In caring for your cuticles, you need to protect against infection. In addition to causing pain, redness and even blisters around the cuticle, these infections can also lead to unsightly problems in the nails themselves, such as discoloration or abnormalities in the nail shape [source: MedlinePlus]. When the infection is in the cuticles, it is called paronychia, and infection of the nail itself is called onychomycosis [source: New York Times]. About 12 percent of Americans deal with fungal nail infections, and they are more common on toenails than on fingernails [source: AAD].
Nail infections usually begin with the cuticle. When this delicate layer of skin surrounding the nail is damaged, bacteria and fungi -- two primary causes of cuticle infections -- can move into the living tissue. Yeast infections and dermatophyte infections are two common fungal problems that affect nails. Yeast infections occur more often in fingernails, and the dermatophyte infections are usually found in toenails. Too much exposure to water and certain chemicals can weaken the nails and cuticles, creating an opening for infection [source: AAD].
If you suspect either a bacterial or a fungal infection in your cuticles, head to the doctor. Your physician can usually tell at a glance if you have paronychia. Since your nails may be thick, topical treatments such as creams or ointments may not be able to penetrate to the source of infection. In this case, your doctor might prescribe oral antibiotics or anti-fungal medicine to clear it up [source: AAD]. Most nail infections will respond well to treatments, but in rare cases, the infection could spread to the blood or bones [source: MedlinePlus].
Some people may take scissors to their ragged cuticles, but read on before you snip.