Professional manicurists may help you get perfect nails, but make sure they don't damage your cuticles in the process.

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Healthy Cuticles and Proper Nail Care

There are a few simple ways to prevent infections and inflammation related to cuticle problems. The simplest is to just be nice to your nails and your fingers in general.

Don't bite your fingernails, and don't rip at the cuticles with your teeth or fingers. Also, protect your fingers from damage while you're performing work that stresses your skin and avoid using your nails as tools to pry and prod objects.

If your hands are often wet during the day, or if you handle harsh chemicals, consider using rubber gloves to keep your skin from drying and cracking. Keep your hands and nails moist and soft. If your skin is chronically dry, use lotion to keep your skin supple and smooth.

Perform nail maintenance as part of your regular hygiene routine. Trim your fingernails and use an emery board to smooth them; doing so reduces the chances that you'll snag and tear a nail, which could harm the nail bed. And never, ever yank a hangnail from your finger. You may gain the temporary satisfaction of removing an annoying flap of skin, but you'll likely harm living cuticle tissue, too. A tender hangnail may result in an even more painful tear or infection that lasts for days or even weeks.

If you visit a manicurist, press them for details on nail and cuticle care. Many professionals attack cuticles with aplomb, cutting away all of the toughened material that they find because it detracts from an overall beautiful and polished set of nails. But other manicurists advise gentle cuticle care. They softly push the cuticles back and then apply an oil to keep the cuticles flexible and less prone to drying and cracking, but that may lead to tearing. The only time these pros actually cut the cuticle is when your fingers display hangnails that may snag and cause a tear that's far worse than damage done by careful trimming.

Whether you prefer tidy, cut cuticles, or you just generally ignore these parts of your fingers, cuticles are critical to finger and fingernail health. If you treat your cuticles and fingernails to a lot of home or professional manicures, keep tabs on any pain or swelling, and be kind to your fingers; the same goes for anyone who bites his or her nails and cuticles out of habit. Take care of your nails and cuticles, and your fingers will remain free of pain related to cuticle infections.

For more information on your nails, skin care and other related topics, scratch your way over to the next page.