Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

A Quick Primer on Cuticles

        Health | Nail Care Tips

Maintaining the integrity of your cuticles is important for your nail health.
Maintaining the integrity of your cuticles is important for your nail health.

Much like cable television or your home's hot water heater, cuticles are often taken for granted when they're in good working order, only to be appreciated for their true benefits once something goes terribly awry. Unfortunately, few of us practice diligent nail health all the time, biting our nails and cuticles because of stress, nerves or just to have something to do.

You know what and where your finger and toenails are, but some people have trouble pinpointing exactly where their cuticles begin and end. Known in medical circles as eponychium, cuticles are the thin area of flesh where the skin of the fingers and toes meets the nail. If they aren't properly cared for, cuticles easily become flaky, itchy or just plain annoying.

Although they might not look very functional or important, cuticles are the last line of defense between your nails and nasty bacteria, viruses and fungi. In essence, cuticles protect the nails as they form and grow, serving as an effective seal between the skin and nails, keeping them healthy and protected from illness-causing visitors.

This is important because, although they're a small part of your overall body, nails protect the delicate skin underneath. If you didn't have healthy nails, it'd be pretty difficult to do just about anything, from scratching an itch to holding a pen. Heck, even popping open a soda can would be hard to do! Plus, any infection -- even if it starts somewhere as innocuous as your finger tips -- can cause an abscess or get into your bloodstream and wreak havoc on the rest of your body. It's unlikely that this will happen just from picking your cuticles, but not impossible, by any means.