Should you Push Back your Cuticles?

Reviewed on 9/29/2021

Your cuticle is an important part of your nail. This small strip of skin at the bottom of your nail acts as extra protection from germs entering your nail bed. Pushing them back incorrectly or cutting them too short can put you at risk of infection. A licensed nail technician can do this for you safely.
Your cuticle is an important part of your nail. This small strip of skin at the bottom of your nail acts as extra protection from germs entering your nail bed. Pushing them back incorrectly or cutting them too short can put you at risk of infection. A licensed nail technician can do this for you safely.

At one time or another, you’ve probably had overgrown cuticles. They can be bothersome and unappealing, and you might’ve been tempted to push them back. Should you push back your cuticles? This article dives into everything you need to know about cuticle health.

Pushing back your cuticles

Your cuticle is an important part of your nail. This small strip of skin at the bottom of your nail acts as extra protection.  Your cuticle can keep germs from making their way into your nail bed. When your cuticles grow out or lift off the nail, it can be tempting to push back or cut your cuticles. But this might not be the best choice.

If you push your cuticles back incorrectly, pick at or bite them, or cut them too short, you put yourself at risk of infection. You can also get infections if your cuticles become so dry that they crack and result in open cuts.

If you get manicures, you know nail technicians often push cuticles back as part of the pampering process. As long as your salon has a current state license and your technician is licensed by the state board, you should be fine. Their professional training and sterile tools will leave you with little risk of damage or infection.

Caring for your cuticles

To prevent your cuticles from cracking and drying, keep your cuticles moisturized. Apply a thick, hypoallergenic or unscented hand lotion to the nail and cuticle area a few times a week.

Paronychia

Paronychia is a common skin infection found when cuticles have been irritated or broken. Acute paronychia often heals quickly. Chronic paronychia can last for a long time and return if you don’t treat it.

If you have paronychia, you’ll notice painful, swollen red skin at the base of your nails, usually where your cuticle has been injured. Pockets of pus can form, and cuticles can break down and detach from the skin. This happens after bacteria or fungus makes its way into the nailbed through the broken cuticle and forms an infection.

If your hands are often wet, you’re more likely to develop chronic paronychia and experience ongoing infections. Bartenders, dishwashers, house cleaners, or those with similar work are at higher risk.

Another cause of paronychia is dermatitis. This skin condition leaves your skin red, itchy, and susceptible to germs. An infection can easily form when you’re battling dermatitis.

To avoid acute paronychia or fight chronic paronychia, try these tips:

  • Be careful not to injure nails and fingertips
  • Don’t chew or pick at your nails
  • Cut your nails regularly, but don’t over-trim or cut them jaggedly
  • Don't scrape, push, or cut your cuticles
  • Use clean tools when caring for your cuticles and nails

If your paronychia becomes unbearable, talk to your healthcare provider.

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Cuticles and acrylic nails

Acrylic nails are stylish and give your fingers a long chic appearance, but they can be extremely damaging to your cuticles and nails. In the process of applying fake nails, your manicurist files down the face of your nail and uses chemical products. It isn’t any easier when you remove your nails. They need to be soaked in acetone or filed off. This weakens your nails and increases the chance of irritation.

Touch-ups and reapplications leave your nail structure weak and dry. If you want to continue getting acrylic nails but are worried about the health of your nails and cuticles, try the following tips:

  • Opt for gel nails that can soak off. There’s a chance you might experience some of the same nail weakness, but gel nails are more flexible than acrylics.
  • Ask your salon if they’ll use LED lights instead of UV lights for curing. LED curing lights give off lower levels of radiation than UV curing lights. UV rays contribute to nail weakness.
  • Ask your nail technician not to trim your cuticles. You don’t need a cuticle trim at every manicure, but this is standard practice in most salons. Instead, get your cuticles trimmed every other visit or every third visit.

Look out for your cuticles

Review your current cuticle care routine and consider how you can improve it. Irritated, infected cuticles can be painful and bothersome. Avoid pushing your cuticles back if you can, but if they need some attention speak to a professional.

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References
American Association of Dermatology Association: "Artificial Nails: Dermatologists’ Tips for Reducing Nail Damage."

Children’s Hospital Los Angeles: "Nail Health Tips for You and Your Child."

Family Doctor: "Paronychia."

Mayo Clinic: Fingernails: "Do's and don'ts for healthy nails."

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