A Quick Primer on Cuticles

Nail Cuticle Health

Hands and feet bear the brunt of a lot of manual labor, which can easily wreak havoc on your cuticles. For example, frequent exposure to water or chemicals (when you wash dishes, garden or clean house, for example) can dry out your skin and cause your cuticles to crack, peel or dry out. Wearing rubber or latex gloves is one of the easiest ways to protect your hands from the activities they're exposed to every day. Of course, you can't wear gloves all the time, so use your best judgment and you should be on the right track.

Next, repeat the following mantra to yourself as many times as it takes to sink in: Never cut, pick or bite your cuticles. Doing so can wreak havoc on your nail bed and result in tiny cuts that allow fungi or bacteria to cause an infection of the cuticle (paronychia) or of the nail (onychomycosis), which can turn into seriously icky business. Not only can a nail infection require medical attention and antibiotics, it can also permanently mess up your nails, making them much less attractive and functional than they were in their prime.

Paronychia typically causes cuticles to become red, inflamed and painful. Serious infections can even produce pus that's yellowish in color. The nail might also start to change in appearance, becoming discolored or shaped abnormally. Sometimes it's possible to use an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment to correct the issue, but oral medications may become necessary if it really gets out of control. It can take weeks or months for damaged cuticles and nail beds to get completely back to normal following such an occurrence, since nails typically grow very slowly.

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