One of the secrets to good-looking nails is to have well-tended cuticles. But as the weather gets colder, it’s harder than ever to keep them in tiptop shape.
“One reason that cuticles may get even drier than normal skin is because of the hyaluronic acid in our skin, which helps to suck in moisture and keep our skin hydrated,” said Neera R. Nathan, a dermatologist, dermatologist surgeon and clinical investigator at Massachusetts General Hospital. “That acid is located mostly in the second layer of the skin, known as the dermis, but the cuticle lacks this second layer.”
As your cuticles go, so go your nails. “If they’re dry, it can cause damage to your nails,” nail artist Britney TOKYO told HuffPost. “For example, you may see white lines in your nail bed, which means that dry cuticles are causing nails to dry out, too. That contributes to nails that break more frequently.”
Damaged cuticles can even pose a health risk. “When your cuticles become damaged, the nail as a whole is prone to infection,” dermatologic surgeon Dendy Engelman said. “Open cuticle wounds and peeling skin aren’t able to properly protect against infection-causing bacteria that can enter the nails. That’s why it’s important to keep the entire nail area clean, healthy and hydrated.”
Stop snacking on your cuticles (and put down those scissors)
First of all, stop being so hard on your poor old cuticles. “I know it’s easier said than done, but quit picking and biting the nails, cuticles and surrounding skin,” Engelman said. “It can cause the skin to become more inflamed, and it can allow bacteria to get into the nail.”
Tempted to reach for cuticle scissors? Stop yourself. “Many people choose trimming, but it’s not the best choice,” nail stylist Vanessa Sanchez McCullough said. “Because the cuticle is made up of two different types of skin, both dead and live tissue, trimming can escalate problems instead of stopping them. Before you allow a manicurist to cut your cuticles, try caring for that skin first. You’ll see a huge difference.”
No-fuss cuticle maintenance
Here’s an easy two-for-one moisturizer idea from Michelle Wong, who has a chemistry Ph.D. and is founder of Lab Muffin Beauty Science. “If you use a non-sticky lip balm, you can apply it to your cuticles every time you apply it to your lips,” she told HuffPost. You also might want to consider starting from the inside. “Since our cuticles and nails reflect our overall health and nutrition, I recommend taking a daily multivitamin with biotin, zinc and vitamin D,” dermatologist Brandon Kirsch said.
Timing is important, too. As soon as you finish washing your hands, get moisture back to the area right away. “The key is to moisturize frequently with a cream or ointment-based hydrating moisturizer, and to apply it while the skin is still somewhat damp,” said dermatologist Cula Svidzinski, assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai. “That will do wonders for your cuticles.”
To give a boost to your nighttime routine, consider donning a pair of gloves to lock in hydration while you sleep. “I do think overnight gloves can help quite a bit,” nail artist Natalie Minerva told HuffPost. “Use a moisturizer or Vaseline to lock in the moisture from within the skin.”
Just make sure that overnight glove is cotton or another breathable fabric. “Too much moisture, collected in a non-breathable glove, can be as damaging, or even more damaging, than too much dryness,” Kirsch said.
Experts’ favorite ways to show your cuticles some love
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