Should you push your cuticles back?

You may hear the word “cuticle” but not know exactly what it is. Your cuticle is the area on the nail bed where the almost translucent, extremely thin tissue grows tightly over your nail. You might think that if you can see your cuticles, you should remove them. But is there any real reason to push them back, or more drastically, cut them? 

It turns out that whether or not you push your cuticles back is entirely about appearance. Richard Scher, MD, a Cornell University dermatology professor told WebMD that cuticles are “there for a reason, like a barrier or a protection for the nail matrix.” The only reason you would want to push your cuticles back is to make your nails appear longer. If you do decide to push them back, you should do so gently and with proper care so as not to leave an opening for bacteria or infection.

You can push your cuticles back, but you should never cut them

Refinery29 spoke to Juanita Hubert-Miller, founder of nail bar Townhouse, who explained that for the most meticulous manicure, you’ll probably want to push your cuticles back. “If you gently scratch your nail right near what you think of as your cuticle, you will see little white bits appear. This has to come off when having a manicure as paint and gel sticks best to a clean nail,” she explained. “What most people refer to as the cuticle is actually known as the eponychium, the fold of skin at the base of the nail. This you need to be much more gentle with as it is living tissue. It is absolutely fine to push it back and this is best done after a shower or bath, or in the salon with professional equipment to avoid damage or splitting.”

If you do decide to push your cuticles back at home, WebMD recommends using a wooden orange stick meant for doing just that. Real Simple further explains that you should remove your nail polish, moisturize your nails, soak your hands in warm water to soften the skin, and then use a soft cloth (or a cuticle tool) to lightly push back the cuticle.

While it is okay to push cuticles back, you should always stay away from cutting, as this is one of the biggest mistakes you can make with your nails. Aside from bacteria entering through the cut cuticle, dermatologist Ella Toombs, MD, explains, “Cuticles don’t want to be cut. They’re supposed to be soft, and cutting can make them hard, more likely to fracture. If you cut it, it has an increased tendency to split off.”

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