Before you start applying moisturizer to your cuticles, it may help to understand a little bit about the nail and what makes it healthy or not. Nails consist of layers of keratin, the structural protein that you'll also find in your skin and hair. There are essentially five main parts to your fingernails and the area around them:
- Nail plate -- This is part of your nail that's on the surface, which you can see, touch and tap.
- Nail folds -- These are the areas of skin that surround your nail plates.
- Nail bed -- The skin underneath your fingernail is what's called the nail bed, which is partially responsible for holding on to the nail plate.
- Cuticles -- Your cuticles are the protective layers of tissue that overlap the nail plate at the edge of the nail folds.
- Lunula -- The lunula is the whitish strip that appears at the base of your nail plate.
So why do nails get brittle in the first place? Your nails grow from the cuticle at a rate of about 0.004 inches (0.1 mm) a day. As soon as the nail is exposed to everyday wear and tear, it may begin to suffer damage. In between layers of keratin, there are small spaces. When nails are exposed to air and water, the spaces can swell. This makes the layers easier to separate, resulting in increased breakage [sources: Mayo Clinic, Wadyka].
Applying moisturizer to your nails can keep them from becoming brittle. Moisturizer protects the nail plate from the air and water that can cause damage. There are two common methods of moisturizing nails. One way is to apply a cream or ointment, such as petroleum jelly, to hands, cuticles and nail plates. Another is to soak nails in oil, such as bath oil or olive oil. In extreme cases, you may want to combine these methods. First, soak nails in oil, wipe any excess oil off hands, and then apply a moisturizing cream.
Keep reading for some practical tips to keep your nails moisturized and healthy.