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Get ready, because we’re about to let you in on a little beauty insider secret. The reason your nails always look so good after a professional mani has nothing to do with the way they’ve been painted or shaped—it’s all about how your cuticles have been cleaned up. Don’t believe us? Try getting a manicure where they do absolutely nothing to your cuticles, then compare the difference.
The thin layer of skin at the bottom edge of your nail, the anatomical function of the cuticle is to protect the nail bed, the area from which new nail growth starts. And yes, that’s a very important function. But when it comes to aesthetics, if that bit of skin is left unchecked it will continue to grow out and can quickly start to get dry and cracked, leaving your nails looking anything but pretty. Whether or not you should cut your cuticles or simply push them back is an age-old debate that, quite frankly, we believe boils down to a matter of personal preference. (Though if you are cutting them or are having them cut just to make sure all the proper sanitary precautions are in place since this area can easily become infected.)
That being said, we rounded up the best cuticle removers out there, from liquids to pushers to trimmers. So even if you don’t have time to hit the salon or DIY a full manicure, you can at least clean up your cuticles to quickly make your nails look way better.
Best Overall: butter LONDON Melt Away Cuticle Exfoliator
Liquid cuticle removers work by exfoliating and essentially dissolving away the dead skin, and this is one of our favorites. All you have to do is swipe it on, give it a few minutes to soften and break down those beat-up cuticles, then gently push them back and wipe off any excess. Bonus points for the fact that this formula is free of seven different types of questionable chemicals commonly found in nail products.
Best Drugstore: Sally Hansen Problem Cuticle Remover
Specially formulated with a pH level that’s meant to break down even super thick cuticles, this is ideal to use when you’ve really let your cuticles go. You do need to leave it on for a bit longer—anywhere from three to five minutes—and wash it off afterward, but for cuticles that are in really rough shape it can’t be beaten. We also appreciate that it comes with several manicure sticks to help you push back cuticles after you soften them.
Best Professional: ProLinc Cuticle Eliminator
You may have seen this bottle at your local nail salon; it is, in fact, a professional formula. It works lightning-fast and is especially ideal on even the thickest of skin, think the cuticles on your toenails (yes, you have them there too). Also nice: It’s safe to use on gel polish or acrylics.
Best for Stained Nails: Orly Cutique Cuticle Remover
“This is my personal favorite because it both removes cuticles and also gets rid of stains,” says celebrity nail artist Elle. It’s why this is the perfect option to reach for after you’ve been sporting dark polish, which can often leave your nails discolored and dingy afterward. To reap those brightening benefits, simply swipe it onto the cuticle and the nail, and rub the nail with a cotton pad, then rinse.
Best Fast-Acting: Sally Hansen Instant Cuticle Remover
No time for a mani? No problem. This speed demon, another of Elle’s picks, gets the cuticle-eliminating job done in just 15 seconds. We’ll go ahead and say that’s totally worthy of being called ‘instant.’ Couple that with the fact that the formula is also infused with moisturizing and soothing aloe and chamomile and you’ve got yourself a real winner.
Best Budget: Blue Cross Cuticle Remover
For just a few dollars you get a big ol’ bottle of this effective formula (which consistently pulls in great reviews from satisfied Amazon shoppers, BTW). It’s infused with moisturizing lanolin so that it will not only eliminate excess cuticles but also keep the area around your nail bed nice and hydrated.
Best Splurge: Deborah Lippmann Cuticle Remover
Yes, a bottle of this may cost more than a professional manicure, but one, it will last you a long time, and two, it really, really works. Elle loves the exfoliating formula, which breaks down dead, dry skin, and is ideal to use every few days to keep your cuticles in check. We also appreciate the dropper applicator, which makes it easy to apply just the right amount onto each nail.
Best for Sensitive Skin: Olive & June Cuticle Remover
You may not realize it, but even the skin around your nails can react to certain ingredients and be prone to irritation. If that’s something that happens to you, try this choice, which is both dermatologist-tested and fragrance-free. It also boasts a trio of avocado, argan, and jojoba oils to help moisturize and nourish.
Best for Dry Nails: CND Cuticle Eraser
If your nails are dry, be wary about using formulas that contain ingredients such as potassium hydroxide and sodium hydroxide, both of which have a high pH and can cause more dryness, says Elle. Instead, seek out options that rely on exfoliating AHAs (a much less drying option), like this one, which she loves. Plus, this pick is also packed with moisturizing and conditioning ingredients—think aloe, apricot kernel oil, glycerin, vitamin E, and panthenol.
Best on Amazon: Super Nail Cuticle Softener and Remover
Elle’s just one of many fans of this Amazon top-seller. Happy shoppers rave about how well (and fast) it works to dissolve and soften dead dry skin. And we’d be remiss not to mention the super affordable price tag, too.
Best Trimmer: Seki EDGE Flat Slant Tip Cuticle Nipper
Like we said, trimming your cuticles is often frowned upon, but there’s no denying that it does make for a very clean-looking manicure. Not to mention that even those who don’t promote nipping will agree that sometimes you just need to snip off a hangnail. Enter this Japanese-made stainless steel trimmer. The three-millimeter, extra sharp flat edge makes it easier than ever to snip off dry skin, and double springs ensure smooth opening and closing.
Best Pusher: Tweezerman Dual Sided Pushy
Pushing back your cuticles is arguably the fastest way to make your nails look better; enter this convenient tool. The soft-touch handle makes for a comfortable grip, while the dual-sided, two-size tips make it easy to perfectly reach every part of your nail. They also have buffed edges to keep the process comfortable and not scratch up your nails. Just make sure to apply some type of cuticle remover, cream, or oil to soften cuticles before pushing them back.
What to Look For In a Cuticle Remover
According to Elle, most formulas, especially salon-quality ones, rely on either potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide. This helps to dissolve dead skin with its high alkalinity. They can be drying, especially if they’re over-used, so alpha hydroxy acids (glycolic and lactic) are another option.
The addition of plant-based oils and glycerin can help prevent dryness and also soften and hydrate the skin around the nail.
How do you use cuticle remover?
Swipe or drop a small amount of the cuticle remover along the nail. Elle suggests spraying it with a tiny bit of water to help emulsify the formula, then push the cuticle back—gently. You only want to remove the dry, flaky skin, so there’s no need to push too hard, she says. Finish by using a tissue or cotton pad to wipe off the dead skin and remover.
How does cuticle remover work?
If it’s a liquid formula, one of those aforementioned active ingredients works to help dissolve the dead, dry skin.
How do you remove cuticles on toenails?
Use the cuticle remover the same way on your toes as you would on your hands. “The nails and cuticles are the same, no matter whether they’re on your hands or toes,” says Elle.
Why Trust Byrdie?
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. While she has yet to master the art of the DIY mani, she is a pro at cleaning up her cuticles, a skill acquired during the lockdown in spring 2020.
Meet the Expert
According to our Diversity Pledge, 15% of products in our newly-published market roundups will feature Black-owned and/or Black-founded brands. At the time of publishing, we were not able to find any cuticle remover from a Black-owned and/or Black-founded business. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will evaluate the product ASAP.