What Are My Cuticles For, Anyway?

A dermatologist explains why getting rid of them is a terrible idea.


As much as cuticles might look like useless flaps of skin that should have been eliminated by evolution long, long ago, they actually protect our nails and fingers from serious infections. “Cuticles are like caulking in the bathtub,” explains dermatologist Adriana Schmidt of the Santa Monica Dermatology Group. “They serve as a sealant and keep water as well as bacteria, yeast and fungus from slipping between the folds. When cuticles are compromised by too much biting, cutting or picking, you’re just asking for an infection.”

Getting them professionally removed isn’t any better, either. “When a manicurist is too aggressive or using tools that also were used on other clients, you’re still putting yourself at risk for infection,” Schmidt says. It’s an infection she says could leave your fingernails looking so vile that even your clippers will run for the hills (believe us when we say that Googling images of “cuticle infections” is an extremely bad idea). “Once nails are damaged by infection, it can be difficult to get them to grow back again as healthy, normal and straight nails. They may end up dented, yellow and more brittle.”

But if having flawless, cuticle-free fingernails is a bucket-list item, don’t give up just yet. There is a healthy way to shrink your cuticles (or at least make them less noticeable): Apply an exfoliating cream or Vaseline to them before bed; the extra moisture not only prevents them from drying out and growing thicker, it also creates the appearance of a seamless transition between the cuticle and the nail itself. Trust us, your nails will look so good, your friends will invite you over just to watch you crack open a cold one.