Sunday, August 30, 2015

Keeping Cuticles Healthy

       The cuticle is a layer of dead, transparent skin that attaches itself to the nail plate as it sloughs off the underside of the eponychium.  The eponychium is living skin that surrounds the nail plate.  The function of the eponychium is to protect the nail matrix (growth center).  Trimming disturbs the function of the eponychium causing the body to react with a self-defense mechanism.  In this case, it will replace the cut tissue with thicker, harder material. 
     Together, the cuticle and eponychium form a barrier that protects the nail matrix from becoming infected.  But the boundary between the (dead) cuticle and the (live) eponychium is frequently difficult to discern. 
     Cuticles should not be thick and hard but soft, pliable and moist.  Cutting dry, hardened skin may provide a quick fix, but it leaves the matrix vulnerable to bacteria.  The hardened skin can split; causing ragged hangnails that can become infected.  It is not good to cut or nip the cuticles.  The more aggressively the skin is removed; the faster the body will replace it.  Cutting the cuticles may scar the eponychium or cause infections that may harm the surrounding tissue or the nail bed.  Hangnails may be nipped.  Dead skin-tags may be nipped.  Living tissue should not be nipped. 
     Healthy cuticles are a goal of every good professional manicurist.  First, the eponychium is softened in order to make it pliable.  This is done with a soak in penetrating warm lavender and grape-seed oil or a warm mitt vitamin E lotion treatment.  Instead of being trimmed, the eponychium is reduced with an alpha-hydroxy cream cuticle remover.  The cream breaks down the bonds between the dry skin cells and makes them easy to remove with a stainless steel pusher/curette or a crystal cuticle pumice stone.  The dry skin is easily removed with the pusher/curette or cuticle pumice stone as the eponychium is gently pushed back.  Any skin that is loose, standing up, or rough can be cut or nipped. 
     A professional manicure every now and then is not enough to keep the nails and cuticles in good condition.  Home maintenance is an important factor in the recovery process for dry cuticles.  The most important aspect of home cuticle maintenance is to keep the cuticles pliable and moisturized.  Daily use of a lotion that contains vitamin E will accelerate the eponychium’s exfoliation rate and will prevent dry skin cells from building up.  Daily use of penetrating cuticle oil, such as jojoba, grape-seed, eucalyptus, lavender, almond or peach oil, along with vitamin E lotion will produce a noticeable improvement of dry cuticles in approximately two weeks. 
     You can have healthy, well-groomed cuticles, but regular at-home maintenance requires discipline.  A licensed nail care professional can design a personalized at-home maintenance program that will help you with that discipline.

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