cuticles are the rounded bottom part of your fingernails. Specifically, the part of the skin that meets your nail. This is not to be confused with the lunula, the half-moon that is prominent on some fingernails, — the rest of the moon is covered by your finger — or the proximal nail fold which is the part of your skin just between the lunular and the cuticle. It is an actual fold and is not your cuticle.

The debate on whether to trim cuticles or not, or whether to trim them dry or wet (following a lukewarm water soak is best so wet is recommended) is ongoing. There are sides to it though. According to the Mayo Clinic and AAD , the American Academy of Dermatologists, you should keep your cuticles exactly the way they are – no trimming or cutting or anything of that sort,  be it at home or at the salon.

They have put all their faith in pushing back the cuticles instead of trimming them.

If you ask nail technicians, trimming the cuticles makes the polish last longer because they can push it deeper into the nail bed such that when your nails begin growing out, the area of exposure is not so noticeable and your manicure stays fresh for longer.

Dermatologists, bless them, think if you trim them, they expose your nail bed to germs, fungus and bacteria.

The germs

If you have ever had a serious infection when it comes to your nails, you might want to rethink this.

But, you may be thinking, why? Cuticles matter. That small strip of skin keeps germs away from your nail bed. Think of them as a layer of protection. This is specifically important if you cut, bite, pick, cut or even chew on them. If they are cracked or dry, you will notice there is something that seems to be a bit off with your nails.

Some people have gone as far as calling them the brain of the nail. If you love acrylics and gel nails, you know how they grow out, and you know how hard you wish for your nails to grow just a little slower. If you have a habit of drying your hands with a dryer, wash your hands and fail to moisturise, or use your nails as equipment, you are clearly not taking care of them.

Keeping your nails healthy requires you to have healthy cuticles, too. Healthy cuticles are hydrated cuticles.

Remember the moon on your fingernails? The full moon is called the nail matrix. This is the part that is said to be the brain of the nail. As your nails grow out, new cells grow while old cells are pushed out, becoming the visible part of the nail. It turns out whatever is pushed out from the nail matrix determines the quality and health of your nails.

Now you see why exposing the nail matrix is such a big deal. And how manicures have everything to do with cuticles. If your nails are not making you happy, then you need to up your nail matrix care.

Here is another view. Usually, when you think your cuticle is being trimmed, it can go overboard into the proximal nail fold. What the cuticle is would be that filmy part where the nail and the skin join. These are considered dead cells, removable to encourage nails to grow. Removing them also makes the nail look pretty with a lovely finish.

However, cuticles should not be trimmed with every salon visit. They can be trimmed once in a while. And not by an overzealous manicurist either. This school of thought also warns against pushing the cuticles back because it damages the nail matrix.

If this is confounding to you don’t despair. A cuticle remover, a skilled nail technician and generous amount of cuticle oil should restore you back to normalcy. I say cuticle remover and you think of something that looks like sharp miniature forceps. Did you know there are liquid cuticle removers that dissolve the cuticle with potassium hydroxide? That this will not damage the nail matrix especially as your nails try to emerge, all tender and soft? Encourage your nail technician to try out this brand of cuticle remover.

As you can see, cuticles are controversial. You wouldn’t think they should be, but here we are. With nails, you will need to be careful to pick your struggles. Do you want a healthy nail matrix? Then have a conversation with your selected manicurist. Come to an understanding and nail it.

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