How to Treat Damaged Cuticles

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Aside from the occasional manicure or trimming, you may not think about your nails much. Until you have to untie a knot or scratch an itch, it's pretty easy to take them for granted. Your cuticles may be even more underappreciated. They don't really seem like they do much, but you'd be surprised. Without cuticles you'd be constantly at risk of developing infections around your fingernails. They create a barrier between your skin and your nails that keep infectious organisms out, and if they get damaged, you become susceptible [source: Mayo Clinic]. That's why it's important to keep them from getting damaged and treat them immediately if they do.

It isn't hard to damage your cuticles. They're soft and more often than not, damage is a result of biting your nails. Whether it's a nervous habit or simply a bad one, it's never a good idea. It causes a lot more problems than it's worth. Your cuticles can get damaged during a manicure as well, especially if you attempt to trim them or push back excess skin at the base of your nail. It is also common for people who work in professions like housekeeping and dishwashing to end up with cuticle damage as a result of over exposing their hands to water or irritants like cleaning supplies [source: Lehrer].


The good news is your skin eventually heals itself; your cuticles are no different. There are several treatment options available that can help heal your corrupted cuticles. They range from simple creams to surgical treatments, depending on the severity of the damage, but you could avoid all that by preventing them from getting damaged in the first place. You could save yourself a whole lot of pain, time and money by paying a little more attention to your cuticles and following a few simple steps to keep them healthy.

Keep reading for a few tips on how to treat your damaged cuticles.


Tips for Treating Damaged Cuticles

How you should treat your damaged cuticles depends on just how much damage has been done -- and that usually depends on how it happened in the first place. If you've been biting your fingernails or you yanked off a hang nail, taking care of the issue may not be any more difficult than treating a minor cut. All you have to do is pour some hydrogen peroxide on it, clean it thoroughly and cover it with a bandage. If you do that right away and keep an eye on it, you should be fine. There is, however, a chance that you could end up with an infection. If that happens, treating the injury might not be so simple.

It's very common for damaged cuticles to result in an infection known as paronychia. It can be caused by bacteria, fungi or yeast and it usually results in soreness and occasionally a pus-filled blister. Treatment for bacterial paronychia usually involves soaking the affected nail in warm water several times a day as well as taking antibiotics and undergoing the occasional surgical procedure to remove excess fluid or a small portion of your nail. Fungal infections and yeast infections may require special medication, so if your finger becomes infected you should have it looked at by a doctor for a proper diagnosis [source: Badash].


Another common cause of cuticle damage is dry skin. When your skin dries out, your cuticles lose natural fats that help keep them soft. You can treat the issue by using a moisturizer for your hands and cuticle cream for your cuticles. These creams are specifically designed with fats and waxes to help replace those you've lost and keep your cuticles soft and healthy [source: Gallant].

Keep reading to find out how you can avoid cuticle damage and costly treatments.


Preventing Cuticle Damage

The only thing better than solving problems is preventing them in the first place. When it comes to cuticle damage, prevention usually means dropping a few bad habits and forming some good ones to replace them. The worst thing you can do is bite your fingernails or the skin around your fingernails. No good can come from it. It's the most common cause of cuticle damage and it's totally preventable. The first step to breaking your bad habit is becoming aware of it. If that doesn't seem to be enough to keep you from nibbling away, you can try wearing bandages over your fingertips or putting something that tastes bad on your fingernails to dissuade you from doing it [source: WebMD].

Another common cause of cuticle damage is dry skin. This tends to be a problem among those who work in jobs that require their hands to be exposed to excessive amounts of water or irritants. However, rubber gloves provide a simple solution to this problem. Dry skin can also be a result of the climate you live in. People tend to have more issues with dry skin in the winter because the air itself is so dry. If you find that your hands are drying out and your cuticles are getting damaged as a result, try using a good moisturizer for your hands and a cuticle cream for your cuticles. These specialized creams use fats and waxes like petroleum and beeswax [source: Milady].


Aside from that, there isn't much more you can do to protect your cuticles. The only other option is to wear gloves all the time -- and that's just not practical for most people.

For a lot more information on treating damaged cuticles, take a look at the links on the next page.


Damaged Cuticles FAQ

What is good for dry cuticles?
The best way to treat dry cuticles is to use a hand moisturizer and cuticle cream at least daily.
How do I treat paronychia?
It's very common for damaged cuticles to result in an infection called acute paronychia, which results in soreness and occasionally a pus-filled blister. Treatment tends to involve soaking the affected nail in warm water several times a day and taking antibiotics.
Why is the skin around my nails so dry?
When skin dries out, cuticles lose their natural fats that help keep them soft. So if your cuticles are dry, there's a good chance you need some rich hand cream and to drink a few extra glasses of water.
What causes cuticle damage?
The biggest culprits when it comes to cuticle damage is picking and biting nails and the skin around the nails. Your cuticles can also get damaged during a manicure if they're pushed back too far or trimmed too much.
Why is my nail or cuticle a strange color?
There are a number of possible reasons, some of which are more serious than others. Though uncommon, a brown vertical stripe in the nail can indicate melanoma — a type of skin cancer. Yellowed nails can be indicative of a lung issue. Dark cuticles can be a sign of dehydration, a fungal infection, or simply bruising of the fingers or toes.
How long does it take for the skin around your nails to heal?
In most cases, infected skin around the nail will heal within 5 to 10 days with no permanent damage, provided you can keep yourself from picking at it more.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Badash, Michelle MS. "Paronychia." Aurora Health Care. September 2009 (Accessed 10/19/2009)
  • Gallant, Ann, Kathy Gillot & Jackie Howard. "Principles and techniques for the beauty specialist." Google Books. 1993 (Accessed 10/19/2009)
  • Lehrer, Michael MD. "Paronychia." National Institutes of Health. April 17, 2009 (Accessed 10/19/2009)
  • Mayo Clinic. "Nails: How to keep your fingernails healthy and strong." November 30, 2007 (Accessed 10/19/2009)
  • Milady. "Milady's Standard Textbook of Professional Barber-Styling." Google Books. 1999 (Accessed 10/19/2009)
  • MSN Encarta Online Encyclopedia. "Keratin." 2009 (Accessed 10/19/2009)
  • New York Times. "Q&A." August 2, 2009 (Accessed 10/19/2009)
  • WebMD. "Nail-Biting -- Topic Overview." November 13, 2008 (Accessed 10/19/2009)