How to Reverse the Fate of Dry, Peeling Cuticles

Nails on knit sweater

Ayla Altintas / Getty Images

Dry cuticles are a buzz kill. Not only can they make a perfect manicure appear anything but, those irritating hangnails can be the source of much frustration, too. Cuticles (the thin ridges of skin that surround the base of your nails) are an important area to take care of, especially during the cooler months when they're more susceptible to dryness. And as with most beauty categories, there are several different types of cuticle products on the market, all serving different purposes.

If you aren't a professional nail technician, clipping your cuticles may seem intimidating, so we tapped experts for some beginner-friendly tips you can master at home. From cuticle remover to cuticle oil, we're providing you with a guide to the most common essentials that will help you on your journey to healthier cuticles. Keep reading to find out how to use cuticle remover like a pro.

Meet the Expert

  • Michelle Saunders is a licensed cosmetologist, nail expert, and celebrity manicurist. Her salon, Saunders & James is located in Oakland, California.
  • Mimi D is an award-winning celebrity manicurist and nail artist based in LA. She also creates luxury press-on nails.

What Is Cuticle Remover?

Person touching up their nail polish.
 Olive & June

The solvent that removes dead tissue surrounding your nail, leaving it soft and easy to manipulate, cuticle remover contains acid at low pH levels that dissolve dead skin. It preps your nails for a successful manicure, keeping them neat and tidy.

The Benefits of Cuticle Remover

  • Softens and removes dead skin cells
  • Protects nails against infection
  • Prevents cuticles from snagging or getting caught
  • Gives the illusion of longer nails

The Drawbacks

  • Can damage tissue around the nail if left on for longer than instructed
  • When applying to a rough cuticle, the desired result may take time

When Should You Use Cuticle Remover?

Michelle Saunders Nails
michellesaundersjames

For overgrown or thick cuticles, look for a cuticle remover. "Professionally we use cuticle remover with each manicure, so I'd say about once a week," Saunders suggests. The cuticle area can get dry, crack, and peel, especially in the colder months. Using a moisturizing cuticle remover can soothe and smooth the skin around your nails.

How to Use Cuticle Removers

First, you will need a moist hand towel or napkin, the cuticle remover, cuticle oil, and a cuticle pusher, like these from Futureseed ($9). Below, Saunders breaks down the steps on how to use cuticle removers.

  • Start by choosing a metal pusher, orangewood stick, or another implement of choice.
  • Remove all nail polish or gel coating from nails.
  • Apply the solvent around the cuticle.
  • Allow the cuticle remover to penetrate for about 30 seconds before pushing your cuticles back.
  • Wipe the excess dead skin with the moistened towelette.
  • Apply cuticle oil to the area surrounding your nails.

"Some cuticle removers require you to apply the remover to one finger, push the cuticle, cut, then remove immediately. Others allow you to apply the solution and leave it on for the length of time it takes to do the entire hand," Mimi explains.

"Always read the directions first. Some cuticle removers have a strict amount of time that solution can be left on the skin. Not removing the cuticle remover once the allotted time has passed can cause an adverse reaction or damage the healthy tissue around the nail," Mimi explains.

Cuticle Pushers vs. Cuticle Remover: What’s the Difference?

Clean Cuticles
 

Saunders explains, "Cuticle removers are solvents, a liquid product. Never use an implement to remove cuticles (sometimes called a fork)." The product is used to make the cuticles more pliant to allow for pain-free pushing or cutting. Mimi shares, "A cuticle pusher is a tool used to push the cuticle back. Pushers can be metal, plastic, or made of wood."

Wooden cuticle sticks are an easy-to-use tool for pushing back your cuticles, as they feature a beveled edge that contours to the nail. Not only can they be used to maintain the health of your cuticles, but they can also fix mistakes when painting your nails. For a quick fix, stretch out a small piece of a cotton ball, wrap it around the end of the cuticle stick, and then dip in nail polish remover.

The Best Cuticle Removers

OPI Exfoliating Cuticle Cream
OPI Exfoliating Cuticle Cream $12
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Cuticle creams are thick, moisturizing creams meant to be applied liberally to both the cuticles and nail beds. Nighttime is ideal so that you can apply a thick coat and let it absorb while you sleep. Opi's cuticle cream contains light exfoliating ingredients that are safe to be left on all day.

Essie Apricot Cuticle Oil
Essie Apricot Cuticle Oil $9
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Cuticle oil often comes in a bottle that looks similar to nail polish. Either brush Essie's oil on post-manicure to seal the surface and help resist smudges, or use it as a daily moisturizer for your cuticles.

Want to keep your manicure looking brand new? Cuticle oil will perk up your nails, smooth dryness, and add a shiny finish to the polish that will maintain that freshly manicured appearance for a few extra days.

Deborah Lippmann Cuticle Remover
Deborah Lippmann Cuticle Remover $20
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This cuticle remover is perfect for sensitive or delicate skin types. The product is a favorite of experts Saunders and Mimi because it softens the skin almost instantly. Soaking is not required and the luxury brand is worth the praise for its moisturizing properties.

butter london cuticle exfoliator
Butter London Melt Away Cuticle Exfoliator $18
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Saunders recommends Butter London's cuticle exfoliator as it removes stubborn dead skin within minutes. The paraben-free formula eliminates any cutting or clipping of the cuticles.

Blue Cross Cuticle Remover
Blue Cross Cuticle Remover $5
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Experienced or advanced cuticle removers will love this fast-acting product. Mimi loves to use it for quick results that do not dry out the skin. Be sure to remove any excess product from your hands to avoid skin peeling from undesired areas.

Sally Hansen Cuticle Remover Instant cuticle remover
Sally Hansen Instant Cuticle Remover $7
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This cuticle remover is a favorite for all beginners. The aloe vera, green tea, and chamomile soften the skin while simultaneously preventing irritation. In 20 seconds, it will break down dead skin and can even remove callouses. Feel free to use this product frequently.

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