On the spectrum of beauty woes, it's safe to say that cracked, dry cuticles are something no one wants to bear the burden of. Not to be confused with your actual nails, cuticles are the area of skin around your nails that serves as a protective barrier against bacteria. Unfortunately, this area is prone to dryness and can make even the most gorgeous manicure appear unruly.
"Our cuticles are a mechanism of defense that works as a security sealant for our nails, preventing invasion of our bodies and nails by bacteria and fungus. They’re particularly sensitive to the trauma of over-washing, biting, picking, or manipulation," says board-certified dermatologist Rachel Nazarian, MD. "They are a natural part of the nail anatomy, and trying to remove or minimize cuticles can lead to an increase in nail and skin infections, so don’t get rid of them!"
Whether it be as a result of constant hand-washing or the cooling temps that bring about cold, dry, moisture-zapping air, your cuticles may be in constant need of some TLC. So how can you prevent them? According to Nazarian, some great ways to care for cuticles include using emollients and barrier creams to improve hydration and moisture.
"One of my favorite things to use here includes Vaseline; a small amount goes a long way," she says, adding that coconut oil is another suitable option. "Coconut oil is high in saturated fatty acids, which can improve the moisture barrier of the cuticle, allowing it to prevent water loss. It also has anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties, a bonus for calming the skin and maintaining its health."
With the help of some experts, we've rounded up seven remedies for damaged cuticles and how to be gentle with them.
Meet the Expert
- Brittney Boyce is Orly's consulting nail artist and gel extension specialist.
- Jeannette Graf, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine.
- Rachel Nazarian, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City.
Keep scrolling to learn how to soften cuticles.
Rub on Shea Butter or Vitamin E Oil to Nourish Cuticles
Let's face it. Between our 10-step skincare and body care routines, our cuticles are an often neglected part of our beauty regimen. But this can backfire in the form of dry, cracked skin that's prone to peeling. Boyce recommends keeping cuticles soft and hydrated (versus cutting them too much) to alleviate discomfort. "Shea butter and vitamin E oil are two super nourishing ingredients that can help keep the cuticles soft and hydrated," she says. "Vitamin E, in particular, is a rich antioxidant and is great to help cracked cuticles heal faster."
This ultra-hydrating pick from SheaMoisture contains 100 percent organic shea butter and triples as a skin, hair, and cuticle softener. If you're looking for an option you can pick up during your weekly trip to the grocery store, we also like Trader Joe's Vitamin E Oil ($10).
Apply a Moisturizing Hand Cream to Boost Moisture
If your bedtime routine involves slathering on foot cream and slipping into a pair of socks, you'll love the idea of applying a super-strength hand cream and popping on some gloves. "This provides a constant supply of moisture as well as emollient properties to the cuticle, and can make them soft and supple while preventing cracks," notes Graf. Sleeping with gloves may take some getting used to, but come morning your hands and cuticles will be silky smooth. Plus, you may only need to do this a few times a week to reap long-term results.
After applying this superfood hand cream by Ahava—which lists skin-smoothing turmeric and kale as its hero ingredients—throw on a pair of Iroha Nourishing Argan Hand Treatment Mask Gloves ($9) to lock in all that moisture.
Repair Dryness With a Cuticle Oil
If you suffer from dry cuticles, it's important to keep cuticle oil on deck. Boyce stresses the importance of cuticle oils, naming them an essential part of keeping the skin healthy. "The key is to use them consistently—at least once a day," she says. "They prevent cuticles from drying out in the first place, and it’s always easier to prevent cracks and tears than it is to repair them." Try this cuticle serum from Olive and June—it's the perfect size to keep in your car, purse, or gym bag, and features a quick-absorbing, hydrating formula to keep dryness at bay.
Avoid Biting and Picking to Prevent Cracking
Biting and picking at your cuticles is especially tempting during the colder months when humidity levels drop and less moisture hits our skin. "I’ve noticed that people are more likely to bite and pick at their cuticles when they're dry and cracked," says Boyce. "I suggest keeping this area consistently hydrated so nothing is sticking out that makes you want to bite them."
"Our saliva is a digestive enzyme, meaning if you put your fingers in your mouth the saliva will slowly degrade and we can both your nails and cuticles, leading to fraying, drying, and splitting," adds Nazarian.
Graf notes that the trauma caused by biting and picking can remove the cuticle altogether, creating a larger opening for bacteria and fungi to get in. Try a no-bite top coat like this one from Orly—it has a bitter flavor to naturally deter you from getting too close.
Do an Argan Oil Soak
Argan oil is chock-full of vitamin E, fatty acids, and antioxidants, all of which are moisturizing and healing, according to Boyce. "I recommend soaking your hands first then applying [argan oil] so it soaks in better," she says.
Look for a product that contains 100 percent argan oil, like this one from The Ordinary, that also works great on dry heels and elbows. And keep in mind that improvement may take a few weeks to notice, so stay committed and diligent with the application of your creams and serums to get results.
Take a Break From Polish
We love a perfect manicure as much as the next person, but if you want to give your dry, cracked cuticles a fighting chance, you may want to go on a break with nail polish for a week or two. "The nail plate has tiny pores that permit water, which gets under the nail to evaporate—even a clear coat of polish can block the pore, prevent evaporation, and lift the nail plate off the bed leading to nail fungus," says Graf. She also notes that nail polish—and the remover used to take it off—may dry out the nail plate due to the chemicals present. "These can weaken the nail, cause dryness, weakness, chipping, and ridging," she says, adding that giving the cuticles a rest from trimming and pushing should allow them to heal and focus on moisturizing.
Smooth Out Cuticles with a Buffer
Boyce explains that instead of trying to cut off cry cuticles, buffing them out gently with a buffer can aid in smoothing them out. Just remember that dry cuticles can be a tad sensitive (especially if you accidentally snag them and cause them to tear more), so using ultra-light pressure is key. These files by Tweezerman are color-coded and labeled with file, buff, smooth, and shine for easy usage.